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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Recession in Opportunity

This is a bit high-level to be a post here, but far too long for 140 characters. So here goes.

The past couple of years in the economy has been a period of extremes not seen in many decades. To anyone familiar with historical financial indicators it will be no surprise that there is far-reaching fallout.

Standing beside the more obvious indicators, there's extreme cyclicality happening in a variety of aspects of the labor market.

During the bubble - for some people - we saw an excess of compensation, title inflation, reward for appearances as opposed to demonstrated expertise, etc. When the economy was hit hard, a lot of highly paid, widely-lauded, highly-positioned people landed in the job market. It takes time for those folks to find similar challenges in new positions. And for the undeserving, it takes time for them to adjust to more ordinary pay scales and harder work.

But that can swing the other way, as it now seems to be doing. For the most recent graduates, if this recession persists, a number of outstanding candidates won't be getting the opportunities they need to progress into responsible, upwardly mobile roles in 3-5 years time. Languishing too long in underemployment and unemployment skews the distribution of opportunity to make one's mark and "learn one's way" up the ladder.

Of course, I'm optimistic and I see plenty of jobs for the right people. But rationing out great opportunities to only a select few won't cut it. Every generation deserves a fighting chance at relevant entry-level opportunities, and the economy functions better if they get it.

That's why I tend to be an advocate of the "hold your nose and bias towards stimulus" approach, and we can't declare victory just yet. I'm no fan of the way the bubbles got created nor of the horrendous decisions to reward automakers and Wall Street for the troubles they got themselves, and us, into. But the alternative to a continued search for creative ways to jolt the economy out of freefall is no good: one of the best-educated, flexible-minded crops of recent graduates in history, sitting around gathering dust.

Sorry, Starbucks, but I'd rather see fewer baristas, and more skilled knowledge workers entering Creative Class occupations. I can get my own coffee for awhile.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




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