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Recent Grads Take Jobs That Put Careers On Hold

Young men and women trapped by tight job market take part-time work while they're stalled on their career paths.

Jeff Dalrymple wants to use his history degree from St. Peter’s College to work in a library or museum.

While still in school, the Westfield, NJ resident got a work-study job in the St. Peter’s library, which he turned into a position as a library assistant after he graduated in 2008. He was a full-time part-time employee, working 32 hours a week, for $16,000 a year.

It was a great gig for a kid right out of school. Dalrymple got experience in a field he wanted to make his career. He has tried, without luck, to find a full-time position in a public or university library. And now, at 26, he finds himself still at St. Peter's, still without benefits or a living wage.

“What I am doing now is not a career, it is a job,” he said. “For the past few years I’ve been killing time at St. Peter’s.”

Dalrymple is hardly alone. The Economic Policy Institute, based on an analysis of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, estimated that 17percent of the country’s workforce was underemployed in 2010. Underemployed individuals are those who define themselves as working in a part-time position or accepting a position that does not match their skill sets. From the medical educator working as a Starbucks barista to the newly minted architecture school grad working in a clerical position, people everywhere — starting a career, mid-career or at the end of a career — are adjusting to lives in jobs that offer little fulfillment, no career advancement, inadequate salaries and no benefits. 

Unemployment statistics released Friday morning by the U.S. Labor Department show the nation's unemployment rate climbing from 9.1-percent in May to 9.2-percent in June. The May report showed a continued growth in New Jersey's unemployed, but a decline from the 20-year high of 9.7-percent in December 2009. Merely 18,000 jobs were added, despite the anticipation of about 150,000 jobs into the market.

So as young people in their early 20s begin to negotiate life in the workforce, many find themselves with more in common than Jeff Dalrymple than the new associate or management-track employee they'd hope to be right now. Dalrymple said, despite three years of frustration, he is finding solace with friends who are suffering through their own daunting job searches.

“I was talking to a friend of mine who has a master’s in education and the only job she can get is a job at WalMart,” he said. “She said her mother feels her daughter is getting something substandard.”

Starbucks has become a haven for the underemployed in the current economic conditions. With corporate policy offering health benefits and 401(k) plans to employees working as little 20 hours a week, the coffee chain has been a spot to gain benefits.

Erin Steinbrecher is a 26-year-old barista at the Westfield Starbucks. She considers the job a place to obtain benefits while she searches for a job in her field. Steinbrecher is certified as an emergency medical technician, a phlebotomy technician and as an EKG technician.

“Most of those jobs are per diem and you are not fulltime,” she said of jobs in her field. “I would have to give up my benefits to take a job in my field. I could take a chance and go into a hospital and hope they take me into a job fulltime but I would still have that time without benefits.”

Steinbrecher said she finds herself caught in a Catch-22. As she applies for jobs, particularly those in phlebotomy—which involves making incisions into veins—she is told she needs more experience to qualify. But she cannot get the experience with the job she is being told she needs experience to get.

Steinbrecher said she has looked into taking some per diem posts in her field but many of them require a multi-day commitment of at least 35 hours a week, which would make it tough for her to keep up with the minimum hours at Starbucks to retain her benefits.

Steinbrecher, who chose her career path because she was advised that jobs were plentiful, said she is now saving up money to attend nursing school. 

“I have to go back to school, I don’t see any other way,” she said.

Dalrymple has started finding himself looking at new career paths, possibly considering teaching, while at the same time looking at library positions from coast-to-coast. But at the same time, he is looking for a new position that does not match his career goals, but would give him other perks.

Thursday morning, Dalrymple’s cell phone rang while he was sitting in Starbucks with news he had not expected for a week or two. He found out that the interview he had on Wednesday was leading to a part- time position as a paraprofessional in the Westfield public schools.

Dalrymple applied to the job to save money. With the price of gas going up, Dalrymple was tiring of the economic impact the commute from Westfield to Jersey City was taking on him. He applied to the Westfield schools to get his foot in the door in education and also to save money on his commuting costs. The new job would allow him to bike to work.

But, Dalrymple said a change in jobs would have another impact on his life. The library assistant position pays him $16,000 a year, while the paraprofessional job—if he accepts it—would pay just half that.

“I’m excited that I get my feet in the door,” he said. “It does not seem to be enough financially. I will need to get a second job by September if I decide to start. It would be going from a single fulltime job to two part-time jobs.”

Dalrymple attributes his uncertain job status to being on a career path dependent on state and local government budgets. With most state and local budgets in freefall, libraries have seen cuts and hiring freezes. Dalrymple said he’s seen the freezes hamper his efforts to break into public higher-education library systems.

With changes in the way jobs are advertised, with online applications the norm, Dalrymple said he has had trouble explaining the new world to his parents, who have questioned why he has not found a fulltime position.

“I’m being criticized by my family in that I am underpaid and underemployed,” he said. “My family sees that it’s my fault that I am in the predicament that I am in now. That is something the older generation cannot comprehend.”

Like Steinbrecher, Dalrymple said he is considering going back to school, possibly to get a master’s degree in library science or education. He also is considering a complete career change, mulling the possibility of taking the exam to work for the U.S. Park Police. In the meantime, he's concerned about the prospects for gainful employment among members of his generation.

“I think a lot of people in my generation in particular have it tough,” he said. “We are entering into a workforce that is virtually dead. The economy is on the verge of collapse.”

Sally McBride July 08, 2011 at 03:34 PM
Anyone know a website where I can get information about Westfield and not general news stories?

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