Great Recession Grads: "The Economy Is Booming — For The Very Wealthy"

Designed by abbie winters
As the 2018 graduates toss their mortar boards into the air, they should be celebrating not just their new diplomas but the fact they’re graduating into the best economic situation the U.S. has seen in a decade. The starting salary for Class of 2018 is expected to be over $50,000.
That’s a stark difference to the reality that faced the Class of 2008, who 10 years ago graduated on the eve of the Great Recession. That spring, the unemployment rate was on the rise, and by 2012, only two-thirds of 2008 grads were employed full-time. While the U.S. economy has slowly recovered over the past decade, many believe that the Class of 2008 will suffer permanent career setbacks which will affect their earnings for years to come.
Until the end of the month, in our limited series Great Recession Grads, we'll be catching up with women from the class of 2008 to learn about the professional and financial challenges they’ve faced over the last 10 years. As many of them learned, your career trajectory can be as much a product of forces beyond your control as it is your own choices. Here's what they have to say.
Name: Brittany
Age: 31
Location: Brooklyn, NY
College Major: English
Occupation: Legal Assistant
Industry: Technology
What was your first job out of graduation? How long did it take you to get that job?
"I graduated in May 2008 and wasn't able to find full-time, [fair-paying] work until the beginning of 2010. The first job I took was an internship for an art blog, where I was essentially the managing editor.
"Before I moved to NYC, I had a verbal agreement that they'd pay me $1,000/month; but once I got there, it turned into $300/month for almost full-time work, including staying at the office until 2 a.m. alone with the publisher. I had been writing for them for free for six months, and took on the editing role in June 2009.
"My first full-time job where I was paid an actual wage started off as part-time work in September 2009. I was the office manager for a small fashion company and they eventually offered me more hours and a full-time position in early 2010 — though I didn't get health insurance, paid sick leave, or any benefits for two more years."
Was that the job/industry you wanted to work in?
"I had wanted to go to law school but there were negative jobs in the legal industry. So I turned to art and writing, which I knew wouldn't pay me anything but nothing else was going to pay either.
"It wasn't until the end of last year that I was able to find a job in a field I'm interested in that also pays me a decent wage. (But it's still through an agency and the only benefits are legally-mandated 40 hours of sick leave and expensive medical insurance that I declined since I have Medicaid for another year.) "

I don't really see how the economy is booming for anyone besides the very wealthy.

In your view, did the Great Recession affect your career trajectory?
"Yes. I remember listening to reports on the radio in 2008/2009 about how cohorts who graduate into recessions never make up for it, and that has certainly been my experience. I got trapped in a series of dead-end admin jobs catering to extremely wealthy people for several years, which I found to be very demoralizing, pointless, and inadequately compensated.
"I had health insurance for one year after graduating. I qualified for Medicaid after I was mercifully laid off from a terrible job in the summer of 2014. (Thanks, Obama!) That resulted in pretty serious consequences for my health and affected my ability to work for several years.
"I decided to go back to the legal industry about a year ago, starting by proofreading at corporate law firms on the night shift. I got paid less for this work than in 2006 as a student. It was difficult to find a paralegal job that paid more than $20/hour and I wasn't able to find a well-paid position until after a five-month unpaid internship, at 31."
Do you think the last 10 years of your career would have gone differently had you not graduated right before the recession?
"Probably. I can't really speculate on my career, but I do think I would have had more financial stability. Instead I've sunk deeper into debt over the last 10 years. I graduated with $65,000 in student loans and the balance is still around there, despite making payments every single month for a decade. Until now, I've never made over $37,000 a year."
How do you feel about the economy now?
"Pessimistic. I feel like I lucked out in my current job (which is through an agency with the bare minimum of benefits, but I at least make a decent wage) because wages across many industries appear to be stagnant or have gone down/vanished — especially if the work has been or should be largely automated. I don't really see how the economy is booming for anyone besides the very wealthy."
What advice do you have for the class of 2018?
"Be active in advocating for stronger social safety nets, like single-payer healthcare, universal rent control, a basic income, and an equitable tax code. And do your very best to refuse unpaid labor; employers love recent graduates because often they work the hardest for the least.
"Finally, you can learn a lot from jobs that you never would have seen yourself in. Once you stop learning from a job you don't like, look hard for something else."

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