Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Does the Unemployed Generation Y think they can find a job in the “Great Recession”?

An Interview with Angel Guma - Creator of the Top Unemployment Facebook Group Page

Every once in a while you connect with someone you know the first time you talk to them is going to leave a lasting impression on you. I had this experience recently when Angel Guma joined my professional Facebook page. In our exchange, he invited me to look at his FB page and blog. I realized in reviewing both, and later talking with him, this Generation Y member has genuine initiative and a sophisticated, unique opinion. This 25 year old, single, Chicagoland native developed what is currently the top FB page (with approximately 7,300 members and growing) that addresses the frustration of perhaps millions in several countries with the high unemployment reality in today’s world, especially among the younger generation with less work experience. Angel Guma’s FB page’s title is taken from an old adage that still has ageless relevancy - YOU NEED EXPERIENCE FOR THE JOB BUT CAN’T GET EXPERIENCE WITHOUT A JOB.  Angel’s blog “Catch Twentytwos” is also worth the read.

Angel Guma is a 2008 Bradley University graduate, with a B.A. in International Relations, minor in Sociology, and is currently taking courses in accounting and mathematics to further help his employment prospects. He considers himself an entrepreneur and is a creative innovator at heart with a strong core of realism. Angel has been an Army Reservist for six years and looks forward to serving his country. He enjoys social networking, blogging - pretty much anything technology related. He also enjoys reading old books, especially classics, as well as working out at the gym. Angel has been unemployed for the last year and a half. He shared with me “I have come to know this ‘Great Recession’ in a very personal manner. This recession has reinforced in me the conviction that this travesty also brings with it the opportunity for our country to renew its commitment to freedom and democracy, and above all, for the need to act rather than react to change.”

As I’m sure many have, I’ve been wondering the last year what the unemployed recent college graduates think about the reality of finding a job in today’s economy. I’ve wondered what specific obstacles they encounter and what they think about this. Whether you agree with Angel Guma, or anyone from Generation Y, or not, Angel had an interesting perspective and some insightful thoughts and answers to these questions.

An Interview with Angel Guma:

BKH: How many times have you personally been turned down by an employer for not having enough experience?
AG: Over 50 times in the last year. If you include all the jobs I’ve applied to online that required experience, even for entry level jobs, and received no email or phone call back, I would say that number is closer to 700 for the last year and a half.

BKH: How have you tried to overcome this employment obstacle?
AG: I’ve marketed myself more extensively on Facebook, Career Builder, Monster, etc. I’ve also taken classes at the local community college to improve my employability as well as taking courses on the e-Army website. Lastly, I’ve volunteered for community projects in my home town. And yes, I’ve even applied for work at McDonalds.

BKH: Big tax hikes appear to be coming in the US. How do you think this will affect people, especially the inexperienced, in finding a job, in lifestyle in general?
AG: I think the biggest challenge for young people is adjusting to the new economic realities. I personally find this adjustment can be rather difficult for people depending on their circumstances. In my experience, people many times have difficulties in adjusting to new conditions because of bad advice or viewpoints of the older generation that either don’t have to face these new conditions or refuse to admit times have changed. As people tend to look backwards into the future, it’s rather hard for the young to look ahead. I think young people will have to give up the idea of merit-based economic rewards and start thinking in terms of how they can shape the future themselves rather than adapt to change when it comes to them. I think this is the biggest mental adjustment Generation Y will have to make- that they have to initiate change themselves rather than adapt to it.

How that will manifest itself - the inexperienced job seekers will have to become entrepreneurial and creative innovators in creating the experience they lack. They will have to find a way of overcoming the inexperience catch22 without relying on employers or government to grant them the opportunities to gain employment experience. This I fear will hit them very hard as they cannot always rely on the older generation for sound input. The older generation, not having to face the world the younger will enter into now, would have no incentive to think of solutions for them necessarily. Given that many people in Generation Y came of age in bad public schools that discouraged innovative spirit, it will be especially difficult for recent high school and college grads to make the mental leap of faith that there are no certainties that may have existed in the past. Good grades and good academic effort do not always mount to good outcomes in an interdependent economic environment where we sometimes will pay for the mistakes others committed. Since many in their 20s and late teens still remember the go-go days of the 90s, when it seemed there was a correlation between merit and success, it comes hardest of all for individuals to think in a bigger picture - maybe times have changed and no one knows what the new rules are.

And lastly about lifestyle, Generation Y sooner or latter is going to have to stop listening to the baby boomers and those ahead of them on how to live and what is an acceptable lifestyle. The roaring 90s are not going to return. Since many times people fear the future for the uncertainty it brings, they have to stop listening to condescending remarks on how ‘the real world works’. Having a house, or even moving out, is a vastly harder prospect for young people that cannot get on the lower rung of the career ladder. That is the new reality - it’s not extended adolescence to be stuck at home when there are simply no jobs around. Truly, the days of simplicities in outcomes are over. Generation Y is going to have to accept a lower standard of living. The days of one generation providing more for the next are gone perhaps for the foreseeable future. Generation Y is going to have to accept living in apartments not houses. They will have cheaper cars, not the luxury behemoths their soccer moms bought on credit. They may delay marriage longer or even not have kids at all. They won’t be buying videogames with each paycheck or simply not buying videogames at all. Many of the aspects of the lifestyle they took for granted as children may have to be given up.

I personally see the coping mechanisms at work already. When I was in college I was truly impressed at the spiritual and religiosity of each new class of freshmen there. Things like God, Church, and even Country seem to be creeping back into the successive younger classes. Maybe these new attachments are superficial due to the times, but then who’s to judge?

BKH: You created the FB unemployment group page in Sept/2009. What was your catalyst for starting it?
AG: My catalyst for starting the group was I was rather curious (if not a little peeved) that given the massive unemployment in the US today, there was no well connected presence of unemployed job seekers on Facebook. Many of the unemployed groups out there are small in number. Most that I saw did not surpass 100 members whereas political groups tend to propagate like wildfire on Facebook. I came to the conclusion that it was the method of execution, rather than the topic of the groups, that kept unemployment Facebook groups from growing. I also concluded that the unemployed need to be a visible group in order to garner the bargaining power they need to make the social adjustments needed to move on. Right now the unemployed are just a statistic and maybe a friend or brother that lost his job to downsizing. The unemployed are a vast and silent group with utterly no figurehead or organization. My group is meant to initiate change there.

BKH: What kind of change do you think is needed?
AG: The unemployed need a voice. They should have an identifiable voice and outlet to stand for their interests instead of being a vast and disorganized mob. They could, and should, be a multiplicity of groups; but whatever the case is, there should be an organization with real political and social bargaining power to stand for their best interests. Facebook and other social networking media outlets are excellent platforms to allow the unemployed to network with the unemployed. I think this would also be good from a business perspective as well, because it would give businesses a channel to communicate more directly with the unemployed. This would facilitate better communication between the unemployed and employers overall. Other job seeking websites may also perform these functions but only to a certain extent. They are mainly conduits for employers to post job openings and for the unemployed or underemployed to scroll around for jobs. An actual organization(s) that can represent the unemployed as an identifiable group to be reasoned and bargained with would do much for the unemployed and for employers as well.

Personally I would argue that such an organization would be different in character from a union. The group I’m trying to grow is for the unemployed, not for those already employed looking for job security. My intent is not to spar with business. My aim is to mend the existing bridges and to build new bridges lacking with labor and business today.

BKH: What are the demographic of your FB group - countries, age range, education level, etc?
AG: Countries: The US, England, Australia, and New Zealand. Notably I’ve also seen a few Russian, Italian, Brazilian, and people of Middle Eastern descent. Ages: 16-54. Education: Most are college age or recent college grads. The people that have left comments are either in college or have recently graduated. Many of them have voiced frustration that with their education level, there is an inability to gain employment. Secondarily, some don’t have a college education and express frustration at needing degrees to ‘gain’ a foot in the door. Gender: There seems to be an equal distribution of males and females. Race/Ethnicity: Judging only by those that have commented, they are mostly Caucasian; however, this is rather difficult to ascertain because Facebook privacy rules makes it hard to inquire here. Socioeconomic Level: I would say mostly middle to lower class. No one has made a comment that I have seen that has said or indicated "I’m the top 1%".

BKH: What is the prevailing sentiment of the group members about the economy and unemployment?
AG: Highly pessimistic. In general, the prevailing outlook they have is one of extreme frustration. Many have conveyed through their comments they see little to no connection between the economic metrics showing improvement in the overall economic health and their own situations.

BKH: What would you estimate is the average length of time your group members have been unemployed?
AG: Eight months. The ranges I’ve seen have varied from six months to almost two years in one case.

BKH: Why do you and your group members feel the unemployment rate is so high?
AG: There are many reasons why they feel unemployment is high. There are as many different view points on this as there are individuals in the group. Breaking it down to their conceptual framework helps to categorize the general direction of their thinking on this.

Wealth Inequality. I find members from the UK tend to state this the most. (And, curiously enough, I don’t find the American unemployed stating this very often.) In the UK, they feel that they have been barred from the economic pie for no fault of their own. Why should employers grant a chance to the poor masses if they don’t have to? Not their problem. People like this boil unemployment down to callousness.

Globalization. I know, never mind that the scholars have not come to a broad conclusion on what globalization actually is. Unemployed people that cite globalization as the cause see loose capital leaving their countries and taking jobs with it. I find the American unemployed state this frequently. Jobs are going overseas and people with families, kids, and communal obligations just don’t have the luxury to get up and move to where the jobs are going.

Nepotism/Insider Networks. Nearly everyone from every country has said this more than once. Although they don’t use aggregate measures, they are clearly thinking in this conceptual direction. A big reason why they aren’t getting jobs and unemployment is high is because you have to know someone who knows someone to get a job. And since we don’t have the pleasure of knowing everyone in the world, it makes it extremely difficult to find the privileged few that know where the jobs are. Not to say I entirely agree with this point, but I do feel there is a lot of truth to it. Employers or those close to where the job vacancies are opening are still human after all. Family and friends coming first before strangers is still the social moray of the land. People giving jobs to a son, brother, or friend see a duty to loyalty - friends and family first. People outside that insider circle know this is going on nevertheless, and it rankles on the American Myth of meritocracy. As career counselors, management gurus, and others continue pushing networking, they are creating a situation that in my opinion is only exacerbating the problem. More individual networking may not help. All that it may do in the aggregate, if everyone is trying to network to find out where the jobs are, is kill the availability of job information to the masses. If they don’t know there is a job, they can’t apply for it. But for those that are unemployed, networking is sorely needed and cannot be ignored, and to not network is to shoot oneself in the foot. It’s a real catch22.

Racism/Reverse Racism/Discrimination. Hispanics are getting jobs by the boatloads even if not banker jobs. White employers are not hiring blacks because they are black. And so on. The views of people like these tend to be conspiratorial. They assume the intent and motive of the other without any hard proof. Whites quickly point out how affirmative action distorts the labor market. Minorities are quick to point out the only jobs being offered to them are menial, and that they are rarely given the career advancing jobs they need to make the American Dream for themselves. A lot of mistrust characterizes people in this reason direction.

Government Corruption. New Zealanders are “highly” distrustful of their government. In fact, I would wager they are even more distrustful than Americans are at this point. They look to Statism and socialistic policies that have contributed to killing job creation.

Unrealistic Employer Expectations. This is another interesting universal view of the members I’ve seen. Employers are just too unrealistic with the demands they require from people applying these days. I too feel there may be some truth here, as I have noticed numerous times on job seeking websites that they bill new jobs as ‘entry level’ yet require at least 3-5 years of experience in the field just to apply. I feel this really boils down to social power. Right now labor simply does not have the political and economic power it once had, and people in this broad spectrum know it. Many are unwilling to organize to change it, because many of them have historical memories of union corruption.

Business/Corporate Failure. This anger seems to come primarily from Americans. They basically see the business world as failing to actually provide the meaningful services and goods that really add to the social welfare. They notice the death of manufacturing and the bloated financial sector. They conclude that the business elite of this country have simply failed at their own jobs of providing competitive goods and services to the world; and therefore, jobs to the workers.

BKH: What solutions do you see for getting people employed again in the big picture?
AG: I am solutions oriented, and I see many paradigms that must change to promote and experience great success.

1. Think in a bigger picture and come out of isolation.
I put this first, because I also know this is not the simple quick fix that people would like it to be - this requires sacrifice. We live in a country founded in an ideological explosion that put the “people” as sovereigns, not kings, and put forth the idea of equal justice under equal laws. People as a whole have to stop retreating into denial and start caring about the world around them. If the masses feel they are getting shafted, then they have to fight back. If they choose not too, then they will continue getting shafted. Its that simple, but because people don’t wish to risk their reputations like the Founding Fathers did, people won’t think for the good of the group but only of themselves. It’s this mentality that has totally stymied the lower and middle classes.

2. Confront our state of denial.
Time and time again, either in my group, or the other Facebook groups I’ve started, amongst my friends, or when I read the latest magazines or news, I see repeatedly the Left and the Right bitterly angry over the same things. Firstly, both the Left and the Right have lost confidence in the government. The Left sees government corruption by the Right. The Right sees government corruption by the Left. When these viewpoints are taken together, it means the government right now is losing the legitimacy it once enjoyed. Government officials meanwhile are doing utterly nothing meaningful to repair lost trust; or if they are, its simply not working. When both sides simply point to the other as the source of all their woes, then taken together, they simply don’t see any legitimacy out of government now. What this results in is a government that cannot take any action, at all, without incurring the immediate distrust of its own constituents.

What American Myth says: we can all move on by the dint of hard work, we are all equal under the law. What the angry comments convey on my FB group page is hard work does not equal success anymore, and we clearly do not live in a world of equal laws.

3. Come together to fix our legal system.
As Hernado de Soto put forth in this book The Other Path; the legal system has to work for the people, not the other way around. When the legal system merely serves to stymie people in their lives, all that can result is a tiered class system. This is exactly what he observed in his native Peru: people resorted to extra-legal arrangements to move forward, because the existent legal system merely served to keep the entrenched elites intact. To Americans Aristocracy is a dirty word almost as bad as Communist.

In my dialogues with my group members, friends, and family members, all are quick to find some way of avoiding any discussion on the possibility of an Aristocracy existing in America. Not because they deny that there is an Aristocracy with a higher class of citizenship than them, but primarily because they feel powerless to change it. The whole idea of the constitution was meant to allay that - we all have equal power because we are all just as sovereign as the next citizen. However, I feel the conditions that gave rise to that viewpoint that exploded in 1776 vanished in the 20th century and are only now reemerging.

It’s as simple as this: if an Aristocracy exists, at all, in an America that deifies the idea of meritocracy and civic equality, then we just aren’t living up to our ideals. We are saying one thing and living another. If that is the case, the only way to truly improve employment for the long haul is to really confront the distortions that exist in the legal system now. If that is not done than all that will happen is that the Great Recession will just set a precedent for the next big calamity. History shows these things happen; the inflation and economic/political collapse of Germany after WWI set the conditions for the hyperinflation in Germany years later that made Hitler and the Nazi’s possible.

4. Empower ourselves by understanding our American legacy.
The constitution is there for a reason, it’s to limit government and empower people to have a stake in what we call the United States of America. If the oppressed lower and middle class feel they are slipping behind and ‘need help’ then they’ve already lost. Right now people as a whole need to stop deferring to experts and opinion leaders and make their own judgments. I believe strongly that the labor market has some pretty bad fundamentals under girding it right now, and part in parcel of this is the fact that Americans have a constitution that’s meant to protect them that they are doing utterly nothing about.

5. Mass distribute the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence.
This can be done by any number of ways, air, land, sea, train, however it works. Every street light and intersection needs to have copies of our Constitution and Declarations of Independence stapled to them. Lastly, those digital LCD bill boards that proliferate around US cities should be scrolling the Constitution and Declaration on them every hour on the hour. I think that if people out of boredom or annoyance began to read either of these documents, they will see such lines as “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, having invariably the same object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, their duty, to throw off such government, and provide new Guards for their future security.” I’m not advocating hate or violence, yet I conclude people that understand the abuses they feel are going on now are what kings and nobles have committed for centuries. It’s a human problem. The will to oppress doesn’t change because we tote iPods.

6. Confront politicians instead of buying into Red vs. Blue rhetoric.
I would start a White Movement in US politics. No one needs to be told that there is a massive trade deficit. We all know the budget deficit is there. We all know public schools are a sham. We all know that taken together these deficiencies will cripple America far into the future. If that’s the case and politicians still do nothing about it and instead offer apologies or excuses, common sense will dictate that they aren’t doing anything because they “won’t” do anything. As long as there are problems you have campaign slogans to fix it. That all but encourages the problems won’t get fixed. If Americans feel these issues and others are crippling the country as a whole, then I wager it affects unemployment too. Assuming this is the case, what’s called for is for people to bypass government to fix problems that they can. For example: public schools are a sham? Lets try reading to children and reasoning with them after school instead of shoving Ritalin down their throats and hustling them off to soccer practice. That would definitely improve reading scores nationally and might alleviate the brutal anarchy that exists in a lot of public schools. Foreigners have an edge on US children because they are multi-lingual? Well Americans have a lot of foreigners that speak a lot of languages that frequently live not to far from major population centers. If the school districts won’t mandate language classes at earlier grades for whatever idiotic reasons that they have, then stop asking the school districts to change their curriculums. Lets find our neighbors that speak Chinese or German or any other language that might help boost trade and thus end the trade deficit. Have them teach free after-school classes for children in these languages at the public libraries. Whatever the case is, do “something”. Going to entrenched public school officials is not going to help, because they aren’t going to do anything if they see Americans aren’t willing to enforce action.

All of this affects employment because there is no such thing as an isolated economy. Economics is still a social science, and I feel one of the major reasons the labor market is in a total shambles now, and will be weakened for years to come, is because there are more factors at work that are generating unemployment and weak hiring than simple low GDP growth.

7. Be an agent of change and innovation.
The unemployed above all need to be unemployed together and use their brains and capital to not be unemployed. The unemployed need to lose the fear of initiating change through innovation. The next decade could lead to a golden age of entrepreneurial innovation.

BKH: What are your ultimate goals with the FB group?
AG: My goal with this FB group is to grow the largest unemployment group in cyberspace. I want over 1,000,000 members. I want the group to be so large that anyone on FB would have to reckon with the group sooner or later. I want the group to be so big as to be undeniable - that way the unemployed can stop being the hushed up statistic.

BKH: How would they have their voice heard?
AG: Their voice would be heard by having strength in numbers. The issue now, that anyone whom has been unemployed for a year or longer can testify to, is that major media groups and politicians find ways to hush up or downplay the debilitating unemployment that exists. Many people know the government stops keeping track of unemployment past 6 months at which the unemployed become labeled as discouraged workers, and they no longer get reflected in the unemployment percentages. Those of us that have been unemployed that long or longer know we just don’t stop existing after 6 months. It’s extremely frustrating to watch the government and the news media now painting a rosy picture of stabilizing unemployment. It is not rosy at all. So in numbers standing together, the uncounted unemployed will be an undeniable group that will no longer allow the state of denial that exists.

Anyone seeking employment will be free to post on my wall or discussion board or free to use the group as a means to networking with others to find employment. This way they can market themselves in another way. Anyone that is unemployed whom would like to use the group to network or market themselves to employers is free to do so. They can ask me to upload their videos that describe who they are and their work background. They can use the discussion boards and videos to share their successes or give insight into the job hunting scene. The group is there for them for that purpose.

Perhaps being a bit idealistic, I am also hoping that the FB group will act as a magnate for companies and other businesses that have a stake in developing positive public relations to the people that really matter- those that they probably just laid off. I would like to think the corporate chieftains ensconced in the executive suite would take the time to consider this as an opportunity to mend bridges and build trust. Businesses that would also like to use the group as a positive tool may do so as well.

BKH: You also have a blog on the subject. What is your message with the blog?
AG: To reiterate and keep reiterating that the problems of humanity just don’t end because of digital technology, iPods, or airplanes or anything else. The causes that propelled Americans to overthrow the Kingship are just as universal and applicable then as now. We live in an age where the ideals of democracy and civic equality appear dead and will be dead as long as people don‘t internalize the values that propelled the revolution. What is needed now is a rebirth. I hope my blog leads the way.

BKH: Rebirth in what way?
AG: My hope is it will be a rebirth in the notion of civic equality. It’ll be a rebirth in the sense that we should acknowledge that civic equality is just as revolutionary now as it was in 1776. And, that the civic equality intended by our Founding Fathers will always mean something special for as long as we have governments and civilization. Right now it’s a yawn – a yawn subject in most schools because unfortunately those that teach the ideal do not internalize it, if they even understand it. These past few years has shown me that with optimistic appearances aside something has gone astray in America. I feel a big part of this is that some people themselves no longer live their lives with the knowledge that they are sovereigns too, not just the rich. Some people might even think it’s a laughable subject to even discuss. But my goal is to have it discussed. Until people themselves recognize they have to put in effort too in order to keep their rights, it will slip away. I feel that when the nation is ready to confront this issue, it will appear and will be just as fresh and new again as it was centuries ago.

BKH: Thanks Angel. (Angel's FB Page)

While this "Great Recession" and the resulting high unemployment is deeper by far than any I have personally seen in my lifetime, I also know Americans went through a "Great Depression" and came out the other side. It was tough, very tough, just like it is now for so many looking for employment.

I do agree with Angel Guma on one thing for sure – innovation and realism are abilities that will once again bring us out of this tough time. If we want a different result, we must be realistic whether politically correct or not; and we must work for innovative solutions with a different mind set whether politicians will ever be capable of doing so or not. We must lead even if our political leaders will not. We must say what needs to be said. We must do what needs to be done. We must change direction, because what we are doing now does not work. We must have the spirit, realism, faith, and courage to lead and create the higher job growth and employment rates we want and need. We must learn from the past, but always look to the future. And let’s listen to all generations at all experience levels for innovative ideas that lead to solutions. Like Angel Guma said, we are all in this together.

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