Young people on the TUC's March for A Future That Works. Photo: Paul box
Underemployed, underpaid and overqualified
The words in the title of this blog post are familiar statements but it’s often hard to connect to the reality of what it involves.
I am underemployed because I work part time hours – despite wanting and needing more to live and thrive – and because, for this work, I barely earn over the minimum wage. I barely earn more than someone on benefits and never have anything left at the end of the month to save.
Even bleaker than this, I have to work four years to even be considered for a pay rise; in which time inflation and the cost of living has risen exponentially. The world of low paying jobs is one devoid of bonuses, incentives, commission or tips to enhance my earnings; things I feel many professionals take for granted or consider the norm to supplement their income.
Is this fair?
In a culture of job snobbery many people would say yes; menial jobs aren’t challenging and therefore don’t deserve the same level of remuneration. But, don’t people deserve more than simply existing on the poverty line entrapped in the cyclical realms of debt?
How about some further education to make yourself more employable?
Once you’ve thrown your mortar board into the air the ideal is that you are swiftly enrolled onto a graduate scheme or enter the effervescent labour market with your new qualifications.
But what happens when the jobs simply aren’t available?
As a first class graduate I don’t feel a sense of entitlement. I just wanted to be considered. I invested in a higher education qualification to give myself a chance – to escape the snare and limited prospects of an unskilled job – only to find myself stuck in place.
It seems that in order to succeed you need an inheritance; a family connection to place your foot on the career ladder. So, what if you have to forge this network from scratch?
The slowly recovering and ultra-competitive labour market wants to pay the least it can to fill the limited vacancies on offer; many rely on the voluntary nature of internships and the eager yet disposable ‘workforce’ of recent graduates. Rarely ever do they lead to a permanent role.
However, internships and work experience exist in a privileged sphere that requires reliance on the Bank of Mum (and Dad) and being able to live rent-free for the duration of the placements.
The graduate’s perceived lack of value creates a transaction of worthlessness and references that are deemed by many as untranslatable. Many graduates feel undervalued when they’re doing the equivalent of another member of staff’s full-time job description but aren’t deemed worthy of even a minimum wage for their time and expertise. The loss of earnings incurred by this responsibility or the stress of juggling this with other CV enriching activities like volunteering, and part time work adds to the depression and hopelessness of endless applications and silence.
Currently I’m stuck in a limbo of retaining my part-time job – with no possibility of progression – meanwhile I am labeled as both under- and now over- qualified, with my soon to be attained postgraduate accreditation, yet still find my life on hold for the foreseeable future.
How long could you afford not to be paid for?