Beggars can't be choosers : an ethnography of post-school transitions in a high unemployment area
My thesis seeks to explore and document the processes involved in the career transitions of a specific sample of unqualified minimum age school leavers drawn from a high unemployment inner city area. The main body of data was collected ethnographically between 1985 and 1990, although the original 'data-base', entrée into the field, and 'insider status' were derived from my former employment in a Youth and Community Project in the study area. The research has identified three broad patterns of labour market transition: the first involved a minority of participants and was a traditional post-school transition to primary employment; the second involved a slightly larger group in protracted transitions via combinations of experiences which included unemployment, underemployment and government schemes; the third and most common pattern involved a cyclical post-school transition described by some study participants as the 'Black Magic Roundabout'. Cyclical transitions entailed early careers in which participants became trapped on a (not so) merrygo- round of unemployment, government schemes and special programmes, youth jobs, work in the informal economy, more unemployment, schemes, and so on. Generally, this transition preceded the slide into cynicism, disillusionment and labour market withdrawal. Each of the labour market transitions reflected a complementary career pattern in terms of entry into and progress through adult domestic life. Case studies explore individual responses which were mediated by the inter-relationships between labour market and domestic career transitions and trends in government policy, the economy, local labour market conditions, housing and the family. By far the largest group among research participants were those who had moved through cyclical transitions and labour market withdrawal into long-term unemployment. My study illustrates how this group restricted social networks to others in a similar position, built on a common sense of identity and reduced commitment to the orthodox labour market. My study reveals that to those for whom employment was perceived as only a distant and diminished possibility, alternative status systems were subculturally conceived. Significantly large numbers of participants proactively explored, constructed and pursued sub- and anti-employment careers. Affiliation to the sub- and anti-employment subcultures enabled participants to offset threats to psychological well-being posed by their objective labour market positions and provided alternative routes to income, status, identity and meaning. Of all the post-sixteen progression routes, the slide into the informal economy and acquisitive criminality is the most under-researched. Detailed exploration of these nonconventional routes contributes to the contemporary understanding of post-school transitions and provides knowledge of the 'career points' through which this transition occurs.