Recession Grads: The fight for entry level positions

Photo from Dan Durazo.

We’re three-and-a-half years into the Great Recession, and nearly a quarter of recent college graduates are unemployed in the United States. And 40% of those who do have jobs have ones that don’t require a college degree. 

To continue our series on recession grads, reporter Melissa McDonough spoke with one young graduate who is working. Kelly Cha graduated from Berkeley and is now a graphics delineator for the City of Oakland – it’s a position she earned after interning for the city for over two years. Here’s her story.

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KYUNGHO CHA: My name is Kyungho Cha, but since it's somewhat difficult to pronounce, a lot of people call me Kelly. I'm from South Korea, this little town called Yoshu – it's about an hour away from the capital city, Seoul. I moved from Korea to San Diego with my parents and my siblings. I was almost 14. Basically, I think it was one of the … you can call it American Dream. So I guess it was one of the way for them to give us better education and better future.

My parents didn't, they don't have a college degree. And they had a lot of expectations and I was kind of, you know, feeling their expectations, I was being a good student and I got into college, pretty respectable one, and, they were just thinking that I would graduate and start working and be independent. But that wasn't the case. It wasn't the great time to look for jobs.

It was interesting, because, one, this one position that I applied, it was assistant planner position down in Southern California. So I actually drove down to an interview with them. When I got in there I was pretty surprised that there were already about 20 to 30 people scheduled to be interviewed before me, and some more after me. And thinking about, like, how many people applied and how many people they, you know, interviewed out of those applicants. It was pretty ... surprising. And eye-opening. About the reality of me getting a job.

You graduate college and you're supposed to getting the entry level position, but when you're applying to entry level position there are people who already had entry level positions applying for the job. Most of the people have bachelor's degrees and a lot of people have master’s degrees, and if they have the same degrees and more experience and they're applying for the same position, it's ... I would say not fair, but more difficult.

This piece was recorded by Melissa McDonough. Cha recently transitioned from a temporary position as an intern to a permanent position with the City of Oakland’s Planning Department. Although her parents have moved back to South Korea, Cha is a proud U.S. citizen. She eagerly naturalized so she could vote in the 2008 presidential election. 

Find more of Melissa McDonough's work at Recession Grads.