Slippery Slope

How can we break down these walls if all we have for tools are the hands we posses? How can we break down these walls if the hands we have are not strong enough to make even a dent?

NPR recently aired a story last week about how the unemployment rate has dropped two-tenths of a percent from 8.3 to 8.1%; but the unemployment rate has dropped for the wrong reasons. It did not drop due to more people obtaining jobs but rather  due to more people becoming discouraged and dropping out of the workforce altogether. You can listen to the story here.

I’ve been thinking a lot about unemployment and “skills mismatch” lately and am always very unsettled. The facts show that many of the people who were laid off when the recession hit are those who are close to retirement age (mid-40s to mid-50s) and unskilled workers. To me that presents two conundrums: 1) those who are close to retirement age are not very likely to be re-hired by companies because the companies won’t be able to retain them and would rather hire younger workers who are more likely to stay with the company longer and 2) those who are unskilled have very little education and often times a very weak grasp on English. In short, it will be near impossible for both groups to find any type of employment. Unemployment compensation only lasts for so long and they need some source of income in order to survive.

All of this makes me very pessimistic about the future especially when I think about the effects this is having on not just those individuals who were laid off and still have not found jobs but also on the generations after them, especially those who are unskilled workers and have very little education. How can they possibly support their children so that one day their children can support them and support America?

Growing up as a child of immigrant parents, having a father who was laid off (and still has not found a job because he lacks not only the skills but the understanding), having younger siblings who are still in the K-12 school system, I fall right in the heart of this turmoil. Then I think about others like me, friends that I know, relatives of mine, others united in this plight. We try so hard to escape the cycle of poverty but at times it seems like we are just running in around in circles thinking that we are getting somewhere.

Despite having graduated from a prestigious four-year institution (with the help of numerous hard-earned scholarships and generous grants), at times, I feel like my degree has very little value. As a recent graduate with only a bachelors, I’m not considered “experienced” enough to obtain any real meaningful position with any organization where I can make an impact and let’s not even talk about salary and compensation. Sometimes I feel my degree has very little value because it is overshadowed by everything else about me – things I can control and try to overcome – and not about me – things others assume about me.

I’m currently serving as an AmeriCorps member because I am working on issues that matter to me and that I care strongly about but with a modest living allowance of $11,500, I’m not really at a point where I am able to help any of my loved ones, and just barely myself. I know it is a choice to serve and I am choosing to do it despite all of the challenges because the communities AmeriCorps members impact directly are so ingrained as a part of me that I must serve. Giving back and helping others and those around me in my community have always been a large part of who I am. I know that in order to do that, I have to first support myself so that I can support others. It is so hard because I feel like I am always taking one step forward and two steps back. I can’t go too far because I want to be able to keep that bridge between me and those I care about intact but each time I go back, I feel like whatever progress I  made was next to nothing.

All of the steps forward are not exceeding all of the steps backward. I try and I try but it’s just not happening. I can barely keep things intact as the middle person and I wonder about those who don’t have a middle person. How are they doing? This is why it is so important to find some way to rescue all of those who are laid off and still unemployed, especially those who are uneducated and unskilled. How can we find a way to keep them engaged so that not only are they productive to society but more importantly so that they are productive to their family? I really want an answer to this question but it is so hard that I don’t even know how to ask what it is I want to find a solution to.

Let me just end by saying, there is too much hardship and injustice in this world for us to be selfish.

“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”     – Robert F. Kennedy

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One thought on “Slippery Slope

  1. last night I tried responding on my phone to this post, but this morning I checked my e-mail and wasn’t sure if this was replied to correctly from my phone to the e-mail link….in case it didn’t, here it is:

    I have been doting on the same worries… For exactly what you said… My dad openly frets (mostly my mom) about if he loses his factory job, it’ll be hard/impossible to be re-hired. Dad works for the same company called Banta- they make paper products- he’s a bindery operator. He worked for them since we got here in 1998 but @ the St.Paul factory @ Fairview/Snelling… Then that closed down so he applied at where he is now: the Maple Grove Banta – its also undergone changes too-it was bought out by R.RM Donnelly. I have paid close attention to the economic debate/stats and have the same worries as you mentioned… Many of our Hmong folks are in the same boat and face/already face those hurdles… Let’s just hope Obama wins again because we are already slowly clawing out of this recession.

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