Carla Hashley had hit rock bottom. In 2012, she was laid off from her nonprofit job in Washington, D.C., and took a $10-an-hour gig at the Gap. Meanwhile, her lease was ending and she started selling her furniture and talking with her father about a move back to Michigan. This was not what she envisioned when she moved to the nation’s capital.
“I felt horrible that I couldn’t get another job. I felt that there was something wrong with me and that was supposed to be in my control, and I couldn’t get a job,” says Hashley, now 30, who has a master’s degree in organizational leadership.
“I just had this horribly low self-esteem and low self-worth because in a city that is so career driven and so network driven, I just was so embarrassed and so down on myself that I couldn’t get a better job and the question was what was wrong with me and what was I doing wrong and why did I go to grad school?”
It is easy to assume that every college-educated Jewish young adult in the D.C. area has a good job and salary. But after the economic crash in 2008, wages for young Americans fell in every major industry except for health care, and while the economy has been in a steady recovery since 2009, wages for young people are growing at 60 percent of overall wages.
And according to a 2014 report called “Bursting the Bubble,” the unemployment and underemployment rates for young workers in the D.C. region are more than twice that of older workers. The study also found that the number of jobs available for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher has not kept pace with an increase in highly educated workers moving to the area.
During her 22-month job search, Hashley got more involved at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in downtown D.C. and got to know Rabbi Shira Stutman, who encouraged Hashley to stay in Washington. Stutman sits on the board of Jews United for Justice, so when Hashley saw a posting at JUFJ for an office manager position, Stutman put in a recommendation, and Hashley was offered the position.
Hashley has been at JUFJ for seven months and says she really likes the job. This time last year she was working retail and was miserable. “I get to really support people and feel that my work is valued and that my experience and my opinion are valued, which I did not feel in retail.”
Ethan Miller, 23, grew up in Rockville and graduated from American University with a degree in economics. He got a full-time job as a union organizer, but recently found out that he is going to be laid off at the end of the month.
He calls himself a “perennial optimist” and says he is not worried about finding another job.
“I have a lot of friends who are looking out for me, putting in a good word here and there. That’s a big thing in general. Progressive organizing in D.C. is a small world and everyone knows everyone. That’s not to say it won’t be middle of January, and I won’t have a job yet,” says Miller.
Miller says he has a lot of friends who are going through what Hashley experienced – graduating college with degrees in international studies or sociology, looking for nonprofit or government jobs with no luck and ending up working in retail or food service.
“It’s really not a tale of two cities as some people say,” remarks Rebecca Ennen, JUFJ’s development and communications director. “It’s a tale of one city in which people across a wide range of income levels are really struggling to make this area their home.”
Working with Ennen at JUFJ is Hashley, who says she is building herself back up to where she should be at her age after a rough two-year period.
“It’s one of those things that was really terrible to go through,” says Hashley. “But I think it has made me a better and more interesting person and put me on a path that I’m much happier with in the long run.”