Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Economy and the Class of '09

"You know what college does for you?
It makes you really smart man.
All you kids wanted to talk in the back of the class not me, I listened, ok?
I was a hall monitor! This was meant to be!
You know how many classes I took? Extra classes...extra classes.
No I've never had sex but you know what, my degree keeps me satisfied!
When a lady walks up to me and says 'hey u know what's sexy?'
I say 'no, I don't know what it is, but I bet I can add up all the change in your purse very fast.'"
- College Dropout, School Spirit Skit 1, Kanye West


It used to be, you went to school, you got good grades, you graduated and you got a good job and lived happily ever after. Sounds pretty straight forward, right? This conventional wisdom has been handed down from generation to generation as the basis for many a speech from moms and dads all across the country as to why we should feel motivated to stick our heads in a book for the better part of our youth (as opposed to hanging outside on the corner). And since it seems to have worked for all of the generations before us, we dared not question the sanctity of this advice. Indeed it was beyond reproach...until now.

Last month, over 530,000 jobs were lost. Some 5.6 million jobs in total have been lost since Wall Street collapsed last fall, bringing the national unemployment percentage to 8.9% (it's highest rate in a quarter century). Nearly every industry has been effected across the board, including my own profession (the legal profession) which saw over 3,000 top notch lawyers laid off from the top "big law" corporate law firms in 2009 alone. These were people who not only graduated from college, but went on to law school, graduated near the top of their respective classes, and passed the bar. They too, are now standing shoulder to shoulder in the bread line along with everybody else. It has become commonplace for law school grads in the class of '09 to have their start dates either pushed back significantly or their offers rescinded altogether.

To make matters worse, a racial disparity seems to have emerged among the unemployment rates for college graduates and current working professionals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since the economic crisis began last fall, the Latino unemployment rate has risen 4.7 points, to 10.9%, and the Black unemployment rate has risen 4.5 points, to 13.5%. The White unemployment rate, by contrast, has risen 2.9 points, and is just under the national average at 7.3%. It appears that many employers are exercising the "last hired, first fired" mantra to the detriment of those last hired, which tend to be minorities.

So to recap, let me see if I've got this straight...you go to school, you get good grades and you don't get a job? And furthermore, if you were lucky enough to have gotten one before all this mess started, there's still a growing % that you will lose it anyway. And if you were lucky enough to have gotten one before all of this mess started and you're black then you might as well not even go into work tomorrow because your desk is already cleaned out.

From the sounds of it, one could make a veritable argument that the proverbial sky is, in fact, falling.

However, I've never been a "sky is falling" kind of guy, and being broke isn't exactly a new state of affairs where I come from, so let me offer a few words of wisdom to the class of '09 if I may:

  1. The First Rule is, man the f*ck up (and for the ladies woman the f*ck up) - The sky is not falling and we're going to get through this. And since we're going to get through this...
  2. The Second Rule is, get a game plan going - You've made it this far so stop and think for a second about the skills you have, all of the many contacts you have made through school and previous jobs, and how you can use all of the above to bring in some income. It may mean taking a job in a field outside of your degree. If so, then so be it; it's only temporary. Never be afraid to branch out and reinvent yourself. Leave no stone unturned.
  3. The Third Rule is, (wo)man the f*ck up, again - The game plan may not work the first time. Tweak it, retool it or scrap it as necessary and keep it moving.
  4. The Fourth Rule is, stack your chips - we've all seen Suze Orman (the lady who wants you to have $100,00 grand in the bank before you buy a snicker's bar). Well as it turns out during these hard economic times she couldn't be more right. So once you get your job (which you will) don't go out spending money like you've lost your damn mind. Your goal as soon as you start working should be to figure out how much money you need to survive on a monthly basis (rent + necessary bills), multiply that by at least 3, and then start saving it. The average person is going to take at least a month, perhaps 2, to find a new job in this economy. Give yourself some cushion. I can not stress this enough. And in the interest of keeping this short and sweet...
  5. The Fifth Rule, keep Hope alive - no that's not a Jesse Jackson reference, that's actually real talk. You will come across many people during these times who have already thrown in the towel. Don't become one of them. Talk to family, talk to friends, talk to whoever gives off positive energy and hold on to that; during these hard times it may be worth more than money itself.
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