I’m broke. Worse, I’m broke and out of work.
Being penniless in college is hardly a new phenomenon. I’m awash in a sea of people who are in far greater debt than I am. Truth be told, I’m doing pretty well, all things considered.
One month, I was short on rent, so I sold my car. One week, I was strapped for cash, so I started volunteering over at the St. Francis Catholic Kitchen for a couple of free meals. Deferring payments on my credit card charges — for groceries, electricity, water and so on — has left me $800 in debt and with a whopping -$31.65 dollars in my bank accounts. I thought about writing a check for $0.25 yesterday just to revel in some masochistic pleasure of watching it bounce.
It’ll be a cold day in hell before I even dream of dialing up my house’s thermostat.
Sure, I’m frustrated that I’m unemployed, especially considering how many applications have come back with that “thanks, but no thanks” response. Even while my work study hours idly waste away, I realize I could be much worse off.
When I pick up the paper, tune into the news, or even walk downtown, I’m reminded just how poor the condition of the job market is out there. Just the realization alone is enough to send shivers down my spine.
A broken economy that has resulted in rampant unemployment — nearly 30 percent in places like Watsonville — has created an enormous budget deficit at the national, state and local levels. With cuts like Gov. Jerry Brown’s $500 million to the UC system being implemented, joblessness threatens to be exacerbated, not remedied.
At the national level, the budget deficit has crippled federal funding to nearly every program imaginable. Everything from public education to health clinics faces the axe. With many national programs in the budget getting wrung for every dollar they’re worth, it should come as little surprise that HR 589, which would have retroactively extended already exhausted unemployment benefits by an additional 14 weeks, was shot down in Congress.
We’re doing no better here in the Golden State. Compared to the nation’s 9.8 percent unemployment rate, California limps along at 12.3 percent unemployed. The Associated Press ranked 15 out of the nation’s top 20 most economically stressed counties in California. Eight of Forbes magazine’s top 20 most “miserable” cities, based on factors such as unemployment, crime and tax rates, are in California.
The state, which faces enormous budget deficits, high unemployment, plunging home real estate values and rising taxes, continues to break the backs of the jobless and leave those on the cusp in a nervous sweat. Soon enough, my Golden State will need to trade in its title for silver or bronze.
In other words, it gets worse.
Advocates from the National Employment Law Project testified before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission earlier this month that people without jobs are being discriminated against. According to the NELP, potential employers are overlooking people who have been out of work for six or more months in favor of those who are transferring from one job into another. Employers have either flat-out denied this claim, have stated that they prefer potential employees’ skilled labors not be rusty, or have jumped to the conclusion that those who have been out of work for so long must possess a poor work ethic. After all, there couldn’t be any other reason 6.3 million people would be out of work for so long, could there?
Here’s another twist to our story: Minorities are a disproportionately represented demographic among the unemployed. 15.7 percent of African-Americans and 11.9 percent of Latinos are unemployed, compared to 8 percent of the white population, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Although race- and gender-based hiring discrimination is illegal, it is not illegal to discriminate based upon present employment.
The punchline: There are few jobs out there and even fewer employers who will hire those who need them. I am all the more blessed to be able to attend an accredited university and nab my degree while the nation weathers the worst economic period in 70 years. Every statistic, pamphlet, Magic 8-Ball and fortune cookie suggests that a bachelor’s degree will land me a job — one I’ll probably like, for that matter.
But no amount of assurance ever put food on my plate, paid my rent or made me feel any better about being told I was “overqualified” for work. I’ve looked around and as far as I can tell, once I step out off campus, my job problems will only get worse.