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Davis, California

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Column: Ushering in 2011

2011 has already brought with it some changes, perhaps the least important of which is my controversial move to page 3. Aside from that, economists seem to think we’ve “stopped digging” our global economic hole and will begin climbing out in 2011 (now that a handful of Chilean miners have shown us how). Call me a cynic, but that’s change I have a hard time believing in.

These economists write of complex economic indicators like the decreasing unemployment insurance claims and increased holiday sales figures from the comfort of their city offices … where they have jobs that pay steady salaries to support their families.

Meanwhile, in Madrid, The New York Times reported that Sara Sanfulgencio, 28, has her master’s in marketing yet has to live with her mother, who owns a small shoe store for kids. Coral Herrera Gómez, 33, has a Ph.D. in humanities yet the European job market forced her too to move back into her childhood bedroom in her parent’s home. Francesca Esposito is 29, speaks five languages fluently, has a law degree from Italy and a master’s from Germany and took the only work she could find, as an unpaid trainee lawyer at Italy’s social security administration fighting on behalf of Italy’s elderly, who have continually “crowded out the young for jobs.” She receives no pay for her services. None.

These European women have achieved unmistakable academic feats – the same feats students here at UC Davis aspire to in an effort to make a respectable living – and they still earn a combined zero dollars a year as a function of their efforts.

Sanfulgencio hasn’t been able to find a job with a salary since completing her degree. Gómez was earning 600 euros a month (or $791) as a children’s drama teacher but recently quit in the hopes of finding professorial work in Costa Rica. Esposito quit her government gig, and is now finishing her lawyer traineeship at a private firm in Lecce. She says that it still “pays little but sits better on her conscience than her unpaid work for the government,” helping dole out money to an older generation that has been indirectly keeping the young out of work.

As a fifth-year student six months from the job market, naturally I read this in The New York Times and think to myself, “Well I’m fucked.”

I don’t speak five languages; I’m still getting this whole English thing down. I certainly don’t have a master’s from Germany or a Ph.D. from Spain. There is no job here in the states that I could apply for when I graduate that all three of these women are not more qualified to do. Lucky for you and me, despite their advanced degrees they can’t seem to make enough money to catch a flight and come compete in America’s worst job market in decades (which is still in better shape than theirs).

Last quarter I worked on a Congressional reelection campaign. My boss represented CA-10, which includes Antioch, a city in Contra Costa County where over 20 percent of the 31,000 homes have been foreclosed on since 2007. As we finished a precinct walk there, one of our most active Antioch volunteers took me aside. He begged me – a 23-year-old campaign staffer – to help him find work. He told me he could drive a bus, do janitorial work, anything. I’d known him for perhaps two months and I was in no position to be offering the campaign’s money for anyone’s services. We stood in the pouring rain outside of his family’s home, which a bank now owns, with a stack of door hangers in momentary silence.

I had never had a grown man beg me for anything. His words hit me in such a profound way; he was campaigning that day, in the rain, without reservation, not because of his belief in the Democratic cause necessarily, but because he was desperate. The people he loved most in the world depended on him, and he felt he could do nothing to improve their situation.

After cleaning up our materials and saying goodbye to his wife and daughter, I got in my car and I just sat there and wept.

The families, couples and individuals who are actually suffering from this economic crisis are not concerned with economists’ holiday sales figures or the fact that less people need unemployment. They care about jobs. As The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman put it Sunday, “Jobs, not G.D.P. numbers, are what matter to American families. And when you start from an unemployment rate of almost 10 percent … the amount of growth you need to get back to a tolerable jobs picture is daunting.”

In Europe, Sanfulgencio, Gómez and Esposito are considering their national unemployment of almost 20 percent and considering the campaign volunteer lucky.

“They call us the lost generation,” said Gómez. “I’m not young, but I’m not an adult with a job, either.”

Reach JOSH ROTTMAN at jjrottman@ucdavis.edu.


  1. The job market, indeed, is soft, and I don’t believe that the factors influencing it are as simple or shallow as many political leaders will portray.

    But your rash anecdotal analysis of global economic conditions leaves much to be desired. The economic factors that influence Europe’s job market, which is saddled with high firing and hiring costs, are vastly different than the ones which have led to nearly 10% unemployment in the United States. And the foreclosure crisis, which you alluded to in your post, is definitely a systemic flaw of American society — a society which encourages consumption and pushes Americans to live outside their means (and bankers who are rewarded for deceiving naive consumers).

    But don’t be mistaken, fine sir: the American economy is recovering, and the Obama administration is slowly reestablishing the regulatory infrastructure that will provide some degree of ballast against future bubbles.


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