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Youth and Optimism vs. the Job Market

News & Features | November 12, 2013

By all accounts, the “real world” promises economic hardship for the 90s generation as they enter the workforce––rates of unemployment, the cost of living, and amount of student debt are all unnervingly high. And yet, Millennials (defined by Pew Research Center as those born after 1980) are remarkably hopeful about their own futures.

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, conditions are tough for ] or Generation Y. Although the 2008 economic collapse affected all of the United States, it hit Millennials particularly hard. At its peak in October of 2009, the national unemployment rate was 10 percent, but in 2010, 37 percent of 18 to 29 year olds were unemployed. This alarming statistic reflects the harsh realities Millennials face in obtaining jobs and supporting themselves.

Because of these employment difficulties, Millennials are less able to support themselves financially. According to a study by Pew Research Center, 35 percent of 18 to 32 year olds reported problems paying rents or mortgages. Many do not live independently; in the same Pew study, 34 percent said they live in their parents’ home.

Young people’s difficulties in earning money and supporting themselves are augmented by the rising costs of higher education and consequent student debt. Total student debt nationwide is over $1.2 trillion dollars; the average student-loan debt is over $26,000. A recent Fidelity survey of college graduates from the class of 2013 reflects an average individual debt of $35,000. These numbers will only continue to increase as colleges raise their tuitions.

These effects of the economic crisis threaten Millennials in the distant future as well. As money is tight, and many young people live paycheck-to-paycheck, they choose to put cash in bank accounts rather than invest in the stock market or build retirement funds for themselves. This means they may run into challenges when nearing retirement. Furthermore, it appears that Social Security funds will run out by 2037 and that Millennials will not receive any Social Security benefits due to government actions.

Despite these bleak statistics, Generation Next is fighting hard to find a place in the nation. Pew Research Center reports that in addition to living with friends and family in order to save money, young people are cutting back their spending on alcohol, cigarettes, and cell phone services.Others decide to go back to school, taking the time to build before returning to or entering the job market. Tufts graduate Sam Kronish (A’13), who currently works at a start-up in Boston, noted, “I think in today’s economy it’s very hard to advance within a field with just a bachelor’s degree unless that degree is very specialized or within a tech or science space that is pretty lucrative, like computer science.”

Perhaps most remarkable is the Millennial attitude toward the future. While noting that entire generations are not “monolithic,” the Pew Research Center declared, “Whatever toll a recession, a housing crisis, a financial meltdown, and a pair of wars may have taken on the national psyche in the past few years, it appears to have hit the old harder than the young. […] Millennials [are] confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change.” This generation of young people is incredibly optimistic about the rest of their lives, demonstrating a level of self-assurance and hope higher than that of preceding generations.

In terms of finances, Millennials foresee eventual high economic success despite current setbacks. The Media and Public Opinion Group found that young people are the most likely to think they will enter the much-referenced “one percent” at some point in their lives: 40.2 percent of respondents aged 18 to 29 say they will achieve this, while 12.3 percent say they already have. Moreover, only 32 percent of this same age group think they will settle into the middle class. This reflects the statistic that 73 percent of this generation believes their economic situations are getting better. Jackie Cygelman (A’13), who works at Eze Software Group, echoed this optimism in reflections on her life and those of her peers. She commented, “There was a period of time that I wasn’t settled into a job and it was really nerve-wracking, but right now I feel solid and stable. There are definitely people from Tufts who are unemployed, but more and more are getting settled.”

The root of this confidence may be young people’s belief that because they are just starting their independent lives, their futures are full of possibilities. This includes the time and potential for significant economic mobility, further opportunity for education, and promising career prospects. Gallup polls also cite young people’s continuing belief in the ideal of the American Dream which promises success with hard work.

Another explanation is that young people today have a generational self-esteem built on the idea that individuals have a potent ability to affect change in the world around them. This conclusion reflects the prevalent idea that  one Millennial articulated to the Kansas City Star: “We can be whatever we want to be. Justice will prevail.”. Fueled by passion and ambition, members of this generation “are super passionate about something and really invested in it, which leads to them knowing what they want to do and going after it,” said Cygelman. “Millennials are not afraid to create their own jobs or their own world,” added Jeff Fromm, author of Marketing to Millennials. Society’s heavy dependence on the Internet provides a new dimension within which young people can network and connect with others, as well as pursue and create their own economic opportunities.

When reflecting on their own experiences, these Tufts graduates expressed a sense of confidence that stems from their time at Tufts. They cite not only the advantage that Tufts’ prestigious name affords them, but also the skills and experiences they have gained. As Kronish said,“My time at Tufts taught me to keep an open mind and be patient with problems, and I think that has helped me more than almost anything else at this time.”