ForTunesoFameriCa’s kim through a few recent issues of a financial magazine like
. Who is the audience for these publications? What kind of advice is
offered? What kinds of products and services are advertised? What levels
of income and investment are discussed?
tudy the employment listings at an online source such as
oughly what percentage of the openings would you consider upper class,
middle class, and lower class?
n what basis do you make your distinc
tions? What do the available jobs suggest about the current levels of afflu
ence in your area?
o n P e c
stands for ”
clearly not the label you
want to describe your age group.
n the reading below journalist
delivers some unwelcome but thought-provoking news.
an economic slump, for example, could cost you $100,000 over the course of
you get a job, that is.
f you experience long-term unemploy
ment, you may be at increased risk of depression, substance abuse, and even
eck is a features editor at the
; the selection below
is excerpted from his book
Pinched: How the Great Recession Has Narrowed
Our Futures and What We Can Do About It
I’mdeFINITelY seeING1a lot of the older generation saying, ‘oh, this [recession] is so awful,’” Robert Sherman, a 2009 graduate of Syracuse university, told the
New York Times in July 2009. “but my generation
isn’t getting as depressed and uptight.” Sherman had recently turned down a $50,000-a-year job at a consulting firm, after careful delibera-tion with his parents, because he hadn’t connected well with his poten-tial bosses.
instead, he was doing odd jobs and trying to get a couple of
tech companies off the ground. “the economy will rebound,” he said.over the past two generations, particularly among many college grads, the twenties have become a sort of netherworld between adoles-cence and adulthood. Job-switching is common, and with it, periods of voluntary, transitional unemployment.
and as marriage and parenthood
have receded farther into the future, the first years after college have 1
“I’m definitely seeing”:
Steve Friess, “in Recession,
grads turn Down Jobs,” New York Times
, July 24, 2009. [all notes are Peck’s except 2 and 7.]
300 become, arguably, more carefree. early in this recession, the term fun-employment gained some currency among single twentysomethings, prompting a small raft of youth-culture stories in the
Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Weekly, on gawker,2and in other venues.
Most of the people interviewed in these stories seem merely to be trying to stay positive and make the best of a bad situation.
they note that it’s a good time to reevaluate career choices; that since joblessness is now so common among their peers, it has lost much of its stigma; and that since they don’t have mortgages or kids, they have flexibility, and in this respect, they are lucky. all of this sounds sensible enough
—it is intuitive to think that youth will be spared the worst of the recession’s
scars.but in fact a whole generation of young adults is likely to see its life chances permanently diminished by this recession.
lisakahn, an economist at Yale, has studied the impact of recessions on the lifetime earnings of young workers.
in one recent study,
3she followed the ca-reer paths of white men who graduated from college between 1979 and 1989. She found that, all else equal, for every one-percentage-point in-crease in the national unemployment rate, the starting income of new graduates fell by as much as 7 percent; the unluckiest graduates of the decade, who emerged into the teeth of the 1981–82 recession, made
roughly 25 percent less in their first year than graduates who stepped into boom times.
what’s truly remarkable is the persistence of the earnings gap.
Five, ten, fifteen years after graduation, after untold promotions and ca-reer changes spanning booms and busts, the unlucky graduates never
closed the gap. Seventeen years after graduation, those who had en-tered the workforce during inhospitable times were still earning 10 percent less on average than those who had emerged into a more boun-tiful climate.
when you add up all the earnings losses over the years,
kahn says, it’s as if the lucky graduates had been given a gift of about
$100,000, adjusted for inflation, immediately upon graduation
—or, al-ternatively, as if the unlucky ones had been saddled with a debt of the same size.
whenkahn looked more closely at the unlucky graduates at mid-career, she found some surprising characteristics.
they were sig-nificantly less likely to work in professional occupations or other pres-tigious spheres.
and they clung more tightly to their jobs: average job
tenure was unusually long. People who entered the workforce during the recession “didn’t switch jobs as much, and particularly for young workers, that’s how you increase wages,”
kahn told me.
this behavior may have resulted from a lingering risk aversion, born of a tough start.
but a lack of opportunities may have played a larger role,
she said: 2
Gawker: gawker.com, an online site for news and gossip.3In one recent study:lisa b. kahn, “
the long-term labor Market
consequences of graduating from college in a
bad economy” (paper, Yale School of Management, 2009);
lisakahn, conversation with author, 2009. 301
when you’re forced to start work in a particularly low-level job or un-sexy career, it’s easy for other employers to dismiss you as having low
potential. Moving up, or moving on to something different and better, becomes more difficult.
“graduates’ first jobs4have an inordinate impact on their career path and [lifetime earnings],” wrote
austangoolsbee, now a member
of President obama’s council of
advisers, in 2006. “People
essentially cannot close the wage gap by working their way up the company hierarchy.
while they may work their way up, the people who
started above them do, too.
they don’t catch up.” Recent research sug-gests that as much as two-thirds of real lifetime wage growth typically
occurs in the first ten years of a career.
after that, as people start fami-
lies and their career paths lengthen and solidify, jumping the tracks be-comes harder.this job environment5is not one in which fast-track jobs are plenti-ful, to say the least.
according to the national
association of colleges
and employers, job offers to graduating seniors declined 21 percent in 2009.
they rebounded by 5 percent in 2010 and are expected to rise
again in 2011, but not by nearly as much as they’ve fallen.
in the San Francisco
bay area, an organization called Job
nob has been holding
networking happy hours since the recession began to try to match col-lege graduates with start-up companies looking primarily for unpaid labor. Julie greenberg, a cofounder of Job
nob, says that at the first
event she expected perhaps 30 people, but 300 showed up.
newgradu-ates didn’t have much of a chance; most of the people there had sev-eral years of work experience
—quite a lot were thirtysomethings
—and some had more than one degree. Job
nob has since held events for alumni of Stanford,
berkeley, and Harvard; all have been well attended (at the Harvard event, greenberg tried to restrict attendance to seventy-
five people, but about a hundred managed to get in), and all have been dominated by people with significant work experience.
when experienced workers holding prestigious degrees are taking unpaid internships, not much is left for newly minted b.a.s. Yet if those same b.a.s don’t find purchase in the job market, they’ll soon have to compete with a fresh class of graduates—ones without white space on their résumé to explain.
this is a tough squeeze to escape, and it only
gets tighter over time.
Strong evidence suggests6
that people who don’t find solid roots
in the job market within a year or two have a particularly hard time 302
in part, that’s because many of them become dif-
—people. krysiaMossakowski, a sociologist at
niversity of Miami, has found that in young adults, long bouts of
unemployment provoke long-lasting changes in behavior and mental
health. “Some people say, ‘
h, well, they’re young, they’re in and out
of the workforce, so unemployment shouldn’t matter much psychologi-
cally,’” Mossakowski told me. “
ut that isn’t true.”
xamining national longitudinal data,
Mossakowski has found that
people who were unemployed for long periods in their teens or early
twenties are far more likely to develop a habit of heavy drinking (five or
more drinks in one sitting) by the time they approach middle age.
are also more likely to develop depressive symptoms. Prior drinking be-
havior and psychological history do not explain these problems
result from unemployment itself.
nd the problems are not limited to
those who never find steady work; they show up quite strongly as well
in people who are later working regularly.
s we’ve seen, young men who suffered hardship during the
Depression carried scars for the rest of their lives; even forty years later,
unlike peers who had been largely spared in the 1930s, they gener-
ally displayed a lack of ambition, direction, and confidence in them-
a belief that they were powerless before the fates.
according to the Japan Productivity
enter for Socio-
Development, workers who began their careers during the “lost de-
cade” of the 1990s and are now in their thirties make up six out of every
ten cases of depression, stress, and work-related mental disabilities re-
ported by employers.
large and long-standing body of research shows that physical
health tends to deteriorate during unemployment, most likely
combination of fewer financial resources and a higher stress level.
most-recent research suggests that poor health is prevalent
young, and endures for a lifetime.
achter, an economist at
niversity, and Daniel Sullivan, of the Federal Reserve
hicago, recently looked at the mortality rates of men who had lost
their jobs in Pennsylvania in the 1970s and ‘80s.
hey found that par-
ticularly among men in their forties or fifties, mortality rates rose mark-
edly soon after a layoff.
ut regardless of age, all men were left with
an elevated risk of dying in each year following their episode of unem-
ployment, for the rest of their lives.
nd so, the younger the worker,
the more pronounced the effect on his lifespan: the lives of workers
who had lost their job at thirty, Von
achter and Sullivan found, were 303
shorter than those of workers who had lost their job at fifty or fifty-
and more than a year and a half shorter than the lives of workers
who’d never lost their job at all.
Journalists and academics
have thrown various labels
hoping one might stick
eneration, the Millennials, the
New York Times
reenhouse has aptly suggested
eneration Recession, or simply
ll of these efforts con-
tain an unavoidable element of folly; the diversity of character within a
generation is always infinitely larger than the gap between generations.
Still, the cultural and economic environment in which each generation
is incubated clearly matters.
t is no coincidence that the members of
painted as cynical, apathetic slackers
into the workforce in the weak job market of the early to mid-1980s.
or is it a coincidence that the early members of
beled as optimistic, rule-following achievers
came of age during the
nternet boom of the late 1990s.
Many of today’s young adults seem temperamentally unprepared
for the circumstances in which they now find themselves. Jean
an associate professor of psychology at San Diego State
carefully compared the attitudes of today’s young adults with those of
previous generations when they were the same age.
survey data, she’s found that to an unprecedented degree, people who
graduated from high school in the aughts dislike the idea of work for
work’s sake, and expect jobs and career to be tailored to their inter-
ests and lifestyle. Yet they also have much higher material expectations
than previous generations, and believe financial success is extremely
here’s this idea that, ‘Yeah,
don’t want to work, but
still going to get all the stuff
wenge told me. “
t’s a genera-
tion in which every kid has been told, ‘You can be anything you want.
You’re special.’”in her 2006 book,
twenge notes that self-esteem
in children began rising sharply around 1980, and hasn’t stopped since.
by 1999, according to one survey, 91 percent of teens described them-
selves as responsible, 74 percent as physically attractive, and 79 percent as very intelligent. (More than 40 percent of teens also expected that
they would be earning $75,000 a year or more by age thirty; the me-dian salary made by a thirty-year-old was $27,000 that year.) t
wengeattributes the shift to broad changes in parenting styles and teaching
methods, in response to the growing belief that children should al-ways feel good about themselves, no matter what. as the years have 304 passed, efforts to boost self-esteem
—and to decouple it from perfor-mance
—have become widespread.t
hese efforts have succeeded in making today’s youth more con-
fident and individualistic. but that may not benefit them in adulthood, particularly in this economic environment.
twenge writes that “self-
esteem without basis encourages laziness rather than hard work,” and that “the ability to persevere and keep going” is “a much better predic-tor of life outcomes than self-esteem.” She worries that many young people might be inclined to simply give up in this job market. “You’d
think if people are more individualistic, they’d be more independent,” she told me. “b
ut it’s not really true. there’s an element of entitle-ment—they expect people to figure things out for them.”
lsop, a former reporter13for the Wall Street Journal
and the author of
The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation
Is Shaking Up the Workplace
, says a combination of entitlement and
highly structured childhood has resulted in a lack of independence and
entrepreneurialism in many twentysomethings.
they’re used to check-lists, he says, and “don’t excel at leadership or independent problem solving.” alsop interviewed dozens of employers for his book, and con-cluded that unlike previous generations, Millennials, as a group, “need almost constant direction” in the workplace. “Many flounder without precise guidelines but thrive in structured situations that provide clearly defined rules.”all of these characteristics are troubling, given a harsh economic environment that requires perseverance, adaptability, humility, and en-trepreneurialism. Perhaps most worrisome, though, is the fatalism and lack of agency that both twenge and
alsop discern in today’s young adults.
trained throughout childhood to disconnect performance from
reward, and told repeatedly that they are destined for great things, many are quick to place blame elsewhere when something goeswrong, and inclined to believe that bad situations will sort themselves out—or will be sorted out by parents or other helpers.
in his 2009 commencement
14remarks, as the New York Times
re-ported, university of connecticut president Michael Hogan addressed
the phenomenon of students’ turning down jobs, with no alternatives, because they didn’t feel the jobs were good enough. “My first word of advice is this,” he told the graduates. “Say yes. in fact, say yes as often
as you can. Saying yes begins things. Saying yes is how things grow.
Saying yes leads to new experiences, and new experiences will lead to knowledge and wisdom.
Yes is for young people, and an attitude of yes
is how you will be able to go forward in these uncertain times.”
larryDruckenbrod, the university’s assistant director of career
services, told me, “
this is a group that’s done résumé building since 305
middle school. they’ve been told they’ve been preparing to go out and do great things after college. and now they’ve been dealt a 180.” For many, that’s led to “immobilization.”Druckenbrod said that about a third of the seniors he talked to were seriously looking for work; another third were planning to go to grad school. the final third, he said, were “not even engaging with the job market—these are the ones whose parents have already said, ‘Just come home and live with us.’”
according to a recent Pew survey,
10 percent of adults younger
than thirty-five have moved back in with their parents as a result of the recession. but that’s merely an acceleration of a trend that has been under way for a generation or more. by the middle of the aughts, for in-stance, the percentage of twenty-six-year-olds living with their parents reached 20 percent, nearly double what it was in 1970. well before the recession began, this generation of young adults was less likely to work, or at least work steadily, than other recent generations. Since 2000, the
percentage of people ages sixteen to twenty-four participating in the labor force has been declining (from 66 percent to 56 percent across the decade). increased college attendance explains only part of the shift; the rest is a puzzle.
lingering weakness in the job market since 2001
may be one cause. twenge believes the propensity of this generation to pursue “dream” careers that are, for most people, unlikely to work out may also be partly responsible. (in 2004, a national survey found that about one out of eighteen college freshmen expected to make a living as an actor, musician, or artist.)
whatever the reason, the fact that so many young adults weren’t
firmly rooted in the workforce even before the crash is deeply worrying.
it means that a very large number of young adults entered the recession
already vulnerable to all the ills that joblessness produces over time.
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