The Class of 2009 – The Best and Worst of Times
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all doing direct the other way.
We have certainly seen the worst economic times in our lifetime during the past year. On March 9, 2009, the Dow bottomed out at 6,547, less than half its value only a year earlier. Think about it–the entire net worth of American industry shrunk by half in less than 12 months.
Yet since March 9, 2009, we have seen some of the best of times on Wall Street as the Dow rose a meteoric 50% in value in less than 6 months.
But more importantly, most of us live on Main Street, not Wall Street. What does all this mean for us as parents, businesspeople and entrepreneurs?
One thing I’m seeing today is the bifurcation occurring among young people just entering the workplace. Looking back already at the Class of 2009, I see that most of the new college graduates I know, and know of, did not find the job of their dreams (or anything close to it).
But those students who did graduate at the very top of their class, from the most prestigious schools, with the best summer internships on their resumes, got exceptional jobs as if there were no recession. Moreover, these jobs paid very high wages for 22-year-old undergraduates (annual salaries of $60,000 – $110,000). Several of these students have already contacted me about starting their own business.
Why is this? Why hasn’t the recession affected the very top students?
Our top students have not been affected because they have extremely well-honed skills which in today’s world are enhanced by technology. In the past, a Fortune 500 company might have needed 1,000 newly minted college graduates each year to fill entry-level positions in sales or customer service. But today, thanks to the Internet, SMS texting, and automated call centers, this same company might only need 105 newly-minted college graduates for such positions: 100 “normal” graduates for traditional positions plus 5 superstar top graduates to design the systems and write the text for the websites, and the SMS texting programs, and the scripts for the call centers.
I’m seeing this bifurcation in the workplace at all levels–where one worker is permanently laid off, and his co-worker (who better uses technology) receives a 20% raise and a new PC to do both his and the laid-off worker’s job.
At all levels in industry I see another quotation from England in the 19th century coming true. In 1845, Benjamin Disraeli, the future prime minister of England, warned of the danger of his country disintegrating into “two nations, between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy … as if they were dwellers in different zones or inhabitants of different planets.”
These bifurcations among new college graduates, and among existing workers, are creating a new opportunity in our economy that could eventually become a major industry: The “business” of “business opportunity”–creating new functions in our economy for people displaced from traditional jobs. I plan to examine this bifurcation in the workplace phenomenon further as we see the effects of the recession, and great technological change, unfold before us.
While the recession may have technically begun on September 15, 2008 with the fall of Lehman Brothers, the effects of the recession will just begin for most of us on September 15, 2009–due to 1-year unemployment benefits and several other programs that have delayed the effects of the Great Crash of 2008-2009 from reaching Main Street.
Stay tuned–and please chime in now with your first-hand experience with the Great Crash of 2008-2009.