Sunday, May 26, 2024

The Lost Generation?

by Gary Foreman
Gary Foreman Gary Foreman is a former Certified Financial Planner (CFP) who currently writes about family finances and edits The Dollar Stretcher. You'll find hundreds of FREE articles to stretch your day and your budget!

Is the current economy causing our young people to become a ‘lost generation’? Is it true that the hardships that they’re facing now will affect them for the rest of their lives? Unfortunately, there’s evidence that’s exactly what could happen. Recently released Census data tell the story.

This from The Associated Press:

New 2010 census data released Thursday show the wrenching impact of a recession that officially ended in mid-2009. It highlights the missed opportunities and dim prospects for a generation of mostly 20-somethings and 30-somethings coming of age in a prolonged slump with high unemployment.

“We have a monster jobs problem, and young people are the biggest losers,” said Andrew Sum, an economist and director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. He noted that for recent college grads now getting by with waitressing, bartending and odd jobs, they will have to compete with new graduates for entry-level career positions when the job market eventually does improve.

“Their really high levels of underemployment and unemployment will haunt young people for at least another decade,” Sum said.

And the financials are affecting how younger people live. Consider this from the USA Today article on the study:

Marrying later: The median age of first marriage has crept up to 28.7 for men and 26.7 for women, up from 27.5 and 25.9 respectively in 2006.

At the same time, fewer people are taking a trip to the altar, period. If the marriage rate had stayed the same as in 2006, there would have been about 4 million more married people in 2010.

Fewer babies: There were 200,000 fewer births to women ages 20 to 34 in 2010 than just two years before even though the number of women in this prime age for having children grew by more than 1 million, according to Kenneth Johnson, demographer at the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute.

“The recession is the likely cause,” Johnson says. “Economic recessions often reduce fertility because women delay … in uncertain times.” from USA Today.

So what’s a young person to do? Hide in their parents basement and play video games until the economy gets better? Hang around Starbucks and complain about how bad things are? Surf the web and read blog entries like this one? (ok, we hope they do the last one)

No, there are things that a 20-something can do to move forward…even in this economy.

Don’t wait for a job to find you
Find a job. Maybe you can’t find a job in your degree field. The truth is that many of you got degrees in fields that are unlikely to have many jobs no matter how good the economy is. So waiting around for a job to find you is going to be a long, long wait. Instead, look around to see what else you can do. It might mean starting at the bottom and competing with kids that don’t have degrees. Or it could mean going back to school to get some additional training. But google “careers with a future” or check out the BLS career forecast (admittedly somewhat dated, but it can help get you started) <>. You’re likely to change careers at least one during your working life. It could be that this is the first change.

You’re an idealistic generation. You want to make a positive difference. You won’t earn a paycheck by volunteering, but you could make a difference in the world that you live in. And, on a more selfish note, you might make a contact that could help you get your paying career started. Most employers see someone who is dependable on a volunteer job as a good risk. If you’re reliable when you don’t get paid, you’re likely to be even more so when you are getting paid.

Take any job
Sure, it’s a blow to your ego if part of your job responsibility is to ask “do you want fries with that”. And, no one likes to wear those hair nets or clean public restrooms. But, by working a job – any job – you’ll be getting something beyond a paycheck. You’ll be gaining work experience. Employers will have an abundance of job seeks for years to come. One way they’ll narrow the field is to look for people with a steady record of working. Even if it’s at low wage, low skill jobs. The reason? Because you don’t keep a job if you don’t show up for work. Or show up late. Or goof-off on the job. So a consistent job history will show potential employers that you know how to work. You’re unlikely to disappoint them if hired. So that job at Wendy’s might not look big on your resume. But it can make a difference later if you’re competing against someone who does NOT have that experience.

Take the time to learn additional skills
Use the time to learn something new. If the vacuum breaks, see if you can figure out how to fix it. Learn how to grow a garden. Not sure what to learn? Look around your parent’s home. Anything need repairing? Painting? Simple ugrades?

Don’t get depressed
The fact that this is a tough job market or you chose a degree with limited demand doesn’t make you a loser. It just means that you’re going through a hard time…and, that you’ll be stronger when you’ve gone through it. Staying active will help you build accomplishments. Remind yourself of those accomplishments often (daily?). Get excited about them. You’ll need that excitement to keep going.

Don’t get angry
You’re right. It’s probably not your fault. And, it’s definitely not fair. Your parents and older brothers had it easier. But getting angry at them or the world will not make things better. It won’t even provide momentary relief. As long as you focus on your anger and what’s causing it you’ll be thinking about what’s wrong. Not what it will take to change your circumstances. You probably feel like you’re entitled to a good rage against the world. But, that rage will be costly.

Don’t think your generation is alone
Yours is not the first generation to reach adulthood when times were hard. There was a generation that came of age in the 1930’s. During that depression. Unemployment was in the high teens for about ten years. Employment opportunities finally became easy when WW2 started (hardly the employer that most of us would choose – especially in wartime). That generation became known as ‘the greatest generation’ in later years. We don’t know what the future holds for your generation. Right now ‘the lost generation’ seems about right. But it might not stay that way. You could be part of the greatest generation part 2. Or the overcoming generation. Only time and your actions will reveal the truth.