This post has been a long time coming, but was finally prompted by an article that addressed the irksome things about the recent HuffPo article telling Gen Y/Millennials to just have lower expectations of themselves and others.
Now, I’m a younger Millennial who wasn’t crazy enough to get into print journalism even though I very much wanted to as of high school and the beginning of college, but I still share most of Adam Weinstein’s frustrations. Perhaps my age accounts for some portion of the rage I feel when being told yet again that all the problems with my generation are my generation’s fault. After all, I’m hardly old enough in terms of year-round participation in the workforce to have screwed anything up too badly at this point. Unlike Weinstein, I don’t have a baby’s medical expenses to worry about yet, but mine are plenty, thanks. In fact, I’ve been some combination of bemused and saddened by all the engagements, weddings, and babies in my social circles of late because I can’t imagine being in the financial position right now that any of those friends are. Hell, I’ve skipped out on parties related to these life events this summer because I’m so poor after paying COBRA.
I agree, on the one hand, that it’s time for the “special” rhetoric to stop. But I want it to stop because the uphill battle I’d have to fight in this country, in this era, in this economy in order to reach “special” status is so daunting that I gave up on being special long before the Boomers in my life would let it go. (They still haven’t, actually, and it often makes me feel like a disappointment.)
Photo: Artwork acquired studying abroad in Mexico that also serves as a pretty good metaphor for Millennials in the modern workforce.
Now I just want to… I don’t know… do creative work from home and raise babies in a cabin in the woods outside of a crunchy town somewhere. At least my life is guaranteed to be more fulfilling than not that way. Not knowing me, you might think, “Oh, you’re just not very ambitious or hardworking, so you can’t relate.” HAH. I attended one of the best universities in the world, participated in a nationally ranked Mock Trial program, helped to found a campus organization that instituted lasting policy changes with the public support of the notoriously apathetic and stodgy administration, and graduated with all possible academic honors. And, no, I wasn’t groomed for this. My mom didn’t attend college, my father (I’m told) never graduated from college, and the relatives I had that did attend were either people I wasn’t close to growing up or people who were so much older that their advice couldn’t have helped. I was essentially a first-generation college student who had no help in prepping for any standardized test or application, thankyouverymuch.
My career interests in high school ranged from being a journalist to a lawyer to an editor to a designer, but by the time I graduated from college, I was grateful to snag a nanny job without benefits. I always knew that I wasn’t going to be the no-personal-life-until-35 workaholic woman because I want to be a reasonably young mom with multiple kids. (Some health issues of my own and in my family further cemented these priorities.) I also always knew that I was paying for college and that I was financially more or less on my own after high school. Needless to say, unpaid internships weren’t an option. Factor in that most careers of any interest to me have a recipe that starts with “move to New York, take unpaid internships (and do whatever you have to in order to make ends meet, prioritizing the unpaid work), eat Ramen and slave away for years hoping someone notices,” and it should come as no surprise that I don’t live in New York and I’m not pursuing any of those careers. Not because I’m too precious to put in years of hard work to get to the top, but because I don’t want to put in the unreasonable amount of hard work it would take to maybe get to the top while starving, damaging my health, and being a loner. Oh, and law school is more expensive than most starter homes, so your repayment options upon graduating are: (a.) work 90+ hours per week in the associate-abusing private sector doing boring shit and brownnosing, (b.) work in the public sector making diddly for 10 years (plus up to one year off for each kid), before the debt’s forgiven. I was always leaning toward public sector work, but I don’t want anyone telling me that because I’ve decided at 32 to stay home with my kids—not having been able to know I’d want that when I applied to law school a decade before—I suddenly owe them a friggin’ house. So all that “promise” is going down the drain, I guess, because there sure as shit ain’t jobs for recent grads that lead anywhere “special” while encouraging a balanced lifestyle.
Entry-level white collar workers are simultaneously more productive, expected to work more hours (I’ll try to find a citation for that), and paid less than ever before. I also read recently that people think some sizable percentage of the tasks they perform at work don’t actually matter (shocking, I know, but I’ll try to locate a citation anyway). There is, of course, a jobs crisis, particularly for young people, but it’s still important that we not limit the number of hours folks can work, thus increasing the number of jobs available and treating employees like humans. (They might get used to that and, like, be happy.)
I have a friend who works entirely too hard (I literally wouldn’t have seen her for a year except that we were roommates for awhile) at a fast-paced job. The support staff recently forced their way into a managerial training (because first they weren’t being offered any professional development at all and then were offered stupid “How to Organize your Post-Its”-type trainings when they protested) only to hear the speaker actually say to managers that they should fire employees who “only” work their asses off from 9 to 5. They don’t get paid overtime for extra hours worked and I’m betting for damn sure their salaries come out to far less than minimum wage when you balance them against the number of hours they’re expected to work if they want to keep their jobs. THIS IS MY GENERATION’S REALITY.
So yeah, we’re pissed any whiny and think we deserve better. Because we do. We bought into the fairytale notion that if we went to college and played by all the other arbitrary rules of our predecessors, we’d have stable jobs and higher than average incomes. Instead, the same generation that fed us that load of bull is refusing to hire us because they suddenly don’t think the skills we learned under the tutelage of their peers—who, by the way, were responsible for both our education *and* its exorbitant price tag—are what they’re looking for. And gods forbid they take the time to invest in us; professional development is for, well, professionals!
To all the Boomers reading this, please stop holding your breath that your baby is going to be the one to cure cancer or broker peace in the Middle East or whatever. Your generation has screwed up so many systems in so many ways that it’s a miracle only 30% of us have moved back home. I can’t speak for all of us, but I just want the opportunity to live a happy, healthy life, and to be encouraged to learn and grow so I can be a more valuable member of society professionally and otherwise. None of that will happen if I have to write 90 TPS reports a week for the next 10 to 15 years… and there sure wouldn’t be anything “special” about me if I did.
Further reading (most emphasis mine, notable quotes excerpted):
- Youth make up 17% of the world population, but 40% of the unemployed. They have a three times higher chance of being unemployed, as compared to an adult.
- Nearly half of the nation’s unemployed are under the age of 34, according to a report last month from public policy organization Demos.
- Demos found that the U.S. economy will have to create more than 4 million jobs before young adults will be employed at levels similar to those before the recession.
- In addition, 284,000 college graduates had minimum-wage jobs last year.”
- In the first report, we asked if you are employed fulltime, and 50% said yes. Now it’s down to 41%. We looked at how many 18- to 29-year-olds are either unemployed or not in the workforce. And we find [in Bureau of Labor Statistics data] that 37% of this generation today is either unemployed or not in the workforce. This is the highest share for this age group in nearly 40 years.
- The declining labor force participation rate has created an additional 1.7 million young adults that are not counted as “unemployed” by the U.S. Department of Labor because they are not in the labor force, meaning that those young people have given up looking for work due to the lack of jobs.
- Unemployment of all sorts is linked with a level of unhappiness that cannot simply be explained by low income. It is also linked to lower life expectancy, higher chances of a heart attack in later life, and suicide. A study of Pennsylvania workers who lost jobs in the 1970s and 1980s found that the effect of unemployment on life expectancy is greater for young workers than for old. Workers who joined the American labour force during the Great Depression suffered from a persistent lack of confidence and ambition for decades.
- Most young people today are confident about the future with nine out of ten believing that they will eventually meet their long-term financial goals, despite having a 37 percent unemployment rate, the highest in three decades for this age group.
- Young adults are the least likely of any age group to have health insurance, with only 61 percent reporting coverage as compared to 82 percent of those aged 30 and older.
- Finding a good job as a young adult has always been a game of chance. But more and more, the rules have changed: Heads, you lose; tails, you’re disqualified. The unemployment rate for young people scraped 18 percent in 2010, and in the past five years, real wages have fallen for millennials–and only for millennials.
- More than one in five Americans ages 18-34 told Pew Research Center pollsters last year that they’ve postponed having a baby “because of the bad economy.” The same proportion said they were holding off marriage until the economy recovered. More than a third of 25- to 29-year-olds had moved back in with their parents.
- The past 30 years have seen enduring income stagnation capped by an economic collapse. Average household wealth nearly doubled between 1983 and 2010, the Urban Institute recently found, but younger generations shouldn’t expect the same. They already lag their parents in wealth (by 7 percent) at the equivalent age, and “now, stagnant wages, diminishing job opportunities, and lost home values may be merging to paint a vastly different future for Gen X and Gen Y,” Eugene Steuerle and three coauthors concluded.
- The average net worth of someone 29 to 37 has fallen 21 percent since 1983; the average net worth of someone 56 to 64 has more than doubled. Thirty or 40 years from now, young millennials might face shakier retirements than their parents. For the first time in modern memory, a whole generation might not prove wealthier than the one that preceded it.
- According to our analysis, there are more than 10 million Americans under the age of 25 who are currently unable to find full-time work—a number greater than the population of New York City, a city of about 8 million people.
- At 16.2 percent, the unemployment rate among Americans ages 16 to 24 is more than twice the unemployment rate for people of all ages. These young people are facing significantly higher rates of unemployment than any other age group.
- According to our analysis, a young person who experiences a six-month period of unemployment can expect to miss out on at least $45,000 in wages—about $23,000 for the period of unemployment and an additional $22,000 in lagging wages over the next decade due to their time spent unemployed.
- A college degree has long been viewed as the ticket to a good job and social mobility, but many recent college graduates are finding that their investments in education are not paying off. It is true that young people with a bachelor’s degree are more likely to find a job than their less-educated peers, but recent graduates today suffer from high unemployment rates, declining wages, lower-quality jobs, and few opportunities for advancement. At the same time, student debt in America has ballooned to more than $1 trillion, and one in four student-loan borrowers is delinquent on their loans.
- In a new analysis, the Economic Policy Institute found that real wages for young college graduates have declined by 8.5 percent since 2000, and the share of young college graduates receiving employer-provided health insurance or pensions has also dropped in recent years.
- Underemployment remains a persistent challenge for young college graduates today, as many are working jobs that don’t require a college degree. A study by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity found that half of all college graduates are working a job that the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests requires less than a four-year degree such as retail salespeople, cashiers, and restaurant servers. More than one in three are working a job that requires no more than a high school diploma, including taxi drivers and parking-lot attendants.