Two months ago, I met Ana from Bulgaria in one of the mentor-mentee training sessions organized by a non-profit organization dealing with employment related issues. Ana has been here in the U.S. as an immigrant for 4 years now and is still looking for a “good” job in a dynamic city like NYC. I would say Ana is both academically competent and functionally well-equipped. She obtained her PhD in engineering and held senior technical job positions in the same and related fields in her homeland for many years. Her work experience is exceptional and she speaks German, English and her native language fluently.
Ana embarked on a trip to US, leaving her native land to pursue her lucrative career with the end goal of becoming a successful engineer in the U.S. someday. She was convinced that the U.S. is the place flowing with “milk and honey” and where she could hone more her talents and expertise and eventually realize her dreams. As soon as she arrived, she started scouting for jobs, applying for various positions at different offices, sending out resumes and joining in social networking clubs. She managed to grab a couple of interviews but the agony of counting the days, months, and years passing by with no positive results was too frustrating and demoralizing on her part. As a matter of fact, she even took the advice to diversify, develop her other skills, explore all possible options to the extent of investing money and time to expand her horizons and to spruce it all up, so to speak. She undertook preliminary licensure examinations for teachers, so she can land in a teaching job as an option, regardless of education level, particularly in math related subjects. She came to a point where she thought her identity was in crisis, began to lose hope on her engineering career and had even contemplated to stop sending out CVs to prospective employers. But she’s not a full blown loser as of yet, as she still believes that she’ll get what she desires in due time. I don’t have to elaborate on how she’s managing to survive with NY’s high standard of living, particularly in the Manhattan area where rental fees for a one bedroom cramped apartment is relatively exorbitant. One could only surmise that what she’s doing now for a living may be considered “odd” but dignified, however not the kind of job she’s dreaming for and definitely not the job that’s commensurate to her qualifications.
So, what’s wrong? Where did she get wrong? Why can’t she find a good job with all the stellar qualifications and glowing references on hand? Believe me, these could also be the series of questions boggling the minds of thousands of competent and bright “unemployed”/ “underemployed” immigrants originating from all corners of the globe who are trying to penetrate and understand the upper U.S. labor market.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Ana. I told her, “it’s the economy” chummy! She could just be one of the victims of the economic recession in the U.S. which started a couple of years back. It was just unfortunate that she came to the U.S. at a time when recession was budding, about few months upon her arrival. As such, her great professional track record guaranteed her nothing during those times. It is no longer a brain race anymore, the real score is that most of the financial and multinational institutions and high paying companies are stocked in trade: it’s either they were obligated not to get new entrants under the stimulus act or they have adopted the so-called wait-and-see attitude, which is taking long years already, and that’s the bad news.
Specifically for U.S. immigrants, underemployment and unemployment are mounting concerns during economic hard times. Jobs aren’t offered to applicants on a silver platter; it doesn’t come easily especially during recession when companies are edgy about their ROIs which made them decide to freeze hiring and stop recruiting new faces. Job hunting activities for immigrants are no funny as well. Competition is stiff as they have to contend with the American citizens who are equally qualified as they are but are also struggling to get their means of living in these difficult times. Hence, this situation adds more to the emotional, physical and financial stresses which some immigrants are facing nowadays. So, is there still hope for underemployed and unemployed professional immigrants like Ana to get a decent high paying job in the future?
The job scenario continues to be bleak based on recounts of U.S.-based economists. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) latest data shows an unemployment rate of 9.5%, which means that it hasn’t change much, indicative that the recession in the US has never really ended. Even for the American youths (16 to 24 year olds) , BLS data showed a 19.1% , the highest unemployment rate on record since 1948. One economist even emphasized in a forum that the end of recession in the U.S. is not in the offing. She further mentioned that the U.S. economy could suffer slow growth and high unemployment for more long years as a result of the global economic crisis and the collapse of the housing market. Such dismal outlook may not be in consonance with the U.S. Government, specifically the President’s program to create 3.7 million jobs under the American Reconstruction and Reconciliation Act of 2009 or the so-called Stimulus Act. The present Government could have underestimated the problem from the very beginning. The dismal forecast of some of the economists could possibly be valid as based on a report released by a member of the House Committee of the Ways and Means, a total of 2.6 million jobs have been lost from the time the said bill was enacted into law, thereby not meeting the targets of creating million jobs as espoused in the stimulus bill. Such report does not provide much hopes to the newly graduates who are very much excited to land in a job and to the laid-off employees who are as desperate to go back into the workforce.
The said unpromising job scenario hit ordinary immigrants like Ana as she had difficulty in getting better opportunities as far as her career is concerned. While job sites often publish job openings everyday, it is very seldom that one could hear a story about company hiring back workers or getting new applicants on a full-time basis. Rather, what is clear and evident is that there were companies which have been closed and there are companies that are about to close and stop its operations due to the current crisis. Thus, there is no sign that permanent jobs in the U.S. will either pick up soon or in the near future.
However, BLS projects that total employment will increase by 10% (or will create 15.3 million jobs) within a span of 8 years, until 2018. But the said jobs will not be evenly distributed among the major industries and that the said job creation is still dependent on various factors (e.g. changes in consumer demand, improvements in technology) which are crucial in the employment structure of the U.S. economy.
I would say, Ana and other similarly situated immigrants should remain hopeful in the U.S. Government. Just like any recessions in the past, it will have its ending- it will be over, hopefully soon. With a Divine miracle perhaps, it is possible. Recent survey of a sample of respondents conducted by an online magazine owned by one of the top search engines reveal a slight improvement, but not bright. Overall, 36% of the respondents have been employed in a job that suits their skills while 22% have been underemployed in a job that neither meet their skills nor salary needs and the rest have been unemployed for a certain period of time.
I spoke with Ana lately and she is definitely not taking a lackadaisical approach on her quest for her American dream, “no matter how hopeless, no matter how far”! As a matter of fact, she has learned to accept the cheerless facts and instead decided to make use of her talents by volunteering and tutoring ‘special” kids. According to her, this new endeavor gave her the chance to give back the blessings she received before and a time to appreciate life even more. She said maybe it will take another time to put everything in place, to have a “good life”. She’s still very much optimistic and confident that she’ll realize her American dream someday!
Note: Please fee free to share your thoughts on this.