12:40pm

Wed March 12, 2014
Economy/Labor/Biz

A day in the life of the underemployed

After years working in low-paying-but-rewarding social service jobs, Delynn Parker went back to school to get her Masters in Psychology. She had high hopes for more opportunities and better compensation after she graduated. That is not how it worked out. She is now saddled with a huge student loan and has found it difficult to find full-time work in her chosen field. Parker shared a day in her life – from her morning commute to her early bed time – giving insight into being underemployed in the Bay Area.

"When people ask me, right now, I say I’m a child therapist," says Parker. "Even though that's not the whole picture."

Before she can take the final test to get her license, she needs to accrue 3000 supervised hours with clients. The problem is that many positions are unpaid internships and others barely pay a living wage.

Making ends meet

"Everybody’s just offering you $15/hr for those types of supervised hours," she explains. "I have a $120,000 loan that, realistically, am I ever paying that off?"

Currently, Parker has a part-time job as a school therapist in Walnut Creek, but it is only three days a week. To meet all of her financial obligations, she provides childcare and substitutes as a teacher, which is what she did when she graduated college. And, she adds, “I’m making about the same that I made then.”

Now in her mid 40s, this is not where Parker hoped to be.

“I’m surrounded by people doing well," she says. "So it becomes really hard and embarrassing and demoralizing. And then you feel like you’re supposed to not care about all that – I just think that’s really easy for everyone else to say."

Keeping your eye on the big picture

What Parker finds tricky is balancing the day-to-day need to make money with the big picture.

"I'm constantly just trying to bring in some cash," she says. "And you start to forget that you need to find a way out."

She now sets aside time to look for positions on Craigslist and an educational employment website. Usually, there isn’t much. 

"Every once in a while I’m hoping to find private practices that are looking for interns," she says. "I’m looking to find schools that are offering paid positions. I’m not seeing any schools on here right now." 

What keeps her going is that she loves her work and her impact is reaffirmed all the time.

"I have parents right now that are so thrilled with the work I've been doing with their children,” she says, reflecting on a recent voicemail message from the parents of a child with severe autism and brain tumors. “And out of all the help they've gotten all these years, nobody had taught him how to calm down. So I taught him some tools to calm down that would appeal to his brain. And the parents can't stop thanking me that I changed their life as they are dealing with him."

After a little bit of downtime, Parker heads to bed early. She needs to be back in Walnut Creek, working with kids, by 8am. 

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