Monday, July 19, 2010

Go (Further) West, Young Man!

Today's NY Fishwrap supplied another view of the plight of the jobless in 2010. However, here's another alternative from a job-seeker (a recent grad of Fordham University) who took Horace Greeley's advice and headed west: to northeastern India (and — now — beyond). If this is a (fair & balanced) useless job-tip, so be it.

[x The Cronk Review]
What I Did When I Couldn't Find a Job
By Andrew Dana Hudson

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It was a bit of a shock, losing all expectations. For years—all my life, really—parents, teachers, and guidance counselors had told me that if I went to a good college and did well, I would be able to find a job after graduation that would, with a little ladder-climbing, keep me comfortable and financially secure. After I graduated in May 2009, in political science, I moved back home to St. Louis to start my career, but there simply were no jobs to be found.

Over several months, I sent out more than 500 résumés for all sorts of jobs all over the country, but I got only two interviews and no offers.

I couldn't find a job, but neither could anyone I knew. Now, more than a year after graduation, most of my college friends still live at home, and many of those who have moved out are borrowing money from their parents to eat and pay rent. A few have internships, but most of those are unpaid, and few are likely to lead to jobs. Two friends who studied psychology for four years now work off the books at a sandwich shop. Another, who got her master's in development studies from Cambridge, became a barista at Starbucks.

Some are applying to grad school just to have something to do, but the prospect of racking up thousands more dollars in student debt is crushing. The rest are still looking, sending out résumés, going to career fairs, volunteering for experience, and networking. Some have given up. We are a whole generation graduating into a job market that has no room for us.

So I moved to India.

Two years earlier, I had spent a semester abroad in the Nepali-speaking regions of northeastern India, learning the language and culture through a fantastic study-abroad program at Pitzer College. In India, I met Pema Wangchuk, editor and publisher of Sikkim NOW, the most popular local English-language daily newspaper in the state of Sikkim. A couple months into my job hunt, I sent Pema an e-mail asking if he knew anyone who might be interested in hiring a young, enthusiastic American college graduate. "We'd be quite keen to have you here," he wrote back.

After lots of e-mails and late-night international phone calls, I got on a plane and went. I had been unemployed for eight months.

My arrangement with NOW is informal. I help out doing a little photography, a little feature writing, and a lot of copy editing. Native-level English proficiency is a rare skill in much of the developing world. I take garbled press releases from local nongovernmental organizations and government departments, and equally garbled correspondent reports from remote districts of the state, and fix the punctuation, syntax, usage, and spelling to turn them into real news stories.

I also write feature pieces for our `Sunday edition, interviewing NGO's about their projects and local experts about social trends. I'm learning a lot about reporting, writing, and running a small newspaper, not to mention life and politics in northeast India and Asia in general. I suspect I am getting more intimate and comprehensive journalism experience here than I would in almost any internship, temp position, or entry-level job that I could have found back in the States.

In exchange for my work, Pema found me a flat to stay in and arranged for my meals. The cost of living here is so cheap that, with my room and board taken care of, I can live comfortably on around $10 a week. If I were back in the United States, even with the most austere lifestyle, I would be costing my family far more than that by just eating their groceries, running their utilities, and burning their gas.

My Nepali, gone rusty in the two years since studying abroad, is getting better, and I'm picking up a few words of Hindi. Once a week, I volunteer at a small village elementary school, teaching tae kwon do. I've made some friends here to hike and go out on weekends with. Every day I see interesting and beautiful things: Tibetan monks playing soccer, stray dogs napping in twisty alleys, snow-covered mountains white (and high) as clouds.

When I Skype and correspond with college friends back in the States, their frustration with the job hunt is palpable, and I wonder: Why don't more recent graduates move to the developing world to wait out the recession?

Plenty of college grads apply for Fulbrights or the Peace Corps, but those programs are increasingly competitive. For those who don't make the cut, or who want to just try something different, why not design their own programs, as I have tried to do in Sikkim, finding NGO's, schools, businesses, or families willing to trade meals and a place to stay for help teaching English, writing grant applications, or editing press releases?

In tough economic times, living in the developing world actually makes a lot of financial sense. In the more prosperous 90s and aughties, plenty of educated and highly skilled Indians moved to America and Europe to find jobs. The cost of living there was higher, but if they made even a little above their expenses, that money would translate into a huge amount back home. What I'm doing is a reversal of that. With opportunities for making ends meet so hard to come by in the States, I have moved to a place where a little savings and family support go a lot farther. Globalization can flow both ways.

Making such a jump isn't easy. Working out visas and permits is always frustrating, and moving to India or Brazil or Ghana won't help pay off student loans—but then, neither will futilely sending out résumés every day while racking up credit-card debt.

Some parents may be nervous about letting their kids go abroad on their own, but to them I say: Stop worrying. In many parts of the developing world, Westerners are in no more danger than they would be commuting on the highway every day, and if your children are willing to work and give up a few luxuries, the trip will save you money in the end.

Though I suspect it isn't impossible to just pick a country, show up, and work something out, I'm not sure I would recommend that. My own "program" was made possible by the contacts I developed studying abroad. So even in a bad economy, a semester abroad—especially in a location more exotic than London or Paris—can be a great investment that opens a lot of doors.

Colleges can help, too. Academics are a worldly bunch, and universities could use their professors' contacts abroad to find informal volunteer arrangements for many graduates to support them for a year or two while the economy, hopefully, recovers.

It's raining today, and as I write this, I am sipping sweet tea and watching clouds dance like titans in the valley below. I grew up among the corn and soybean fields of the endlessly flat American Midwest, and the foothills of the Himalayas are an astonishing sight.

I'm not sure how long I'll stay in India. I'm returning home in November to spend the holidays with my family, and I may test the job market again. Asia is my economic escape hatch. If things don't work out in the States, I'll go back to a place where I can live cheaply and make my savings last.

There might not be room for us recent college graduates in the job market at home, but the world is a big place. I bet somewhere out there is an opportunity for each of us. So go. Ω

[St. Louis-native Andrew Dana Hudson majored in political science at Fordham University. He works as an associate editor at Sikkim NOW, a small newspaper in India. You can follow his blog at]

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

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Today's Mantra: Get A Job (Policy)!

Thanks to the magic of Tim Bermers-Lee, this blog supplies background music for a post sent along by the youngest reader of this blog out in the Valley of the Sun. The irony of this song, which topped the charts in 1958, is that The Silhouettes were a one-hit wonder and they never made the charts again.

[x YouTube/Grandprix1963 Channel]
"Get A Job" (1958)
By The Silhouettes

If is (fair & balanced) hand-jive, so be it.

PS: Full Disclosure — This blogger can count the number of jobs he got on his own hook on the fingers of one hand (if three digits had been amputated); this blogger never had the job-finding mojo. Gaining employment in 2010 is a nightmare beyond belief.

[x The Daily Beast]
Reboot America!
By The Daily Beast (Tina Brown, Edward Felsenthal, et al.)

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Fourteen million unemployed represents a gigantic waste of human capital, an irrecoverable loss of wealth and spending power, and an affront to the ideals of America. Some 6.8 million have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. Members of Congress went home to celebrate July 4 having failed to extend unemployment benefits.

We recognize the necessity of a program to cut the mid- and long-term federal deficit but the imperative requirement now, and the surest course to balance the budget over time, is to restore a full measure of economic activity. As in the 1930s, the economy is suffering a sharp decline in aggregate demand and loss of business confidence. Long experience shows that monetary policy may not be enough, particularly in deep slumps, as Keynes noted.

The urgent need is for government to replace the lost purchasing power of the unemployed and their families and to employ other tax-cut and spending programs to boost demand. Making deficit reduction the first target, without addressing the chronic underlying deficiency of demand, is exactly the error of the 1930s. It will prolong the great recession, harm the social cohesion of the country, and continue inflicting unnecessary hardship on millions of Americans.


Alan Blinder
Alan Blinder was vice chairman of the Federal Reserve and served on Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers; he’s the Gordon S. Rentschler Memorial Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University.

Daniel Kevles
Daniel Kevles is the former faculty chair at California Institute of Technology and serves as a professor of history at Yale University.

David Reynolds
David Reynolds is an international history professor and fellow at Christ’s College in Cambridge. His latest book is America, Empire of Liberty: A New History of the United States.

Derek Shearer
Derek Shearer served as the ambassador to Finland from 1994-1997. He is now a diplomacy and world affairs professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

Jim Hoge
Jim Hoge is editor of Foreign Affairs and the former editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, which won six Pulitzer Prizes under his tutelage. He is co-editor of How Did This Happen? Terrorism and the New War.

John Cassidy
A journalist and author of the book How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities, John Cassidy has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1995, covering economics and business.

Joseph Stiglitz
Joseph Stiglitz is the former chief economist of the World Bank, and a recipient of the Nobel Prize and the John Bates Clark Medal; currently, he’s a professor at Columbia University. He is most recently the author of Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy and The Stiglitz Report: Reforming the International Monetary and Financial Systems in the Wake of the Global Crisis.

Laura Tyson
Laura Tyson served as the chair of Council of Economic Advisers and the director of the National Economic Council during the Clinton administration. She is a professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.

Lizabeth Cohen
Lizabeth Cohen is the Howard Mumford Jones Professor of American Studies in the History Department at Harvard University, and author of Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939.

Harold Evans
Sir Harold Evans is a journalist and former editor of The Sunday Times and the Times, who was knighted in 2004 for his services to journalism. His award-winning book, They Made America, chronicled the country’s most important innovators and inventors.

Nancy Folbre
Nancy Folbre won a MacArthur Genius Award, is a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and recently wrote the book Saving State U: Fixing Public Higher Education.

Richard Parker
Richard Parker, a former congressional consultant, is a public policy lecturer and senior fellow at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He is the author of The Myth of the Middle Class, Mixed Signals: The Future of Global Television News, and John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics.

Robert Reich
A professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, Robert Reich was the 22nd secretary of Labor under President Clinton. He is the author of 12 books, including his most recent Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life.

Sean Wilentz
Sean Wilentz is the Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Professor in the American Revolutionary Era at Princeton. His book, The Rise of American Democracy: From Jefferson to Lincoln, won the 2006 Bancroft Prize.

Sidney Blumenthal
Sidney Blumenthal is a former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and advised Hillary Clinton during her 2008 presidential campaign. His books include The Clinton Wars and The Permanent Campaign.

Simon Schama
The author and host of the BBC documentary "A History of Britain," Simon Schama is a historian who teaches at Columbia University. Ω

Copyright © 2010 RTST Inc.

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2010 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves