Bringing the Economy Home

Jobless in Idaho: College Grad Starts from Scratch

Emilie Ritter Saunders / StateImpact

Justy Thomas is unemployed in Idaho.

Name: Justy Thomas

Age: 38

Unemployed Since: 2007

“They wouldn’t even look at or consider me unless I had a four-year degree.”

The Idaho Department of Labor estimates nearly 70,000 people in the state don’t have jobs.  That doesn’t include thousands more who are either underemployed, or have stopped looking for work.

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Justy Thomas is part of the statistic.  She lost her job in the mortgage industry in 2007, just as the housing market started to show signs of crumbling.  She was 34 years old then, and like so many in her situation, was at a crossroads.

Thomas had worked for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage for seven years.  She was making a good salary, close to $40,000.  When she found out she lost her job, Thomas decided going to college would be the best option.

“I wanted to do a reset.  I wanted to change my career,” Thomas says.  She says going to college seemed like a necessity, because the jobs that were available back in 2007 all required the same thing: a degree.  “The job requirements didn’t say ‘or experience.’ They wouldn’t even look at or consider me unless I had a four-year degree.”

Thomas didn’t even have a high school diploma.  She dropped out after getting pregnant when she was 17 years old, received her GED and went straight into the workforce.  “So, instead of going to college at that time,” Thomas says, “the biggest, most pressing issue for me was, grow up, do it now, and take care of this young baby.  And I was doing it on my own.”

By age 19 Thomas was working as a receptionist at a Boise-based food distributor.  She says she was making minimum wage and getting some benefits, and wasn’t the receptionist for very long.  “I was able to start at an entry level position, and just continued to prove myself and move up within that organization.”  She says hard work and solid recommendations from her managers allowed her to move up quickly, without having a college education.  Thomas doesn’t think that kind of thing happens much anymore.

Still, she questions the value of the Human Resource and General Business Management degree she’ll have in December.  Thomas says many of her friends who have advanced degrees are struggling to find work.  “I wonder if I had gone back to work these last four years, and just pulled up my bootstraps and started at that ground floor again, and worked my way up, would I be satisfied, would I be more satisfied?  I certainly would be in less debt, certainly,” says Thomas.

Emilie Ritter Saunders / StateImpact

Justy Thomas

Thomas attended school at Boise State University for the first two years using her and her husband’s savings.  She took out about $30,000 in student loans to pay for the last two years.  Now, between finishing up her course work and preparing for finals, Thomas is working on job applications.  She’s landed a couple of initial interviews and had a second interview with Target to be an executive manager in training, but didn’t get the job.

“Every time I’m denied that job, it kind of chips away at my self-esteem, self-worth, ambition,” Thomas says.  Her goal is to have a job by Thanksgiving, but she’s not willing to take just anything, yet.  She doesn’t have a dream job in mind, instead, she says it’s more of an ideal.

“I want what I do for the majority of my waking hours to matter,” Thomas says. “Not just matter on a financial level for us, for me, for my spouse for my family for the corporation.  As a whole, I want it to matter to society.”

Justy Thomas graduates from Boise State on December 16th.  She plans to walk in the ceremony. It will be her first graduation.

We checked in with Justy on graduation day.  Here’s an update.


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