If the economy was a joke in 2009, freshly-minted college grads were the punchline.
December 2008: the economy is tanking, and it's tanking hard. Unemployment is skyrocketing, moms are competing with their teens who are elbowing their retired grandmas out of the way, all because mom has to feed the teen who wants a little extra pocket cash and grandma never thought the other two would want to be a Wal-mart greeter, but that's all that's left because this isn't the Clinton era anymore. So in the midst of all this turmoil, like a good little journalist/theater major, I decide to graduate a semester early.
The better to get a jump on my peers, I thought. The better to get out there into the job market while the gettin's good. The better to stock my resume full of internship experience from several local papers, a website or two, a couple-few freelance gigs, a government agency, a major Gannett corporation with its very own Gotham City headquarters outside of Washington DC, top it all off with a summa cum laude GPA from a respected journalism school and see what the media has in store for a wide-eyed cub reporter like myself.
Except I didn't factor in the layoffs in every newsroom across the country, the buyouts for upper-echelon staff and the pink slips for the less fortunate. As if there's any hierarchy in the death of an industry, the end of an era at the hands of the smoking gun we call the Internet, with my generation blowing smoke off the barrel and posting pictures on facebook at the same time.
In the beginning, I got up early and stalked media bistro, journalismjobs.com, my local paper, Gannett, the AP, any corporation, company or name I could remember for something, anything. I sent out thirty, forty cover letters a day. I interviewed twice.
Once to sell life insurance, who told me I didn't have enough experience. I wondered if taking out a policy on myself would count, but realized I couldn't have afforded it anyway.
And as my job search started to look more and more uncertain, I realized something: there's a donut hole between the internship and entry-level tiers. Internships, by and large, were unpaid or for-credit only, which is all well and good if you're in school. Once graduated, the vast majority of internships either no longer applied to me (Current students only) or didn't offer compensation, something that wouldn't exactly help my student loan situation.
Entry-level positions are as mythical as the unicorn. Show me an "entry-level" posting that doesn't require tw0 to five years of experience and I'll caution you to duck, there's a 75 percent chance of flying pigs this afternoon.
And those entry-level jobs? Much like every other form of gainful employment out there, everyone from an ex-editor at the biggest daily in town to the former editor-in-chief of the college paper and quite a few in between are going for them. As the field shrinks, the pool grows wider, deeper and more competitive. Want to be a reporter? Line up behind the one with 20 years experience who will work for peanuts because she has to feed her family, and don't let the door hit you on the way out.
You may be wondering about that second job that called me for an interview. I pulled on my best pair of Hopeful-Looking Professional Black Pants, printed out my resume on good quality stock, pulled my hair into what I hoped was more Conservative Young Go-Getter and less Former Gym Rat Without A Blow-Dryer and arrived just after the interviewer sat down at the table. She gestured for me to join her, opened a thick binder of forms and manuals and said, "Well, he's over his biting stage, we think, but he's just getting into hitting and throwing. He's not toilet-trained yet, but he'll probably get there soon. Now, what did you say your degree was in?"
Nannying. If you're wondering how the journalism major who hates kids ended up interviewing for a nannying position, let me remind you of two key points. First, it's 2009 and unemployment is above 9 percent. Second, student loans are coming due but fast, and there's no sense in deferring them because there aren't any better days on the horizon, so it's time to tuck your tail between your jaunty little legs and take whatever pops up, and gratefully at that.
And that's exactly what I did. Okay, so I wasn't writing, taking pictures, editing, fact-checking or even answering phones. But I did get to read the newspaper while waiting for the kid to wake up, since I got to work at 5 a.m. and he didn't wake up until 10. And sure, it was only two days a week and I didn't make enough to move out of my parents' house. But it was a job. It was a job with a paycheck and man, was I happy to have it.
This is the part of the story where you're looking for a happy ending. Me too, America. Me, too. I'm pleased to report that, after a few months of nannying, a good bit of soul-searching, a couple of in-between jobs, a dabble in grad school and even more resume-shooting with a healthy dose of luck and yes, even more unemployment and partial employment that I won't bore any of us with moaning about, I got a job as a reporter. A real, honest-to-goodness job that allows me to write to my little heart's content before I drive half an hour back to my parents' house two towns over because my employer can't afford to pay me enough to live on and pay my staggering student debt at the same time.
This is United State my generation has graduated into: if we have jobs (and most of us don't), most of them don't pay enough to allow us to both pay the loans we accrued chasing the American dream that somehow turned into one of those disconcerting half-nightmares along the way, the kind you wake up from and wonder what happened, although you can't quite figure out what that may be and move on with the adulthood the sitcoms we grew up on promised would be ours by now.
The other day, my dad joked to me at the kitchen table, "You know, by the time I was your age, your mom and I had you." By the time my dad was my age, his generation had gone to college, started a career and begun thinking about a family. Me and my friends? Many of us are worrying about where our next meal is coming from.
If the economy is a joke now, we are the ones who aren't laughing. Forget Generation X. This is Generation F**ked Over. We work hard. We try hard. And yes Obama, yes Gingrich, yes Romney, we vote hard. We occupy the streets that aren't leading us where we thought they would. After all, with everyone from mom to grandma to the disgraced CEO of Business We Thought Would Hire Us competing for the jobs we always thought we'd fill, it's not like we have much of a choice.