Tuesday, October 23, 2012

When employment just isn't enough

One of the biggest issues this election cycle is jobs. Unemployment. But there is a whole category of the employed that is overlooked.

Jenna has a job.  She graduated in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in business.  Until she found the job of her dreams, she took a job at Johns Hopkins, where she had worked for countless summers.  It was just a filler, a way to make money until she found a job better suited to her own interests.

A year and a half later, Jenna is still working at Johns Hopkins.  She works as an office coordinator, splitting her time between a cancer research office and a research pharmacy.  She sets up meetings, orders supplies, keeps track of budgets, and supports pharmacists with research tasks.  Jenna’s day is spent coordinating e-mail, processing patient information, and assisting with audits.  She has served in this position for six months.

The qualifications for Jenna’s position - a high school diploma and one to two years of work experience.  Jenna is vastly overqualified.  However, since so many people applied for her job (an average of 150 applicants per position), Jenna was offered less money for the position than she would otherwise have earned given her education and experience.

Jenna is in the right field – she is interested in public health.  And while she is grateful to be employed, this isn’t the job she would have chosen for herself.

“I would like to be involved with community health education focusing on environmental issues which affect health,” Jenna said.  She has been looking for jobs on-and-off for over a year and has even looked at coordinating positions in other departments at Johns Hopkins.

Jenna is fortunate to have a job that is at least tangentially related to her interests.  A number of my friends with college degrees got retail jobs after graduation, working at The Gap or at gardening stores where they worked since high school.

The problem is, in this election, these students are technically employed.  They are not counted in jobless claims numbers.  Neither candidate is concerned about these college grads.  If they have a job, no matter how menial or irrelevant to them, they simply no longer matter.

“More recently, graduates have been feeling more pressure to find any available job and take it,” said Jenna.  “When they get any sort of job, they feel like they have to stay in the job they have because there are no other options.”

Jenna feels the pressure.  At 23 years old, Jenna lives at home, but pays almost all of her own bills. She’s frustrated by the feeling that she might be trapped.  At times, she has worried that looking for other jobs could lead to being stuck with something even worse than her current job, which is only undesirable because it isn’t the career she hopes to find.

Perhaps young adults like Jenna should be considered the lucky ones for having a job at all.  But for many, paying off their student loans is far more important than finding their perfect job… at least for the moment.  Being unemployed is simply not an option for many, so they work in jobs they never wanted.

Jenna isn’t angry through, and she is glad to have a job at all.

“I am optimistic about finding a career,” she said. “Something I can settle more into than what I feel my job is currently.  I think I have to have a positive outlook to keep me going every day and to keep applying for other job.  I try to look at this time as more of a stepping stone and not a permanent situation.”

Should candidates focus on recent graduates finding jobs in their fields?  What do you think of this as an issue for election 2012? Keep the conversation going in the comments section below.

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