November 1, 2009

Bob Herbert, who so often sees what everyone else in the Village misses, writes about how young, promising grads are being shut out of the workforce:

As jobs become increasingly scarce, more and more college graduates are working for free, at internships, which is great for employers but something of a handicap for a young man or woman who has to pay for food or a place to live.

“The whole idea of apprenticeships is coming back into vogue, as it was 100 years ago,” said John Noble, director of the Office of Career Counseling at Williams College. “Certain industries, such as the media, TV, radio and so on, have always exploited recent graduates, giving them a chance to get into a very competitive field in exchange for making them work for no — or low — pay. But now this is spreading to many other industries.”

And let's not forget: This is how the media Village stays homogeneous. Only someone from a well-to-do family (and thus, unlikely to be a threat to the Establishment) can afford to take such internship opportunities.

Lonnie Dunlap, who heads the career services program at Northwestern University and has been advising young people on careers since the mid-70s, said today’s graduates are experiencing the worst employment market she’s ever seen.

“There’s a sense of huge emotional anxiety among our students,” she said. The young people are not only having trouble finding work themselves; many feel a sense of obligation to parents who are struggling with job losses and home foreclosures.

“In the past two years,” said Ms. Dunlap, “we have seen a huge uptick in the number of recent alums coming back for services because they still haven’t found work, as well as midcareer alums who have been laid off and need our help.”

Like Mr. Noble, she mentioned the growing use of interns versus paid employees and said she can see the value of such unpaid work for some recent graduates, “though, of course, not everyone can afford to do that.”

Despite the expansion of the gross domestic product in the quarter that ended in September, there is no sign of the kind of recovery in employment that would be needed to bring the American economy and the economic condition of American families back to robust health. It would be nice if some of the politicians and economists so obsessed with the G.D.P. would take a moment to look out the window at what is happening with real people in the real world.

They might see Laura Ram, who graduated from Baruch College in New York in May 2007. She was laid off from a full-time job almost exactly a year ago and hasn’t worked since. She’s been diligent about submitting applications and showing up at job fairs and so on, but nothing has come close to panning out.

“I haven’t gone on a single interview,” she said, “which manages to shock just about my entire family.”

These recent graduates have done everything society told them to do. They’ve worked hard, kept their noses clean and gotten a good education (in many cases from the nation’s best schools). They are ready and anxious to work. If we’re having trouble finding employment for even these kids, then we’re doing something profoundly wrong.

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