This is part of our U.S. Election 2012: Canadians in America series – expats talking about life and politics south of the border.
The U.S. economy is in the midst of a long and slow recovery, with jobs being added to the economy at a rate that is below expectations. We looked to our group of Canadian expats to reflect on the toll of joblessness on their communities during the Obama years.
It’s not all doom and gloom, as pointed out by one of our expats, in large part because many Canadian expats work in the knowledge economy and not the sectors that have been hardest hit by the downturn.
Regan Fletcher in San Francisco, Calif., from Oshawa, Ont.:
I read the national [unemployment] numbers, but the reality in Silicon Valley is that the economy has been booming. Over the past four years I’ve been in the position of looking for employees and looking for a new job, and the competition for both is fierce.
When I started to look for a new job myself I heard from a recruiter about every other week. I felt very confident in walking away from my previous employer without having a new job in hand. In fact, I was able to be so picky in whether or not I even bothered to interview for a job that I was able to take multiple jobs.
Rather than choose just one company I started my own consulting company and have taken on as clients multiple companies that wanted to hire me full-time. I’m able to charge more for my time and I don’t work on the same thing for more than a couple days a week.
Derek Congram, archaeologist in Honolulu, Hawaii, from Ontario:
Hawaii is different (I think that should be on the licence plates). As long as tourism is strong and the military isn’t planning on bailing, things are fine. There was a bit of a scare following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami because the Japanese constitute the biggest group of visitors, but after a short lull things seem to be okay. Chinese tourists are on the rise too.
Despite deep government cuts almost everywhere, including the military, the Pacific region is actually being bolstered, so that favours economic growth in Hawaii.
Kieran Edling, student in Philadelphia, Penn., from Toronto:
Philadelphia’s unemployment numbers are a few points higher than the rest of the country. In my community I don’t notice a whole lot of change, the low-income households have remained low-income households.
Poverty got a little deeper, but the problems here existed well before the recession and recent joblessness. While the poverty in urban America issue that I’ve ranted about a few times surrounds me at work, I’m pretty removed from it personally.
The majority of those I interact with are university students who are often unable to find work they set out to find after graduation.
Many of my classmates in my MBA program are back in school because they’ve tested the waters of the “real world” and found nothing relevant to them. From the sounds of it, graduate school is now almost a necessity.
Lucky graduates who did find relevant work are finding that they can’t get promoted unless they go back and get a master’s degree. By what the director of my program tells me, the unemployment rate in this country for those with a master’s degree or higher is about 3 per cent, well below the national average.
Anne Britton, optometrist living in Rapid City, South Dakota, from Montreal:
South Dakota unemployment rate in November 2008: 3.4 per cent. In May 2012: 4.4 per cent.
We’re doing well. The biggest employers are in financial sector (Citibank), military (Ellsworth AFB, home of the B1 bomber), health care, tourism (Black Hills & Mt. Rushmore) and farming and ranching.
I doubt the unemployment rate of the many Indian reservations is factored in there. It stands between 50 to 70 per cent. Most of the election talk here is about health care, veterans and military.
Sherry Halfyard, business consultant living in Tempe, Arizona, originally from Vancouver:
Arizona, more specifically the Phoenix area, has been hit hard during the “great recession.” Working as a job coach with AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) since February 2011 has put me on the front lines of the employment crisis.
Although slowly improving, Arizona is trailing the national employment statistics.
What I’ve noticed is those 50-plus that have low levels of education and computer literacy are falling off the grid; in other words, they are exhausting their unemployment benefits and therefore no longer being counted as “unemployed.”
One of my clients, a well-educated public school vice principal, became very discouraged after applying for hundreds of jobs over a 6-month period; he decided to move back to his home state of Oregon. Ironically, Oregon with its high median income, has the highest state usage of food stamps. I’m not confident he will find the quality of work he is seeking.
Meredith Miller, public relations professional from Toronto living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
During the winter of 2009, when it seemed that each morning news headline was announcing the collapse of yet another major corporation, I remember feeling very nervous about what this might mean for my job – especially when my ability to live and work in the U.S. was tied to my work visa. Washington, DC is very much a bubble, and despite the dreary news coming from the rest of the country, the area remained strong (mostly due to the government), and my company at the time fared very well, practically doubling in size.
I now reside in Pittsburgh, which has certainly fallen upon hard times, thanks to the decline of steel production in the region; however, the area has re-invented itself, and has become a hub for medical research, technology, and energy (specifically natural gas drilling with Marcellus Shale).
In Allegheny County, home to the city of Pittsburgh and the county where I live, the unemployment rate is below the 8.2 per cent national average and currently sits at 6.7 per cent.
I definitely had several close friends get laid off from their jobs from 2009-2010. I know I have been fortunate, and that there are many regions of the country that are still hurting and struggling to recover.
Ben Wright, web co-ordinator in Atlanta, Ga., from PEI.
Ben Wright recently spent several months unemployed because his job with the Atlanta Thrashers organization was moved to Winnipeg:
Fortunately my background in web content and social media happens to dovetail with one of the biggest growth industries in Atlanta and there was no shortage of jobs to apply for. Thanks to some severance pay and my wife’s stable job I could afford to be picky and I was able to end up with a pretty good position instead of settling for something I didn’t want.
Now I work in higher education, and while the national trend is for graduates to struggle finding work straight out of college, roughly 70 per cent of our graduates had jobs lined up before graduating. A market exists for highly skilled young workers, especially in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.
Georgia’s unemployment rate is right around the national average right now but Atlanta’s is sitting at about 11 per cent. I don’t know the demographic makeup of that 11 per cent, but there seem to be plenty of knowledge-based jobs available in Atlanta these days, especially in advertising and marketing (along with the aforementioned STEM jobs). That shouldn’t be surprising since Coke, The Home Depot, UPS, Delta, and a wealth of other companies all have their headquarters here.
Regan Fletcher in San Francisco, Calif., from Oshawa, Ont.:
In reading the responses to this question and noticing that almost all of them have talked about the recession not being very noticeable in their region, it occurred to me that almost all of us came to the U.S. because of work.
And that means we had to go through an immigration application process that wasn’t rubber stamped and had to qualify based on the notion that an American could not do the same job.
So it probably makes sense that most of the people in this [expat group] moved to regions that have big knowledge economies and not to the areas that rely on manufacturing or farming, i.e. areas that have been hardest hit by the recession.