Calling Millennials

Yesterday I was reading a NYT Op-Ed that I found via Margaret’s tmblr (where I get the bulk of my interesting factoids, let’s be honest) and I posted about it on facebook. The article is about the different benefits that Gen X-ers have received vs the unfortunate timing of the recession for the emerging millennials.

It talks about things I’ve heard before, the struggling job market for those graduating college between 2007-2009 (I graduated from college in December 2006 and then again in the fall of 2009 so yup, that’s me), how the jobs have not rebounded for millennials like they have for Gen X because we now lack the entry level experience because we went back to the coffee shop or the bakery or the bar to pay our bills after graduation when no other jobs were available. And then of course the debt, always an issue that debt.

Well! When I posted about it on facebook a debate began about entitlement. Shouldn’t we just suck it up and fill the holes in the job market, even if they aren’t the careers we thought we’d be in? Shouldn’t we just suck it up to pay the bills? A lot of people have put the career they imagined for themselves on the back burner, or watched that dream float away. I wanted to be a writer and professor, but that was not in the cards for me. I am still figuring it out, cobbling together a career based on the available options – within me field because it is what I’m good at. Is holding out for the career we’ve invested time and money into entitlement? Is being underemployed and over-educated our own faults? Possibly, although hindsight is crystal clear and now we know that a second degree doesn’t always mean anything at all.

But I was defending this notion that the opportunities available to the generation above mine and above that aren’t available anymore, and I only had a handful of examples (plus stats from various articles written on the recession). I think everyone took a hit during the recession, pensions disappeared, boomers held onto jobs longer than they wanted or had to go back to work, people were laid off, etc. But as far as recovery, as far as getting the send off into the world full of entry level jobs and affordable housing – I believe millennials got shafted hard.

I want to hear from you. What is your story? We’ve talked about this before, but not like this. What happened to you from the moment you left school? If you didn’t go to school how was navigating the job world? I want to know where you all are now. Do you own a home? Do you have a retirement plan?

What happened to all of us?

61 thoughts on “Calling Millennials”

  1. I want so much to contribute to this conversation, but I’m not really a millenial (born in 1981, on the cusp between Gen X and Y) and my reality is so, so different to yours because I live in South Africa – an emerging market economy that was affected by the global recession but in a completely different way.

    But, caveats of different realities aside, here’s my story.

    I graduated in 2003 with an engineering degree. I got a job straight away in the South African office of a global management consulting company. Worked hard, played hard and learned tons. 5 years later I made a career change to HR and got a job in HR strategy at a large bank. 5 years on from that, I am still in HR at the bank and I have completed a masters degree in HR part time, while working full time.

    My husband graduated two years before me, also with an engineering degree, and has a very similar career path history.

    We’ve both been contributing to retirement funds since our first jobs at age 22 (it’s compulsory at most companies in South Africa). We bought a house together when we got engaged, and then a few years later we bought a piece of land and built our dream home. We live there now and are close to paying it off.

    I know it all sounds so far away from what I read of life in the USA, but two BIG things to remember – firstly, I’m white and in South Africa that means I was born and grew up with massive advantages which still affect me today (my parents could afford a great education for me, etc, etc,), and secondly, the economy here is just so different!

  2. Hi! Graduated my tiny liberal arts college in may of 07 with a BA in…Latin. Took a year off, lived at home with mom, did charity work and sub teaching. Got a job teaching Latin at my old middle school exactly a year after I graduated college. Been teaching there for now 6 years, love it, but make very very little money. We have no retirement, and tho it’s odd, we rebt a house for quite a bit rather than buy. I have my mom/sister watch Weston every day, otherwise financially it wouldn’t make sense for me to work. Living in NY is incredibly hard and if I didn’t have my whole family here than we would move south.

  3. I think my entry level experience while I was in college, so well before the economy crashed. Which meant when it DID crash, I was working in a position above that … so even though I was laid off (one of over 100,000 in my Fortune 500 company, mind you) I had a decent resume. I also had the benefit of moving cross country during the recession, so in a way it was a chance to start over. It took a while to get back into the career path I wanted, but I was able to work towards it (while also trying another industry).

    What I did lose, however, was earning potential. Without the market crashing (and so without people hanging onto positions longer etc.) my salary history would likely be double what it is now. (I recently ran the numbers. It was a long, sad math day.) And I know I’m not alone in that. It’s something we won’t ever get back.

    I was talking to a friend last night about the entitlement as we see it here in DC. He recently made a very generous offer to a potential hire. She came back and asked for almost $15k more, because “that’s what (her) brother made when he first started in this field”. Turns out, brother started in the field in the height of the boom.

    The playing field is so different now. Every time someone from an earlier generation says I should be doing better because “at (my age” they were, I cringe. Because it’s a totally different game now. Don’t even get me started on housing costs. We give lip service to being a couple years away from buying, but the reality is that without a TON of help we may never be in a position to buy.

    Directly to your question about “should we fill holes in the job market” … I vote yes, BUT while always striving to find what you WANT to be doing. Look for opportunities everywhere. It could absolutely happen that filling that hole puts you in position to leap up into the career path you envisioned. But also broadens your experience and knowledge, which is something that has become almost more important than the degree in today’s market.

    And hell, I don’t even identify as millennial. 😉

    1. “What I did lose, however, was earning potential. Without the market crashing (and so without people hanging onto positions longer etc.) my salary history would likely be double what it is now.”

      That is such a great point, and one I hadn’t thought of before. It’d probably be super depressing to think about all the “lost” wages….

  4. I’m gonna start out by saying that I lucked out in all this HARDCORE. I graduated with a degree in creative writing in 2007. I was unemployed and living at home for about 4 months before I landed a job as a writer at a very small graphic design house. Well, shit really hit the fan with the economy that fall — soon work at that design house trickled up. I applied to 100+ jobs (may be closer to 150) before lucking out and landing another writing gig, RIGHT before my hours were about to be seriously slashed. I have stayed at that company ever since, riding it out through the recession. Fortunately, there were no layoffs in my division, and the company held on to its 401K plans. My husband and I own a home (we seemed to luck out and buy it at the very bottom of the housing market), BUT that would NOT have been possible without a very generous gift from one of his family members. We have been lucky and privileged in oh-so-many ways.

    I wanted to comment briefly on the whole “entitlement” thing, how our generation is supposedly not willing to just take a job… a LOT of jobs that people talk about (mechanics, electricians, etc.) still require training and some type of school. You can’t just jump into those jobs. And, for better or worse, a LOT of people in our age group were taught that a 4-year college degree was The Way. I don’t know ANYONE who went to a trade school. I just don’t remember it being encouraged when we were young. I think (hope) that’s shifting, because I believe trade schools are a fulfilling option for a lot of people. But now we’re here, in the recession, with a whole generation that was encouraged to pursue those 4-year degrees and higher education. We don’t have the option of jumping into something else without MORE schooling. And with the already crippling amounts of student debt… well, who wants to do that?

    1. I agree, at least in the suburbs where I grew up, you didn’t NOT go to college. After the fact, buried under student loans, I spoke to a friend who agreed with me … we should have just gone to plumbing school, and then maybe we wouldn’t have been underemployed!

    2. This was the same for my cohort, who finished high school in about 2000. The smarter among us were encouraged to go to university, and trades were never spoken of, and now our country (New Zealand) is desperate for electricians, builders and plumbers, but it takes years to be able to do that work unsupervised. Its not something you can quickly retrain for in a couple of years, its work that takes 5-10 years experience before you can be let loose.
      Most of my friends seemed to do pretty well for jobs out of university, but we are struggling with the housing market, and the fear that whille we are paying towards government superannuation at the moment, it might not be there when we get there, so our tax burden for it will get bigger and bigger and then we wont get to access it.
      And yeah, people who graduated in the last couple of years, unless they have chosen carefully in their fields, are definitely struggling to find work. And lots of them are making decisions at 17, with not-the-best guidance from their schools, that will heavily impact them in this until they are in their late 20’s / early 30’s. In fact, uni students are struggling to find part-time work while studying as well.

      Because I never got a graduate role straight out of university, I have never used my degree. I had no experience to get anything other than an entry level role, but people wouldn’t look twice at me for those because I came across as too motivated and smart – so they feared I would leave or be bored within a short time frame. So, I graduated in May 2004 and got my first office job in July 2006. Since then, I’ve been laid off 3 times, and spent the whole time since April 2010 in fixed term / short-term contracts or unemployed, (I loved temping / contracting to start with, and then we were looking to start a family and do some big travel, so I got stuck contracting).

      So I have sympathy for those who have come through a couple of years behind me. Our economy is in much better shape than the US, with lower unemployment, but I suspect there is a lot of underemployment.
      What makes it hard to maintain that sympathy though is the whining from CERTAIN millenials, about how they wont / shouldn’t have to take cafe / retail positions, or entry-level roles because “I have a DEGREE”, like that makes them special. Suck it up sweetheart

  5. I’m in the UK so different here as well but here’s my story.

    Graduated in 2006 with bsc in geography, traveled and temped for a bit before getting grad job at engineering company in 2008. Decided I hated it after 5 years but struggled to find something better. Until I took a big paycut and stated again at the bottom last year.

    We own our flat mostly due to some inheritance. Very minor savings for retirement (through work its compulsory ) but no idea how to afford maternity leave when the time comes.


  6. I graduated in 2066 with a BA in History. I intended to go to grad school but wanted to get away from academia for a few years to make sure i was picking the right graduated school and field. Two things saved me from being caught in the brunt of the recession – that decision to wait on grad school for a couple years (I never did go back) and the fact that i got an entry level job in telecommunications. Cell companies were perhaps one of the few industries that didn’t take a hit in the recession.

    That said, I have noticed a lack of earnings as people whose retirements were lost stayed stuck around longer than planned. I’ve also never been one who thought whatever I studied in college who translate directly to a career. I think my parent’s instilled that in me as well as the fact that I chose to study what I wanted with the realization I would have to be responsible for finding a way to translate that into a job (I never wanted to teach which i where a lot of history majors are steered towards).

    I also married a man who was the only child in his family to finish high school. Something that shocks me to this day. However they are all smart, capable people and are self-sufficient. My husband started his own business at the age of 28 with no business back ground – just experience of working in the field for 8 years and using his network to get information on what he needed to get started. It makes me think that if we have children, I will try harder to NOT pressure them toward college unless they are like me – a nerd who loves learning. If it was free I’d be in grad school now regardless of career potential.

  7. While I was in looking toward the future with graduation, I really wanted to do some sort of publicity or literary event planning. But it was May 2008 and you could already hear that things were not going to go well. Everything was sort of crashing around us, and I decided that since all my experience was in publishing, that’s where I should go, and I took the first job I was offered, and made $27k. After healthcare, transportation, and saving a little for retirement, I made about $1200 a month. I lived in a house with three other girls in a neighborhood that didn’t really have a subway, and with rent, utilities, and our shared groceries (which probably allowed me to eat far better than if we weren’t all communists), I spent $1000 a month. It’s not super easy to live in NYC on $200 a month for spending money, but it’s completely possible, and that’s what I did. Most of my friends also had no money and we did a lot of free things together and drank wine at each other’s houses.

    After a year, I moved into my parents basement, took a different job that was so far from myself I couldn’t even recognize what I was doing most of the time, and cried everyday. I would say this was the height of my entitlement phase. I definitely felt entitled to a job that used my brain, and looking back on it, I don’t think I really was. I think I should have been more grateful to be able to save some money and not have to think about work outside of the office. But I wasn’t. It was rough. And I acted like a complete brat the whole time.

    I took back my old job after six months, then decided to go to grad school, and then moved back to the city. Working during school was really, really hard, but not taking on any debt was worth it. Because of my teaching stipend and my fellowship, I actually ended up making some extra money going to school, which was wonderful and meant that during a year where everything was crazy, money was one thing I did not have to think about. I’ve realized, from that experience, that what I really need to do is have a job that pays $60k. That number feels lightyears from where I am, and right now, I am trying to figure out how to get to that point. I’m not sure if it’s something I can even hope for in the next five years, and that’s heartbreaking, because while it’s twice what I was making in 2008, it’s very definitely less than what many of my friends are making. I know I am more risk averse because of the economy where I cut my teeth on work, and because of that one bad experience I had switching jobs. And I also know that being risk averse is exactly the reason I don’t make more money. It’s no good.

    Overall, though, I feel really lucky. Except for a month or two right out of college, and for those 6 months when I was at that terrible job, I’ve always had health insurance. Possibly because so many of my family and friends’ family members had a hard time with retirement, I’ve always been diligent about saving for that at a really high rate for my salary. Because I moved back in with my parents for a while, and because I had that lucky grad school stipend, I have enough money in savings that we can go on trips when we want to, even though I couldn’t afford those on our normal salaries. Things have gone pretty well, and I hope that if they stop going well, I’d be able to adjust back to that first lifestyle of wine at friends’ houses again, even if those friends are now doing really well financially. Will we ever be able to afford to buy a house? Maybe one day, but it feels really unlikely if we stay in the area. Overall, I feel like we’re really comfortable, but that’s 100% a result of getting lucky and having parents who let us live with them. If we didn’t have both those things, we would absolutely be screwed, and could not work in the arts like we do.

  8. I’m not exactly sure if I count as a millenial? I graduated in 2009 with a B.A. in advertising. I had been in a long-distance relationship with my now-husband for four years, and was ready to just be in the same city already, so I moved to the college town where he was living, because he was working on his master’s. (Now is wrapping up his Ph.D.) I knew it was unlikely for me to be able to fulfill my dream at that point, which would have been to work at an ad agency. It took me a few months, but I did get a full-time job in marketing, which was close enough for the time being. I worked there for two years, and the day I got back from my honeymoon, I got laid off and the company was bought out a few weeks later.

    It took me another couple of months to find a job after that, during which point I started doing a lot of freelance work, but the new job was a soul-sucking desk job in which they were more concerned with filling seats than with actually having legit work for us to do, and not having anything to do day after day made me want to die, so I quit after two more months to freelance full time. I’ve been doing that for the last two years.

    My husband is graduating with his Ph.D. in May, and is having a hard time finding a job. He also wants to be a professor, in engineering. We have a house (fairly inexpensive as far as houses go, bought because of the tax credit for first-time homebuyers in … 2010?), and very, very small retirement funds. We hope to contribute more to them once he gets a full-time job and we finish paying off my student loans (only about $8k left to go!).

  9. Oh this is so me. I “barely” fit in the Millenials, or rather I am at the edge because I was born in 1980,I graduated from my 1st degree in 2004, and then from my 2nd one (Masters level) in 2009.

    Anyhow I first studied Biology, then Veterinary Medicine. These are specialized fields in which there are few jobs per se. But then, the recession made everything worse. I am still figuring out what it is that I did wrong, in what moment in time I should have made a different decision to end up with the career I wanted . Since day one I have been wanting to specialize in Epidemiology / Public Health / Zoonoses / Infectious disease or something related. But I am passionate about my field, so say, working in Nutrition, Reproduction, or other areas would perfectly well fulfill me.

    The “clear” path for me would have been to continue with a MSc in Biology and then a PhD in the university I started or another one in the same country. But most of the subjects there and then were focused on Molecular Biology (no matter the subject, say you were studying Zoology, well it was not Zoology it was Phylogenetics, and so on) and I found it so abstract, I wanted to actually TOUCH animals that I went on to study Veterinary Medicine something that I had always wanted anyway but hadn’t being able to until that moment, because of circumstances.

    Anyhow, in retrospect, knowing what I now know, given how all the research -big pharma – lucrative jobs in the field are in molecular biology, if I had gone towards molecular Biology maybe I would have a job right now, since we are talking about 2004 .

    But… at the time, crazy idealist me wanted to go towards Conservation Biology (after learning that no, with a degree in Biology you can not actually pursue Veterinary medicine specializations), and I started a project / internship with a group that was working with Axolotls in its habitat (the Xochimilco lake in Mexico city). While I was there, the room I was renting was close to the Veterinary medicine faculty and I found myself all the time there, taking seminars, etc…

    And so I made the decision to pursue the studies that I had wanted since the beginning. Because a lot of the subjects are shared with a biology degree, I finished in 4 years instead of 5. After that I found all the internships I could, hoping that one of them would lead to a job (as we had been told), in The Netherlands, where I was planning to move already. I worked at Veterinary Clinics, at a farm doing research for a big company specialized in nutrition, at the Virology Department of the Veterinary faculty here. I have been applying to jobs non-stop. Nothing. I have been very open minded applying also to Food Technology and Hygiene / Slaughter house / Animal products import-export jobs for which I am also qualified. I have applied to international organizations like Greenpeace, Fair Food, Friends of Earth, EAZA. I have applied to all the funded PhDs remotely related to my field (and here, is where I have had the bad luck to always end up among the best 3 candidates) . I’ve also applied at the education department at different zoos, since I have that experience from my time in Barcelona. Nothing (for that they want people willing to work for free).

    In the meantime I have worked Customer Service and Web content and applied to all kinds of other jobs (receptionist at IKEA, shop manager at a paper / stationery shop that I love / retail , etc…. ). But it turns out that the Netherlands has a very structured system to ensure that everyone has jobs which means that “simple” jobs I can not take, because they take people who studied specifically for those kind of positions (eg. baker, help at a daycare, etc… )

    I can not even teach Biology / Chemistry / Anatomy / Spanish / French at international high schools, because teaching requires an extra degree.

    So yes, we have come to the conclusion that an extra degree, a Dutch one, would help, mostly for the contacts that you can make to find a job (though I do have contacts / professors who regularly recommend me from my time at the University here) . Like you say, an extra degree is not a guarantee.

    And no, I don’t think I am entitled. Even for the jobs for which I am “overqualified” (according to them ) I am not good enough. Basically, these days you have to be 22 years old speak 6 languages including Chinese and Arabic, and have tons of experience…I can not even work at the supermarket because I am too old for that, or delivering post, that kind of stuff.

    And this wicked world functions by exploiting people willing to work gratis for the experience. A lot of the work is done by internships, that is , students doing their thesis that keep on rotating making things function for the profit of others.

    I have started a side business in something I enjoy (creative baking), but I still have that feeling.. of have been robbed of my dream. I wanted to work at the World HEalth Organization,. the CDC, the World Organisation for Animal Health. I have the studies, I spèak the language, I am willing to continue studying, and yet… here we are, not good enough.

    If I do end up putting myself back to school that would be in say, 1 year and a half or 2 from now. I will be 35, so then 37 when I’d finish and that’s without experience. I will never be able to compete with young people graduating at a better time.

    We are lucky / blessed enough that we own a home but that’s only because my husband is an engineer and he got lucky, getting a job straight after graduation, a permanent contract in an area that was at the beginning of the crises not yet affected. And still he was laid off at the beginning of last year, because the company where he was decided to control everything from a central location, as there were not enough projects for the whole of Europe. They had no reason to let him go, his appraisals were always perfect. But he was in the “middle” range, with circa 7 years of experience , and so they decided to stay with the really young people who were starting up (because they can treat them as they want, keep them on temporary contracts) and the senior employees, who are just about to retire anyway. Thank God he was able to find a job again, but yeah.

  10. My husband graduated in 2007; I graduated in 2008. I was *incredibly* lucky to get a FT job related to my degree right out of college due to working there previously as PT staff, and I had the good fortune to be well-liked over the douche who was in the position at the time, and I was more qualified. So basically, the stars lined up for me there. I owe everything to the professor who gave a good word for me to get me that initial PT foot in the door. My husband was able to find a FT job as well out of college, though it was in a paper supply warehouse, so obviously not related to his anthropology/music degree (worst. degree. choice. ever.). It wasn’t glam, but it paid the bills. We were doing really well particularly in comparison to many of our peers. We eventually bought a house. However, I was deeply unhappy in my job, and wanted to switch gears, but at my current employer I was as high as I could go up the ladder, even after getting my Master’s. So, I started looking for a new job…I needed to get out of there as they kept laying people off, too, and I was scared.

    Unfortunately, then it came to light that in order to have kids, we’d have to do IVF. We couldn’t afford the house AND IVF and my grad student loans, so something had to give. We were successful, but not *that rich* successful! I took a job that required a move to a shittier city far away. We sold the beloved house. I cried a lot. But grad student loans had to be paid, and I had hated that other job SO MUCH and was so glad to be free from there, and we wanted a baby, and so….there wasn’t much to be done except what we did. We used the profits of selling our home to do IVF, which thankfully worked. In moving to a rural area though, the unintended consequence was that my husband wasn’t able to find ANY FT work. He drove an hour each way for a PT job paying barely above minimum wage. Having a higher degree in a rural area, it turned out, made him a red flag as either a flight risk (he wouldn’t stay long) or someone who wouldn’t fit with the team (he’d be a snob, why hire *that guy* to wash vegetables at Fresh Market?!) (a job he literally applied for and never got called back about). It turned out it was this way with a LOT of people’s spouses who moved to the area for the other partner’s new job. Nobody got hired fast. Nobody got called back. Higher degree = red flag. We got into more debt simply because even though we moved someplace with a lower cost of living, his employment went so drastically to shit. 🙁 It sucked.

    So anyway, long story short, we moved back to our beloved city once I got a better job offer to come back to. He got a new FT job. We both feel pretty successful, and have been able to cobble together our lives even in the face of some difficulties. I feel lucky that we both seem to interview well. Overall, I feel like we’ve been lucky — no long-term unemployment (*under*employment, yes), and we’ve been able to pay our bills.

    I am pissed though that we know better than to buy a home again though. Due to our medical stuff, we know we can’t own a home and have another child if we decide we want a second — one or the other has to give. It’s a bummer. But, you do what you do with the cards life hands you. It’s frustrating that, given our outward success, people ask us constantly why we would throw our money away renting. But, it’s a choice we’re actively making.

    I guess the moral of the story is, yes, there are crap jobs out there. But it seems like having a higher degree will make people a flight risk and is actually *bad* when it comes to applying, or so was my husband’s experience. He was willing to take them, and yet in such a small under-educated area, he hit wall after wall. So I have a lot of empathy for people going through that.

  11. Here’s the thing that really frustrates me about the entitlement comments – the only ones who say that are the ones who are speaking from a place of privilege, comfort, and security. And sure, that by NO means precludes them from having an opinion, but I have to wonder how many of those people have seriously considered what it would take for them to flip their life entirely around.

    Sure, trade schools are an option, but one also has to consider the fact that YES, experience and training is required for the most part. The workforce is hanging out longer, there are more people going out for less jobs, and it isn’t realistic to operate under the assumption that there is a big pool of jobs that will pay enough to cover bills, rent, basic cost of living, just waiting for people to jump into.

    When I started law school, the economy was still robust and there were jobs for the taking. After my first year, the economy tanked – by that point, I was already in $40K+ of student debt. Maybe someone would argue that I should’ve jumped ship, cut my losses, and immediately tried to find a different job, in a different field, that would help me pay my basic bills and maybe, someday, crawl out of the hole that my debt and 8% interest rates had created. Instead, I worked hard for my last two years, landed a job straight out of law school, and was all set until my firm collapsed and thousands of people across the country lost their jobs. 8 months, tons of interviews, unemployment checks and cost-cutting later, I finally found a new position. My husband is halfway through his residency, and between medical school and law school, we are going to be underwater for a very long time. We don’t carry any other debt, have no idea when we’ll be able to buy a house (or a car!), minimally contribute to retirement in an attempt to pay down our loans, and are both incredibly sensitive to any suggestions that we are “entitled”.

    1. Amen amen amen. This idea that there are SO MANY electrician or plumber or machinist jobs out there and folks just need to lower their expectations and take them is so condescending to everyone involved. It completely overlooks the 2-3 years of vocational training involved followed by the several years of apprenticeship required. This sentiment is anti-worker as if any dumb bloke can just walk off the street and wire a traffic light.

      I did a quick google search for electrical apprenticeships in WA State, all require a personal vehicle, perfect driving record and criminal history, and the willingness to work nights and weekends. Are those completely outlandish requirements? Probably not. Do they serve as barriers for young people living in the city or folks with family responsibilities or workers with a legal record? Absolutely.

      1. Also, I’m betting, SOME basic knowledge of how to do that stuff… which I do not have. I could learn! But… it would literally be starting from absolute 0.

      2. I agree. This argument is pointless because I already undertook multiple years of school and hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loan debt to pursue a particular career. saying that “you should have become a mechanic, there are TONS of jobs for those” is a really specious argument because when I went to law school, there were tons of law jobs and it was the smart thing to do. this argument puts the onus of foresight onto lay people, which is unfair.

        Also, i DO feel entitled to a job, because I made the decision to go to law school where everyone was telling me and the research I did led me to believe that I would have an easy time finding a job, I’d get major bonuses and be able to pay off large swathes of my loans quickly, and that i’d be set for life. Then the recession happened and everything went downhill. I actually did the research and talked to people. I was doing the smart thing and getting a professional degree! And yet, I still find myself screwed.

        1. In my head trade degrees = lawyers, doctors, nurses, engineers, carpenters, mechanics, teachers etc. Not trade degrees: creative or degrees that lead to an academic career (but now that is like a 1% chance) or general degrees that keep options way open like business degrees. So being a lawyer – TOTALLY a thoughtful choice.

        2. In my head trade degrees = lawyers, doctors, nurses, engineers, carpenters, mechanics, teachers etc. Not trade degrees: creative or degrees that lead to an academic career (but now that is like a 1% chance) or general degrees that keep options way open like business degrees. So being a lawyer – TOTALLY a thoughtful choice.

          1. Interestingly, I’ve always said I want to marry a mechanic or plumber–someone with “useful” skills.

            I think people have all worked so hard in past generations so that their kids can be better than them, etc., and now it’s kind of contracting. If going to law school or med school isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, why would people go through the work and the debt for an uncertain future? I think my mom wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer or dentist (she KNOWS i hate teeth, i have not idea why she thought I’d be good at this) because of our perception that these jobs have inherent job security. and that may no longer be the case.

  12. I have a hard time dealing with people who insist on dragging every conversation about millennials into a rant on entitlement. Sure, there are young people who are entitled and have a bad attitude. (There are plenty of old people with that same attitude.) But it’s ridiculous to suggest that we, as an entire generation, are struggling because we refuse to work hard. I worked in high school and worked two jobs during college. I worked full time in grad school AND took on unpaid internships. Hell, I have two jobs NOW, if you count teaching a class a second job (though obviously it’s super part time). I know zero people who refuse to work because they are holding out for their dream job. They exist, I’m sure, but are not prevalent and are not the ones reflected in the statistics in the NYT Op-Ed.

    The thing I think about all the time is how to have this conversation wherein I can say that I’m happy, I’m lucky to have what I have and I am angry that things aren’t better. All of these things are true. I recognize that I am privileged to be where I am, but I’m still held back by economic realities and I am scared things won’t get better in the future, and this fear isn’t irrational. It’s why I posted the op-ed in the first place. It’s comforting to feel like someone is saying, “You’re right, things aren’t good, you shouldn’t feel ashamed of worrying.”

  13. I hate how the word “millennial” is always inevitably followed by the word “entitled”. Sure, there are lots of people I know who think they deserve the world handed to them on a silver platter, but I am not one of them and I hate being lumped into that group simply because I graduated in 2008 and again in 2011.

    When I graduated in 2008 with my BS in Biology, I went immediately to medical school. After a semester, I had to leave because I was mentally and physically ill and couldn’t continue in the program. I worked at the job where I had been during college (a unit secretary at the local hospital) and decided to go back to school to get my MPH. I lived at home and worked 20-35 hours a week at 2 separate jobs to help cover my expenses. I graduated in 2011 with my MPH and was extremely fortunate that I had multiple interviews and offers. Unfortunately, none of the positions were even CLOSE to paying what I believe to be the going rate for a Masters degree, so I took a job at U Penn as a research coordinator… for 31K a year. With over $200K in debt, I was netting about $1200 a month. I continued to live at home. I thanked God for income-based repayment on my loans. I lamented credit card debt and lack of savings, but hey, I had a job, right!?!

    I started interviewing for other jobs about 6 months into my job at Penn, and I had multiple interviews and 2 offers. I accepted a job at CHOP, also in research, and got a $9,000 raise… which still was grossly under the projected salary for someone with an MPH. I continued to live at home. My fiance moved in with me… and my mom. We lived there until we could afford to move into our first apartment, which thankfully, was only 4 months. We scrimped and pinched pennies and paid down debt and got married (not a cheap thing to do, haha).

    Ken (husband) graduated in 07 with a degree in finance, at which point, the economy imploded… thanks to the finance industry. He interviewed for TWO YEARS and never got a job. He went back to school to get his teaching certificate and now teaches high school math, but only after a year and a half of subbing because the market was so crowded with new teachers. We’re very fortunate that we both have jobs that allow us to be independent and pay all of our bills, but I’m going back to medical school this summer and that means one less income, way more debt, and lots of interesting changes.

    It saddens me that I can’t really save for retirement at this point, and that I’ll be paying back my debt for the next 30 years. I fight a lot with myself about the choices I made for undergrad and whether going back to med school is responsible… but at the end of the day, I’m chasing a dream that will ultimately improve my earning potential (even though doctors don’t make nearly as much as they used to make!) It’s definitely disheartening to see my friends around me being unemployed or underemployed, and I worry about what will happen if the student loan “bubble” ever bursts. It’s a scary time to be growing into adulthood, and it definitely doesn’t help that those in the older generations can’t seem to wrap their brain around the fact that not all of us want to be handed the $100,000 salary the day we graduate without putting any work in first.

    Thanks for sharing this and for posting, by the way. It’s nice to hear from others who are in the same or similar boats. I just hope we can all hang on until the waters calm.

  14. Of course we all feel entitled; we paid INSANE AMOUNTS for degrees we planned to use, not pay off for the rest of our lives with the paltry wages from our barista jobs. To me, that’s where the frustration comes from. Of course we’ll all get jobs to pay our bills, but it doesn’t mean that student loan payment won’t embitter us a bit more every month.

    Anyway. I graduated in 2007 with a degree in Anthropology & Geography. Waitressed and volunteered for 8 months before taking an AmeriCorps position (that didn’t allow me to work outside of that position and basically didn’t pay me, so I now have been carrying around a bunch of consumer debt from that time) in education. Went to grad school because I didn’t know what else to do and this was back when people still thought grad school would help you get a job. Luckily, I was able to get a job that was kind-of-sort-of related to my studies and paid pretty darn well so I could support myself and my husband while he was in law school. I worked that job for years, feeling alternately lucky to have a job at all (and coworkers I liked) and angry to have to work a job outside of my field to support my family.

    I learned a lot at that job. If you can pay your bills, stick it out at least 1.5 years, even if you hate your job — rarely will you have learned enough before that to abstract your knowledge/skills to other jobs. Good people can make an okay job amazing. Paying your bills is a really, really huge luxury.

    I just started a job that is technically right in my wheelhouse as far as education goes, but the pay ain’t great, which is a whole other can of worms. I do feel lucky to be using my degrees, though. Finally. Who knows what the next step is, though. I don’t think I’ll ever feel secure in my career or my adulthood.

      1. Yeah, I was lucky that my malaise upon graduating high school landed me at a state school in my hometown for college, so I have pretty much zero debt from undergrad. But I also didn’t have The College Experience, which is fine by me 99% of the time. However, because huge debt loads were the norm for the people around me, I thought it would be fine to take on debt for grad school. Bad move. Oh well, The More You Know (which basically means I tell everyone I know not to go to grad school unless they pay you, and will encourage my children to find alternate paths).

  15. Ughhhhh what drives me so nuts about the people who are Gen X who are running around pointing fingers at the “lazy, entitled millennials” is that so many of their comments are DRIPPING in entitlement and privledge. “Well, you should just get a job like I did.” Sorry, buddy, but that’s just not how it works anymore.

    1. Totally agree! Also, if we want to play the pointing fingers game, how on earth do they think we (the economy, the price of education, etc) ended up in this position?

      1. Yesssss. It’s a lot easier to switch careers midstream when you carry no debt from your undergrad, own your home already, and have ample savings.

    2. My mom does not understand why I can’t just go work for the federal government for 35 years. Mom! is a black hole where your resume goes to die.

  16. I’m only just slightly older than you (born in 1982) but fall pretty squarely into the Gen X category. I graduated from college in 2004 and spent the next two years waiting tables and nannying. I eventually landed an unpaid publishing internship and was eventually hired on as an assistant. In 2009 at the height of the recession I quit my job and–with no backup plan–left New York to move to Minnesota with David. I spent a year working temp jobs and then got hired by the state government and essentially did call center and data entry stuff. Despised it. Fought tooth and nail to get back into publishing and finally got hired on as an assistant again.

    My job title is still “assistant” even after seven years of experience. I am not an assistant, I am a freaking contracts manager. But I don’t have that title or salary (in fact, I’m currently paid hourly and have to actually clock in and out). I’m hoping to resolve this at my next review in May, but I’m not super optimistic about it.

    I met David in 2007. He had just finished his undergraduate degree in 2006 (two years late, with three degrees). Thanks to an inheritance (which he spent down to the last penny) he wasn’t working a job at the time. He had an unpaid internship for the literary agency I worked at, and was in a graduate publishing program. He was hired on at a different literary agency very quickly, and received a promotion and a 10k raise within six months. He dropped out of his graduate program. When we left New York he left publishing altogether. Started out with the same temp work I got in the state government and quickly vaulted up the ranks. He’s now a manager (tentatively being promoted to director) with MNSURE (Minnesota’s version of Obamacare) and is committed to healthcare and public service as his new career path. His salary is almost triple mine. He went back to graduate school to get a masters in business and completed that degree while working full time.

    I am carrying about 12k of student loans from undergrad. I had no idea what the hell I was signing up for and left college with a LOT of debt. David has a lot more from both undergrad and grad school. Together we have about 100k in student loans to repay. We have no credit card debt, and no other debt of any kind (we paid off our car last year!).

    We do not own a home; we rent. It sucks. I want a house, and not a piece of shit house, either.

    We also have a baby.

    We are pretty solid on our retirement plan. We both have plans through work (him, a pension, me a 401k) that we contribute to with employer matching and so on. We also save for retirement privately. We are completely combined financially and have a huge, fancy excel sheet that we use to track our budget, expenses, and saving each month. It is color-coded and pretty as well as being functional. We put money into savings every month for various things, such as a house fund, a travel fund, etc. One of those things is retirement. Right now all the money is sitting in our savings account, but we’re looking into investing it. Or, David is looking into that. I am super active and informed about our finances, but am less experience than he is with investing.

    Sometimes I feel like we will never ever ever be able to afford a house. Most days it is a fucking outrage that I am 31 years old and have the word “assistant” in my fucking job title, as if I were making photo copies and coffee all day long instead of negotiating and drafting every single contract that comes through the door.

    I know we are very very lucky. I am still angry.

  17. My timing has mostly been lucky-lucky-lucky so far… though the same is not true for many friends. I graduated in 2009 with a liberal arts degree in Ethics and Social Institutions and a minor in Economics. I really enjoyed my college classes and experience, but when it turned out that actually I didn’t want to go to Law School, well, there was some panic and anxiety for a few months. Right after graduation I worked a temporary job as the Program Coordinator of our university’s outdoor program and then jumped right into a job in Admissions (yay road warrior!) at my university. During the time I wasn’t on the road (boo office desk warrior) I realized that I wanted to go back to school in some form and started doing serious research. I settled on Sociology and applied for PhD programs in the Southeast, landing in a 6 (or maybe 7) year program in a department that is just a perfect fit for me. Involved, supportive, challenging, small. I’m 4 years in and will hit the job market again in 2016/2017 and am hoping for the best – I’d like to stay in academia being a professor/researcher on a college campus.

    [A side note – I am coming from an incredibly privileged place with a good education and only minimal worries about money as opportunities kept presenting themselves. Could I have done any of this without the consistent support of my parents and fiance? Maybe… but it would have been a hell of a lot harder. Having a scholarship to undergrad allowed me to set my sights on graduate school with minimal debt and then finding a PhD program that waived tuition and provided an assistantship were critical in enabling me to walk this path. I totally know I’m in a rare/lucky/tiny category that allows this to occur…]

  18. This is a really great conversation. Thanks for posting!

    I graduated in ’07 with a Religious Studies degree from an excellent university and got a (free) Master’s from an excellenter university in the history of south asian religions in 2010. I’ve been very lucky because while I have a ton of student loans, I’ve also always had decent-ish jobs and have really benefited from my education in ways a lot bigger than my career path. One day since graduating I’ve used my degree, and that was when I noticed Katy Perry had a Sanskrit tattoo and I was able to translate it.

    Part of my interest in this conversation is, as a history person, looking back at other generations and what they experienced coming into the job market–it’s always a surprise. But it’s always a different surprise! I think the historical lesson that I’ve seen many people in our age group learn is to keep learning and be flexible. Other generations have learned things like “sometimes there’s a war!” or “sometimes women work too!”

    The interesting thing to me about millenials being entitled brats is that most of the smart people in my age group have learned some of these lessons and they’ve peered behind the curtain a bit and see that expertise is a wank, the university system is a wank, the education in this country is a wank. So there’s a bit of brattishness, I guess when you see that all these institutions that you’ve grown up looking up to, aren’t all that they are cracked up to be. Even in the comments above, people are smarter than the position they are in. People have ALWAYS been smarter than their job description, but we’re kind of challenging that. There’s this movement I see of people saying “I’m young, but I can do better.” We’re the scrappy generation and I have to say, I love it.

    I think this generation is going to change education (already has, actually), we’ve started to change the model of economic success and I think we can do a lot more if we stop complaining about the student loan situation and get into action. I mean, if loan companies and the government can hold back a generation of well-educated, privileged, and entitled brats, then where’s the hope for anyone else?

    1. “they’ve peered behind the curtain a bit and see that expertise is a wank, the university system is a wank, the education in this country is a wank. So there’s a bit of brattishness, I guess when you see that all these institutions that you’ve grown up looking up to, aren’t all that they are cracked up to be.”

      This is SUCH a good point. I think what a lot of people see as being “entitled” is just others saying, “Oh, this is the deal you’re handing us? Yeah, no thank you. Any other way we can do this?”

  19. Oh lady. I have Thoughts about this. Ready for my novel-length comment?

    I graduated with BAs in English and Classics in 2008, found a non-profit program management job paying 25k/yr a few months after, primarily on my experience working various PT reception jobs through high school/college. I felt lucky — many of the friends I graduated with were unemployed for a year or more before they landed their first jobs, including people with “practical” degrees like engineering. I lived in an area where rents were cheap (400/month for the 2 bedroom apt I shared with a friend) and I had less than 20k of student loans from undergrad because I’d received a scholarship that covered tuition.

    I worked hard at my job. It was a tiny office and there were only five of us, so everyone worked hard. My program was the kind that had at least one emergency a week. There was one summer where we thought we’d lose our biggest client because of a sub-contractor’s error. I lost 5 pounds in a week and pulled out clumps of hair in the shower each morning. Every time I managed to build up any kind of emergency savings, my 15 yr old car would break down. I’m sure I felt bitter and entitled at times… but most of my friends were working these kinds of jobs — I think we still had a lot of hope that we were just paying our dues and that the economy would right itself soon, with minimal effect on our longterm earning potential.

    I applied to PhD programs in English the fall of 2009. Two things happened in higher ed humanities that year — applications were flooding in just as endowments were being cut. One school that I applied to (and didn’t get in) accepted six applicants that year. Six. Out of over 500 applications. The job postings list at MLA for university-level English jobs (tenure track and non) went from 30 pages to 3 pages in one year. The academic job market is slowly recovering, but there is now an incredible backlog of highly qualified candidates. You pretty much need to have something published by the time you go on the job market now to compete. Schools are shrinking their tenure track positions. When I was in undergrad, academia was still considered one of the stable/safe professions. You don’t hear anyone saying that these days. I often feel like a dilettante to even be devoting a decade of my life to a degree that looks increasingly like it won’t result in the kind of job it’s supposed to. I get mad that people don’t see grad school as a job. I make less now than I did at my non-profit job, in one of the most expensive cities in the US. Jason and I worry a lot about getting priced out of our apartment/area. We won’t ever be able to buy a house here unless we get a ton of help from Jason’s family (help I’m not sure I’m comfortable accepting).

    And yet I’m aware that I’m so so privileged. I have a husband who makes enough to keep us afloat. We have no debt. My in-laws are wealthy and would be our safety net if we needed one. We have health insurance and savings. I still believe that my students should have a chance to study what they love, even as I want them to know the kind of economy that’s waiting for them. I still believe in the university as a free space of intellectual rigor and exchange, even as I rail against its antiquated ways when it comes to awarding tenure and recognizing work-life balance. I’m grateful that many companies in the Bay Area aren’t afraid of a cluttered resume and unrelated experience (when Jason interviewed for his consulting job, his interviewers asked one question about his seminary degree and moved on). I’m hopeful that our generation can prove itself to be more tenacious, more creative, more resilient, and more humble than those who accuse us of entitlement could ever imagine. I think dignified work is important. I think not screwing over the generations that follow us is a basic human responsibility. I think a lot of us have had the opportunity to think deeply about what work means to us, about what we want out of life, to value things beside dying with the biggest pile of cash. These conversations are worthwhile. Critiquing a system that has failed so many people and dreaming of something better to replace it is worthwhile.

  20. I think the situation may be different here in Australia as we weren’t hit with the same recession with the Global Financial Crisis – we actually weathered that pretty well as a country… BUT… we have been hit with the increasing casualisation of the workforce and really effing awful enterprise agreements because of what previous Liberal governments (our version of Republicans) introduced in the early 2000s. So even though jobs may be available in a big range of areas, we don’t have nearly the same security or permanence as older generations did. I’ve been working as a university lecturer (what you’d call a professor) for almost ten years now (as I did my PhD) and there is still no tenure or permanent positions in sight. And there probably won’t ever be. There are hiring freezes for lower positions at almost every university here. It scares the hell out of me because with a family, that security is what I’m really after.

  21. I’m a millennial with paid bills and my dream job, but I worked for it.

    I’m still a “leading edge” millennial, but I’m still mid-20s, so I got the advantage of seeing a couple years my generation’s struggles and was able to do a little bob-and-weave to keep my head above water.

    I wanted to be a biochemist, but I realized that I needed to directly translate into a career and a career I knew I could a) count on to be there when I graduate b) live with if I ended up having to do that for the rest of my life.

    I chose nursing. It was hard. And I had to pay a lot of dues. I don’t have a 9-5 job, I’m never home for the holidays. Many of my friends are still working night shift waiting on a day position to come available. The idea that nursing jobs are just waiting with open arms is a myth, too. Older nurses aren’t retiring and hospitals are cutting budgets. Now nurses are responsible for larger patient loads AND stepping up for the housekeeping staff that have been let go. Not just small community hospitals. Vanderbilt has been cutting nurses right and left.

    I hear a lot of people say “if you want a job, be a nurse.” I call bullshit. Nursing isn’t a career you pick out of a hat. You don’t learn to be a nurse like you learn to knit. Would you want the nurse helping you deliver your baby or (like me) on the other end of the suicide hotline to just be there for the paycheck? Didn’t think so. And the “high-paying” part is laughable. Our household income qualifies us for hardship programs with my loans, even though we have elected not to take them.

    My husband- not so lucky. He started his degree in physics. A victim of the “do what you love…” advice that was thrown at us, he picked a career that is no lucrative in the best of situations and comes with heavy student debt to boot. He saw the job market ahead of him and has switched to a business related degree. He used up all his available scholarships and federal loans in pursuit of physics, though, and we’re paying for his current degree out of pocket as his minimum wage part time job at Walmart will allow.

    We are SO fortunate that my job allows us to stay current on our bills with my income (although savings is almost nil and “travel” to us means means our yearly visit to his parents on state over) and let his pay tuition.

    I don’t know how anyone can afford to buy a house at our age. We rent, and all we can afford to rent (in what is supposed to a place with a good rental market) is an apartment with bullet holes in the walls.

    I get resentful sometimes because even though we did everything “right” the American dream will never be ours. Indeed, I don’t know that we’ll ever have the freedom to even find out what that means to us.

  22. So, I’m kind on on the fence re: entitled v. not

    1. I flunked out of college my freshman year. (Well, the scholarship I had went away because of too-low GPA so my family said I couldn’t afford to go anymore…did my sisters have any such financial restrictions? NO but that’s another bitter story.) I came home for summer in 2004 and had to find a job. I worked at a deli counter at a local grocery store and it SUCKED. I resolved to never HAVE to work an hourly job again, and even before the recession, I could tell creative jobs were hard to get/keep. So I went back to school for accounting at a small business school.

    2. Meanwhile, I left the deli for better hourly wages at a telemarketing company. Within a year, I was promoted to management. It was full-time but I made like $26k or so. I saw a lot of the other managers get overexcited and take on massive debt because they felt super grown up or something (not in student loans, but for brand new cars, etc). I found a job paying the same amount but with better street cred – property management at the most expensive building in town.

    I was still taking accounting classes at night when my college offered me a position in the bursar’s office, with the title of “Junior Accountant.” It paid a bit less than what I was making, and I was restricted to 2 classes per semester, but tuition was free. Right before I graduated (7 years after finishing high school) I got a job at a CPA firm making almost double what I had at the college.

    3. I hated CPA work. Hated. We moved to DC and I got an accounting job there (finance, not CPA-esque). After 1.5 years I was promoted to management. Even though I was younger than all the other managers, I had a killer resume, and met all the position requirements. They fired me, and I haven’t really looked for another accounting job, but I could find one easily if I wanted to (I don’t). For now, anyway. Until computers take over ALL OF THE JOBS EVER YES IT IS COMING.

    Summary: So. I mean. I get really annoyed with my sisters complaining about terrible job markets when they got their degrees in television and film writing, film direction, and music production, respectively. Even pre-crash there weren’t that many jobs in those fields. I don’t feel like I am any less able to pursue creative projects because I don’t have a fine arts degree. I wish my time in college would have allowed for more dabbling in those fields (also for another time: JUST LET PEOPLE WHO ARE PAYING TUITION TAKE BASIC CLASSES EVEN THOUGH THEY HAVEN’T DECLARED THAT MAJOR, MY GAWD) but I can study them now.

    The job market is definitely less awesome than it was, overall. But, when people went into school, were they necessarily thinking about the types of jobs they’d be able to get afterward? Universities are largely to blame, for sure, misrepresenting opportunities available/job placement, and offering totally “useless” degrees in the first place, just to get tuition dollars in the door. But I really can’t relate to paying tens of thousands of dollars for a degree in, say, dance. Even if I felt like my SOUL needed to DANCE or it would DIE…couldn’t I do that without a degree? Or just start DOING THAT right out of high school and finding mentors rather than professors? The Foliage is also in a field that he got into after having to leave school and just DOING it. Is it his dream? No, but it pays well and he’s got a kick ass resume.

    I was INCREDIBLY fortunate to have had family pay for school for the first, like, 1.5 to 2 years. Then it was just part of my compensation. So no student debt for me. And I’m not saying that everyone CAN get a job at their school and finagle that situation, but I strongly believe that actual work experience is WAY more attractive to employers, and results in earlier upward mobility (resulting in more pay over the earner’s lifetime).

    Older generations are definitely too rigid in their checklists of how-to-be-successful and are FAR more entitled than Millennials, but I look at a lot of my peers and all I can think is, “what did you expect?” What percentage of the older generations earned degrees in tuba performance? It wasn’t an option! So when they think “4 year degree” they think of the white collar, opportunities available career paths. And if we’d all gotten degrees in those, a lot more of us would be qualified for high-paying jobs.

    I don’t know how to make this sound less mean. I’m super anti-higher-ed these days. I’d rather fund my kid’s business idea than semester at Pepperdine, and hopefully that’s how it’ll turn out. Lots of love to everyone with terrible job search situations.

    1. I think this is a really great perspective. And I tip my hat to you for taking all your opportunities, put upon you or not, and running with them. There was just no way at 18 I could have seen “going to school won’t actually help you” – it was literally the only option EVER for me. And then I interned during college, worked jobs that were relevant and some just to pay the bilzz and then was strongly encouraged to go to grad school by professors I worshiped. And then afterwards I felt completely and utterly abandoned by those professors, my grad school, everyone who ever told me “this is what you should do, it’s going to be great, trust me.”

      And maybe that is being dumb, but also… I think it was their reality, they were telling me the way they went about getting their shit together, and I was like “sounds good! will do!” And then that world doesn’t exist anymore, so I don’t think anyone knew how to navigate it, we just all sort of had to figure it out. And I did. I still am. But I believe the financial hardship of that and the standards by which we value “adulthood” and “Getting your shit together” don’t add up anymore. I mean, I don’t really value that stuff – but that’s the critique. “why aren’t the new generation getting married? buying homes? why do they have so much debt? Why do they still live with their moms? MUST BE LAZY!” That just doesn’t add up anymore.

      1. Yes, I wish someone had pointed out to 21-year-old me that all the profs who were pushing me toward academia had “made it” and had a one-sided perspective. I’m not saying they didn’t work incredibly hard to get to where they were, but the problem w/ the current higher ed landscape is that the voices of those who quit, work as adjuncts, or don’t make it to the tenure track don’t get heard by undergraduates at all. It’s been really hard for me to find a female mentor who doesn’t say something along the lines of “If you want to have a family and an academic career, you have to work twice as hard as the men” (probably this would be different if I were getting my degree at a smaller, non-research program?) I was endlessly grateful when one emerita professor (who was one of the first tenured women in English, period, and wrote one of THE foundational texts for feminist literary theory) in our department mentioned that she actually thought things were harder now on the academic market and that she wouldn’t want to be in our shoes today.

        All that said, I *don’t* think that I could’ve acquired the knowledge that grad school has given me just by reading on my own. It’s been really exciting in the last year to feel that I have a grasp on certain large philosophical conversations, and I will always value my experience here for that, whether or not I get to become a career academic. But I do worry that this is a bourgeois, idealistic, privileged viewpoint….

      2. NONE of my professors encouraged me to go to grad school. I heard again and again and again that the only reason to ever consider going was if I couldn’t possibly imagine myself doing *anything* else AND if it was free. At the time, I thought they were being harsh, and I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. Now, I’m grateful I was rejected across the board and had some time to figure things out before eventually enrolling.

        I have discouraged so many great people from going to grad school, and I feel horrible about it. I try to tell them what my professors told me (which was, “Wait. Go get a job. If in a year or five you still want to go to school, then you can go. But you might not and that’s okay, too.”), and do it in a kind way, but at the end of the day, I truly don’t believe anyone should be encouraged into it. If it’s right for them, I know they’ll do it even if I say they shouldn’t.

  23. I’m not going to leave a long story, I just wanted to comment that I think you’re right, and I’m probably a pretty decent counter example.

    I’m the last year or two before I would be a millennial, but it’s a pretty marked difference. My student loan debt was a fraction of those after me (in 2002, I was one of the last years before the average student loans went through the roof. I think the average for 02 was between 10K-20K.) I graduated into a TERRIBLE recession, and I lived on minimum wage working at a bakery. But after that, there was a real rebound, and I got (not exactly thrilling, but skill building) jobs that paid my bills. What that meant was that when it all collapsed in 08, I was 28 with a lot of job experience and some serious depth of skills. I had to take a job I didn’t WANT, mind you. But I cut out people behind me in line to get what should have been a more entry level job, because I was way, way, way more skilled than they were, because I had way, way, way more experience at that point.

    There is a attitude difference, but I think it’s more complex than articles normally make out. The best way I can describe it was as the very tail end of Gen X, I grew up thinking you could never trust the man, and you were always going to end up screwed (plus, there wasn’t a ton of parental involvement, or an idea we were going to have a super super bright future. There was a terrible recession in my teens too). So when all that happened, I think I was less surprised. Which… oddly… I think might have helped a little.

    We still can’t afford a house though. Just a little too young for that.

  24. Oh gosh. I get in this argument with my sister on a regular basis. We were both incredibly lucky in that parents decided that college was a priority so they paid for each of us to go to more expensive private colleges that were the best fits for our personalities, not just our career interests. That’s where it diverged though – I went to an engineering school and graduated with a BS in Chemical Engineering, while my sister went to a liberal arts school and graduated with a BA in History. We were both equally passionate, but my degree choice meant that I got a good job with great career prospects directly out of college while my sister struggled to get into Teach for America, Emily’s List, grad school, etc. That was 2006 (for her) and 2007 (for me).

    I’ve since left that initial job because it wasn’t quite the right fit and because my husband couldn’t get a job in the area, but had the savings already to go to grad school. Not only that, I went for environmental science & engineering, which meant that I was covered financially through a fellowship. This was while my sister was scraping money together to keep afloat in grad school for History.

    I’m now in a job that is nowhere near what I though I’d be doing when I graduated (healthcare IT), but it’s rewarding and is the type of job that I’m looking for, if that makes sense. I found that it just took a few tries to really nail down exactly what I was looking for in a job, and it wasn’t necessarily the straight industry or subject area – it was intangibles like the work environment, the challenge, and the ability to help others succeed in something.

    My sister is defending her dissertation this spring, and she is still frustrated. There are no jobs available for people with History PhDs, and so she’s likely going to be teaching English in Sweden, where her partner is from. But she has never been okay with the fact that I’ve had more solid job prospects and the ability to get grad school paid for, simply because I like chemistry and math and she likes history.

    As far as entitlement goes, I see it in some people I know and work with and not in others – that’s the case with anything. What’s the better story though? Obviously that millennials are all entitled brats who are unwilling to compromise their dreams for the reality of their situations. Every generation has gotten some sort of help from the previous one, and there is a definite expectation of that. Just as there is an expectation from our parents that we will care for them when they get older. That’s what community and family are for, after all.

    1. I have the same struggle with my year-older sister. She’s in education, with a master’s. I have a bachelor’s in biology and chemistry and a master’s in marketing and communications. She complains about how unfair it is that my brother and I make more money than she does. But I mean, she went into teaching … she knew what the average salary is.

      Of course it takes a certain amount of money to be comfortable, and it can be frustrating that what you are interested in/good at is a lower-paying field. It sucks that different jobs are just valued differently, but you have to be realistic about career prospects and determine if doing what you are passionate about is worth the trade off of lower income.

  25. Like you, I graduated in ’06 and then again in ’09, each time with an artsy-fartsy degree. So… in some ways I can’t say graduating at any other period in history would’ve made it any easier to find regular full-time employment. I (kind of, sort of) accepted that I would be a starving artist when I picked my major. Of course, I was 19 and what did I know of health insurance and retirement savings? But there was a nobility in embracing a dicey future “for your passion,” turning your back on crass mercenary concerns (I say with tongue firmly in cheek). I also couldn’t predict that grad school would lead to burnout in my chosen field.

    I was unemployed for 2 non-consecutive years after I graduated with my MFA… partly by circumstance–I lived in a tiny college town and had trouble scraping together temp jobs–but also a tiny bit because I was holding out hope that I would find something wonderful in my field, that would make the 3 years of graduate work feel like it counted for something. At some point, I started to wonder if my degrees were actually hurting my chances at finding employment and briefly considered leaving them off my resume. I had minimal “real world” work experience (I worked part-time in undergrad, and then part-time in grad school, but as a grad assistant; no one outside of the university seemed to value that experience).

    Thankfully, by this point I was getting married and my husband had a steady job that took care of our bills (but not much more; he works in the public sector). Our biggest saving grace was that neither of us had debt. We both went to in-state public universities for undergrad (I did 2 years at a community college and then transferred), and my graduate school program covered tuition – otherwise, I would not have gone to grad school.

    I’ll be 32 this year and I’ve now had a full-time job for 1 year. I make under 30k (before taxes) and to qualify for my position, you only need a high school diploma. Sometimes I feel self-conscious about my low-level job. However, I don’t feel bitter about my choices… if I had debt, it might be a different story. Do I feel shafted by the economic situation? I don’t know. I purposely chose not to get e.g., a business or engineering degree, which might’ve led to a more lucrative career. And I do like my job now–it’s not my passion, but it pays the bills and lends itself well to a comfortable work-life balance. We do not have a house, but we could technically afford a small one, if we wanted. We have a dependable car and a decent insurance. We have retirement accounts, though of course we should’ve started paying into them 400 years ago. Things could be better, but they could also be (much, much – I’ve heard lots of depressing millennial employment stories) worse.

  26. I’m going to start a little bit before I started college. My dad is a professor, and has been one since 1975. As a result, I was grandfathered into the most beneficial tuition remission program that his University offered – I received free tuition to undergraduate and graduate school at any institution in the state. I began taking college classes at 16 because they were free.

    I graduated in 2007 with a degree in History and English (note: that is two bachelor’s degrees, not a double major), with a minor in Public Health and a certificate in Public Leadership. That fall, I began law school, to which I received tuition remission as well as a generous scholarship that paid for my books as well as some of my expenses (it would have gone to my tuition, and in fairness, I tried to turn it down but they applied it to my fees and then remitted me a check for it each semester, which I was told would not be the case when I originally was admitted.) My parents paid my living expenses while I was in law school, because (1) they wanted me to go to law school and (2) I had to remain a “dependent” to get tuition remitted. I never ever ever talk about this because it makes me seem outrageously privileged and makes me extremely uncomfortable in a sea of friends who are absolutely drowning in debt. I have never known how to handle my privilege properly.

    I graduated from law school in 2010, squarely into the worst legal market in history. Somebody told me along the way that I just needed to keep my head down and get good grades and I would get a clerkship and then a job at a legal services organization. I took that advice, didn’t network, made bad career-related decisions about internships and networking, and could not find a job. I joined my cousin’s political campaign as an unpaid volunteer and my parents basically agreed to pay my living expenses until I got married. Once we got married in October 2010, my parents stopped picking up the tab for my rent (I made it clear that I was done being dependent on them, not that I preferred to be dependent on my husband, but that was the downside of marriage.) I was a volunteer on the campaign for October-November and could not figure out how to ask my cousin to pay me. I think she felt guilty about that and I feel like an idiot for failing to bring it up.

    After the election, I was job hunting full time. I got bar results and found out I had passed, and then was admitted in December 2010. I couldn’t find anything. I was overqualified for anything but a lawyer job, and because I was K-JD, I had no practical life experience. I finally started to do volunteer work at a local legal services nonprofit, and eventually they hired me to run out the end of a grant, so I worked as a lawyer, making $10 an hour. And I was so fucking grateful for the opportunity to go out and lawyer stuff. After three months, the funding ran out (like, literally, my boss came in on a Monday and said he realized that they couldn’t pay me for last week.)

    I took a slightly higher paying job as a legal assistant for 7 months making $15 an hour. I was happy for the experience and liked the office and line of work. I felt really good as soon as I was able to pay my half of the rent. Eventually, my husband got a raise at work that he totally deserved and had been a long time coming, and suddenly things didn’t feel so bad. And then, finally, I got offered a salaried job with benefits and vacation and sick time where I could do lawyer stuff all the time! Yay. I make $40,000 now, which is the lowest paid salary I know of any legal position in my area. Other public interest attorneys I know start at at least 44k, but with a regular raise schedule, and Legal Aid makes $50,000 as a starting salary. However, because I don’t have a mountain of law school debt, I can afford to make as “little” as I do. (I am not complaining about my salary, but I do not understand why the people that fund the grant that pays me think this is an acceptable salary for an attorney.)

    Last year, my husband and I bought a house. We both have retirement plans. My office matches up to 3% of my paycheck into a Simple IRA. I also started a Roth IRA while I was still underemployed, and just started moving my savings into it. I received a not insubstantial amount of money as an inheritance from my grandmother and grandfather, which is the only reason that I have savings I can put into a retirement account and is the only reason we were able to buy a house without maxing out our savings. If I did not have the unbelievable amount of privilege that I have described here, not only would homeownership and retirement be a dream, living on my current salary would be either unimaginable or simply extremely limiting.

    In terms of feeling entitled, I absolutely felt entitled upon graduating from law school. I felt entitled to at least have the opportunity to work hard, use my degree, and prove myself as an attorney. I felt as if this world that had promised me that if I went to law school and did well, I could be a lawyer. It took me nearly two years to be able to actually use my degree in a meaningful way, and I paid my dues and I worked hard and I get seriously angry at anyone who tries to tell me I felt “entitled” to it. I graduated Magna Cum Laude after I worked my ass off. Maybe that does make me feel a little bit entitled, but it really feels like should have been easier for me to find a job to begin with.

  27. One of the best things is that it is so nice to hear so many similar stories. I know the news says this is how it is for us, and I know what they say is true for me, but there is something different about hearing and relating in this format.

    My story echoes much many others: went to school, graduated, couldn’t find a job that paid a living wage (when factoring in student loan payments), went back to school(got more debt even though I was working full time while getting my masters), got out and found a job related to my preferred field, through contact there finally (just this year!) moved into my field of choice.

    It gets really frustrating when people almost accuse you of not working hard and putting yourself through school like they did, and that is why you are struggling now. I worked through my undergrad (20-30 hrs a week and full time in the summer), and my graduate school(40+ hrs a week). That money barely payed for living and books for school let alone paying for tuition and random fees such as transportation (when I am taking an online class), but no you have to pay for that fee anyway. Then you can’t get an interview because there are all these people applying for entry level jobs with way more experience than you because they were laid off. I took a job at Target right out of school because I couldn’t not work. The whole time looking for another job, and there aren’t many. For my field it is a largely due to people staying longer because they lost their investments and now can’t afford to retire and then more recently huge cuts in government funding reducing what little jobs there were. My husband’s job also relies on federal funding which makes life a bit stressful when congress gets cranky.

    Because my field still has a strong union wages haven’t really changed, but the fact that I had to spend years working my way in definitely had the same effect. Neither my husband nor I have retirement right now, or jobs that offer that option. We are looking for better option and are hopeful. This has put the brakes on things like: house buying, trip taking(we are still trying to save for Europe), baby having, furniture buying (that’s right we still have out college furniture), etc. etc. etc.

    One thing I am thankful for is my mother’s understanding. One day she came to me and apologized for constantly asking us about why we haven’t done any of the things listed above, particularly the baby having. She had read some article that really explicitly explained in financial terms why those decisions aren’t possible. She also mentioned that she is proud that we have managed to make it on our own now that she has many friends with kids still living at home, or moving in and out again as the market lays them off.

  28. I appreciate this conversation (both here and on facebook) because it is so interesting and makes me so thankful for what I have. I have student loans, lots of debt, no savings, my husband currently has no job and my three daughters are adopted out of foster care with many challenges. But I also have a job that I enjoy, pays well and requires my degree, a wonderful husband, a house, three daughters and 5 cats. Its so easy to focus on the bad when in reality, at least for me, the good is so much more.

  29. I was born in 1983 and graduated from college in 2005. So even though I am technically a Millenial, I identify more with the cusp of Gen X, experience-wise. My husband and I both found good jobs right out of school and are both still at those jobs 9 years later. My job is boring and sorta combines my two interests (but with a great company with good perks!); I happened to find it once we moved here for my husband’s job, and although it isn’t really what I thought I’d be doing, I’m not sure what else I’d want to do at this point. My husband is in the exciting field he wanted to be in but is often stressed (nature of the job). We both partly stay where we are because our companies are very stable and reliable without a history of job loss. Risk takers we are not.

    We are about to sell our house and buy a nicer one in the neighborhood I’ve wanted to live in since moving to our area. We both receive retirement funds from our companies, and max out their matching as well. Our combined income is 50% more than our first year out of college. Work paid for me to get my master’s. We have the money and time to do some traveling every year and go out a couple times a week. (Sidenote: we live in a larger city in the middle of the country, read: fun but affordable).

    Having both grown up in families that didn’t have much, we are so, so grateful for how lucky we’ve been. Sure, we’ve worked hard. But I don’t for a second think that’s all it is. If we’d graduated a few years later or gone into different fields or lived somewhere else, the story could be entirely different. My heart goes out to friends and family who bust their butts working so much harder than me for way less pay, or stringing together multiple part-time jobs while trying to frustratingly get a career started.

  30. I second Meghan’s comments that it’s good to see so many common themes. My parents worked hard and believed strongly in education so paid for my undergrad education. I worked 30-35 hours a week the whole time I was in school to pay my living expenses plus school expenses my parents didn’t cover. It was hard, exhausting, and not a burden I would like to put on my children but I am so grateful to graduate with no debt.

    I’ve managed to find stable employment working for a state university. The work is dull and I’ve bounced from department to department once I get bored but I’ve managed to pull in a salary that allows me to pay my bills, have health insurance, and start saving for retirement. I decided not to attend grad school for a variety of reasons and am lucky to live in a city that have enough public transportation that I can get by without a car (though see next paragraph). I am aware that that makes me in an above average position for my generational cohort.

    But none of this is easy. Living expenses are rising an incredible pace. The average worker needs to make over $22/hour in my city to afford their own apartment. There is a proposal on the ballot this spring that must pass or our bus system will be thoroughly gutted. All this in one of the wealthiest parts of the country and a city relatively sheltered from the worst effects of the recession.

    So yes, I’m angry and frustrated. I’m angry that bankers got bailed out at the blink of an eye and so many of my friends struggle to pay back their student loan debt. I’m frustrated that cops get to kill black kids on the street with impunity and yet teachers are solely blamed for struggling schools. I’m pissed that I can’t pay the trainees in the program I run a stipend consistent with their experience and training because the federal government thinks that residents are the slave labor of the hospital system. I don’t think I’m entitled to anything more than a sane world in which people can take care of themselves and have the support (financial, emotional, professional, etc) to live a healthy and balanced life.

  31. More thoughts:
    My dad and I would get in arguments about how things have changed when I was in college (five years ago) and I never felt like he *got it*.

    He recently audited a class in architecture at the university I attended and was struck by just how much as changed. Architecture can be luctrutive but the job openings are scarce. The students are, according to my dad, on average much smarter than when he went to school in the late 60s/early 70s. They are also incredibly hard working as there are so few opportunities in the field. My dad is completing his degree because it’s long been a goal of his. He has no idea how his “fellow undergrads”, most of them 40 years his junior, are going to make it in the professional world they are training for.

  32. I was thinking about this again (always), and I think it’s worth noting that even the successful millennials always comment on “being lucky.” I think one of the biggest differences between our generation and the ones before ours is this recognition that it’s mostly luck that determines how things are going to go. We all have friends and peers who have worked really hard and not caught a break, and it’s clear (to us) that it’s the luck of the economy that’s really at fault.

    I think it’s scary for older generations to think that the life and good jobs they have or had were in large part due to their random fortune when they’ve been telling themselves that it’s their own hard work for their whole lives. So they call younger generations entitled because that’s easier than saying, “You’re right, I didn’t deserve this more than you do, but I got it anyway.”

    And I think this is ESPECIALLY true among boomers, who are our parents, and had the responsibility to give us a better world then they themselves had… but failed to do so on many (MANY) fronts.

    1. That’s a good point, and not something I had noticed before. We do all seem to be saying “I worked…” followed either by “and I got lucky” or “but it didn’t seem to matter.”

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