You’ve seen the comics that depict a college grad still in his cap and gown being turned away from a fast food joint where he hopes to apply for a job. We laugh because it’s such a ridiculous state of affairs. Our highly educated should be curing disease, designing skyscrapers and governing cities, not flipping burgers. But some of them are flipping burgers, making sandwiches and tending bar after passing the bar.
To tell you the truth, it hasn’t been very many years ago I had an income in the six figure range annually, from a prestigious job Human Resources and real estate investments. I had grown accustomed to expensive dinners, shopping sprees, regular visits to my hair stylist, foreign and domestic travel, Broadway shows, generous gift giving, bi-weekly manicures to fill-in grown out acrylic nails with French tips, filed to a precise length and perfected square-round shape.
In my job I had gotten used to calling on IT when experiencing even the slightest blip in the workings of my desktop computer, and my assistant opened the mail among other menial tasks. The high tech toilets in my new building flushed automatically, so that eventually, without realizing it, I slipped out of the habit of manually flushing. Wipe, drop, and wash. The faucet turned on at my approach and paper towels dispensed with a wave of my hand.
Home was equally comfortable: a large hisctoric house with a remodeled custom kitchen, a jet tub in my master bedroom; and more cars than people in my family. Vacations on Martha’s Vineyard, Manhattan; travels abroad. We seemed to have it all.
Life was so good, and I was so confident that I took what in retrospect was a strange course: I left my job, sold my properties and reinvested in rural Pennsylvania.
I bought a defunct Bed & Breakfast on three acres, added two bathrooms, updated the decor and reopened it for business. Life was good–very hard work–but gratifying . . . at the beginning.
Then the economy slipped, and affluent out-of-towners dwindled down to nothing. My business died, the boiler busted, fuel and gasoline prices skyrocketed.
I went broke trying to keep the place afloat, paying exorbitant prices to heat my home that by now was simply an elegant monstrosity.
The novelty of living in a quaint farm town without streetlights and traffic signals soon evaporated. And I was overcome with a deep sinking feeling. . .a panic that I had to sell out and scurry back home where the sun shines 345 days of the year and family was waiting with open arms.
Naturally you can understand how the article below captured my attention, because I am one of them, the former elite. The crash from high atop a corporate ladder reduces an otherwise self-possessed executive to an insecure, desperate kind of maniac prowling for jobs and intruding upon friends.
I’m so glad I had burned no bridges.
h/t: NBC News
In the upside-down, topsy-turvy world of jobs these days, even an advanced degree can’t protect some Americans from tumbling down the economic ladder.
The conventional wisdom that more education bears fruit in the labor market gets turned on its head when it comes to unemployment. For people with masters and even doctoral degrees, long-term unemployment is especially insidious. At best, these formerly high-earning professionals face the prospect of a years-long climb back to their former level of income and stature, while they delay retirement to rebuild their decimated nest eggs.
Others won’t be that lucky. Debt, foreclosure and evaporated savings push them out of the middle class, and some just keep falling.
“Most of these people in this long-term unemployed category are experiencing downward financial mobility,” said Carl Van Horn, distinguished professor of Public Policy and director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.
Nearly half of the long-term unemployed in a Rutgers survey published last month estimate it will take up to a decade to rebuild their finances. More than 20 percent say it will take more than a decade, or that they’ll never recover. The highly educated are “actually in worse shape because they had farther to fall and had greater financial liability,” Van Horn said.
42 and Living With Roommates
“I’ve had to seriously downgrade my living situation,” said Alex Gomez, a 42-year-old with a master’s degree in entrepreneurship. Gomez lost his last full-time job in 2009 and has been looking for work since a short-term contract position ended in 2012.
Gomez’s home was foreclosed on, so the Tampa resident lives with three roommates in a college neighborhood. He drained his 401(k) trying to save his house, and he has around $150,000 in student loans. His mother is tapping her 401(k) to pay his rent. Gomez subsists on that and about $200 a month in food stamps.
“I have been applying and looking for pretty much anything at this stage,” he said. Although he’s looking for work in engineering or data management, “I applied to a supermarket as a deli clerk because I used to be a deli clerk as a teenager,” he said. He was told he was overqualified and turned down.
“Even though jobs have been slowly recovering, these are mostly low-pay, low-wage jobs,” said Ofer Sharone, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management and founder of the Institute for Career Transitions, a platform that helps the older professional unemployed reenter the work force. “We don’t have enough jobs that require those levels of education right now.”
In a survey of 800 jobless professionals conducted by the Institute for Career Transitions, about 10 percent of the short-term unemployed had doctoral, law or MBA degrees. Among the pool of long-term unemployed, more than 18 percent held such degrees.
“I’ve seen clients who had to downsize, sell their homes, move into a smaller apartment, take in boarders… it changes everything,” said David Blustein, a professor at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education. “The financial consequences of long-term unemployment are hugely significant and very painful.”
I repeat, I’m so glad I burned no bridges in my past career and social circle. You never know when you may need to call on an acquaintance for help recovering from financial losses and the excruiating loss of self-esteem.
This story is dedicated to the man who made my recovery possible. You know who you are.
by T.M. Burroughs
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