Young workers feeling the recessionís wrath

By Eric Mathison

Since the economy started its downward spiral late last summer, we of the insulated student population haven’t had need for the same apprehension as the rest of society. We have no life savings to lose, no homes to be repossessed by the bank and job security is more likely to be a security job. Sure, Harvard lost $8 billion of its endowment and faculties, as well as banks, are constantly preparing to merge, but through all that the ivory tower- brown and overrun with geese in our case- is still standing.

Now that the winter semester is over 20,000 full-time students have bombarded a job market at a seven year low. Things are tight. Maybe it didn’t take this long to catch up to us at the bottom- I just might not have been looking- but four months is not a long time to save up for next year and every week that goes by makes me more inclined to push for prohibition so I can become a bootlegger, though I haven’t worked out all the details quite yet.

The Wall Street Journal recently wrote that with layoffs becoming necessary as companies struggle to trim costs, anti-discrimination laws and legal threats have forced managers to show younger people the door. In contrast, during previous downturns, companies released the aged or those nearing retirement. Similarly, consideration is given to those with families over unmarried and dependent-free individuals.

Whether these choices make business sense or not is debatable. Arguments abound regarding whether younger people are more productive; quantifying individual indispensability is similarly fraught with problems. Regarding productivity, labour jobs will likely be better handled by younger workers, while fields relying on fresh ideas could go either way.

As one zooms out, the picture may remain fuzzy. The simple math of more employees being let go means that there are less peripheral costs associated with each one- office space, health insurance and so on- and may therefore be an enticing choice. What it also means is that if more people are let go to cut costs, unemployment will be higher and will likely remain higher as those with less experience fight to get back into steady work – a break from previous downturns when cuts to senior staff often led to them leaving the workforce altogether. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many people in entry-level positions have been laid off and have returned to the jobs they were doing during school, such as serving, bartending and retail. This means those still in school- who can’t commit to full time hours- are having a much harder time of it.

Business sense aside, is having a child a job security mechanism? As a manager, is it right to be swayed into choosing whom to lay off because someone has a family and not show a person with different life goals similar empathy? It seems hard to say yes. Of course, having a child shouldn’t hinder someone’s employment opportunities. When the tough choice of who stays and who goes has to be made, though, it would be preferable that the decision come down to how well the person serves the company, not factors outside the control of the younger generation.

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