Jobs, education, and Generation Y’s huge mistake

[Thanks to the always charming Nikki for the inspiration]

I’ve made a huge mistake.

Yesterday, some other 24-year-old wrote exactly how I feel in the New York Times. Well, not exactly. He focused more on the international atmosphere in which the current economic recession affects our dear 20-somethings. However, one paragraph stood out:

The cost of youth unemployment is not only financial, but also emotional. Having a job is supposed to be the reward for hours of SAT prep, evenings spent on homework instead of with friends and countless all-nighters writing papers. The millions of young people who cannot get jobs or who take work that does not require a college education are in danger of losing their faith in the future. They are indefinitely postponing the life they wanted and prepared for; all that matters is finding rent money. Even if the job market becomes as robust as it was in 2007 — something economists say could take more than a decade — my generation will have lost years of career-building experience.

For most of our Generation Y lives, we were told that if we studied hard, got a good education, and didn’t do drugs, that we would come out on top. Well, we did those things (except maybe some of the drugs), and so far the brightest minds of our generation are working part time at coffee shops to make ends meet.

Where is the promise of good grades at good schools leading to good jobs? Perhaps it is a flaw of our generation that we think we’ve been promised something. But then again we were. We thought we had struck a deal, like some sort of verbal contract: “stay in school, don’t do drugs, get a good education, and you’ll do great.” After all, that is what we were told in by oh so many afterschool specials or ABC TGIF shows. The dumb jocks may win now, but that’s alright, that’s OK, you’re going to work for us some day.

Except no one is working for you unless you’re managing a Starbucks or paying freelance writers $50 an article to review a restaurant where a meal costs $75 and you don’t reimburse.

More and more, people like David Brooks are telling us that grades don’t matter. And it is just so fucking frustrating. As I said before:

After 21 years of struggling and striving to get the top grades, top SAT score, top extracurriculars, the last thing you want to hear is about how you shouldn’t have worked hard for good grades.

We did RABDARGAB in elementary school, did educational summer camps in middle school, and made national merit finalist in high school. We did practice SAT classes, applied for awards, and did every little thing with the hope that one day it would pay off. If I had known then what I knew now, I wouldn’t have been afraid to drink in high school. Or even more in college.

We were promised our work would pay off. That our education was an investment. Well, now we’re coming to collect and finding the bank empty.

We just want a job. A good, old fashioned 9-5 way to feel like you can contribute to society. We want a way to start a life. But now you have to be an unpaid intern for like a year first, if you even get a job after that.

This situation could possibly be ameliorated by raising the pay and stature of teachers. Top college grads don’t seem to have much of a problem working for less pay at admirable non-profit jobs, so why don’t we try to view teaching the same way. Impressive non-profit positions are competitive and command respect, and have the promise social and vocational benefits in the long run. If we could raise teaching to a similar status, this would both ensure that teachers come from the cream of the crop and reward the hard work of those students.

But who the hell would want to be a teacher? Teaching is denigrated as a lazy job. And new teachers aren’t given support to train them for their positions.

Top notch graduates could prove to be an excellent resource of great teachers, but no one wants to go to a job where you are underpaid, disrespected by students and society, and get little training to even do your job right.

Another potential fix would be to guarantee a minimal degree of health coverage for people in the 20s.  The lack of a safety net is a barrier against launching one’s own business or becoming an entrepreneur. The sheer need for some sort of health coverage drives people to get a minimal job that doesn’t put educated talents to use. Simply ensuring some sort of basic level of protection could encourage a new generation of self-made businesspeople.

But rather than focus on the next generation of workers,politicians apparently think that the biggest threats to our nation are Muslims bringing shampoo on planes and the deficit, even though there is no noticeable affect on the bond market. But we can’t raise taxes on the rich back to where they were in the ’90s to make up for that deficit. So instead we have to cut jobs, like teachers or state historians. Not to mention this compounding with the problem of  private companies outsourcing and computerization of white collar jobs.

So now we have a generation of overeducated, underpaid, 20-somethings who desperately try to hold onto the fun of our youth because the reality is too depressing to confront. And because we actually have time to waste.

We don’t have jobs, but we have blogs, bands, and computer games. We don’t have the money to start families so we move back in with our parents. We hang out with our friends, and try to hold on to our past, because then at least we can pretend it is acceptable to not have a high paying, respectable job with a future. If we act like we’re still in college, then we don’t wonder why our degrees haven’t fulfilled the unspoken verbal contract of our youth, and can hope that it will get better.

When we’re getting high, we don’t contemplate whether our entire lives up to this point were wasted on fruitless academic endeavors.

But then the media accuses us of being a bunch of manchildren with arrested development. And the only appropriate response is: I’ve made a huge mistake.

15 responses to “Jobs, education, and Generation Y’s huge mistake

  1. “if it were high school, there’d be lots more sex and drugs
    but less alcohol
    i’m not sure where i stand on this conundrum
    also, we’d have cars
    high school is starting to sound awesome compared to being 25 and living in new york…

  2. Generation Y: over educated, under paid or out of work, disillusioned. Where the hell is our revolution? Other countries do it. Can’t we decide to throw out Republicans yet?

  3. Gen X piping in here. We didn’t study, and we took the coffee shop jobs on purpose, because we had been disillusioned with the American dream since before we were in high school. Not sure what happened with you guys. We shoulda left you a note, I guess.

  4. Honestly I think it’s time for our generation to realize that it’s never going to happen for us. We’re going to be scraping by for our entire lives. Our parents generation spent all the money, used up all the resources, started a bunch of wars and didn’t save anything for when they’re old and useless. And they’re going to demand that we pay to take care of them for as long as they’re around.

    The world is a different place. As time goes by, there’s only gonna be more wars, higher gas prices, less jobs, lower pay, worse benefits.

    Oh and retirement? Forget about it. We’ll be working at some shitty job till the day we die.

    • Yeah, but why work a shitty job if one can get by on an OK part time? The nation doesn’t really benefit, but at this point, what do we owe America?

  5. It’s all very nice very to write intelligent and insightful things about our generation, but why, now that you’ve come to this important conclusion, are you spending time regretting, complaining, blaming?

    Yes, this is what our lives are like and this what we face. But how do we overcome this? This is the time for proposing solutions, creating new paths and a new “American dream.” How do we adjust to this new reality? That is the real question we face, not how we got here and why it sucks. Or more simply…didn’t anyone ever tell you to not harp on problems unless you’re prepared to offer a solution?

    And if you have to concentrate on the past instead of how to face our future, don’t dwell on how you should have drank more, remember how much fun you already had drinking the amount you did. Our situation now is hard enough. We have no time, or emotional energy, for regrets. Not to mention that if you hadn’t studied as hard as you had, you wouldn’t be nearly as smart as you are now, and probably even wouldn’t have been able to write this piece, hah.

    Side note: your argument that non-profit jobs are more competitive and well-respected than teaching jobs is flawed. If you are working for a fabulous national organization, like Planned Parenthood, yes, I agree. But the reality is that the people you are talking about, people like myself and my friends, do not work for a prestigious organization like Planned Parenthood. We work or have worked for mostly small, local non-profits, and work at the most difficult and trying jobs, the social work positions, and we get paid drastically less than even teachers, barely above minimum wage. We choose these positions because we want to make a difference, because we care, and honestly (and I will make a point to say I speak only for myself here), because we can’t get any other jobs and the only reason we get these jobs are not because we are qualified or prepared, but because we are the only people who are idealistic and passionate and tether-less enough to stay at these jobs that are immensely difficult emotionally, require us to work hours as long as investment bankers’, and pay us wages barely large enough to live off of. Teaching is certainly an immensely hard job and underpaid for sure…but caring for our children is still worlds more respected and valued and compensated than caring for our most disadvantaged citizens–the poor, the abused, the illegal immigrants, the mentally ill. What kind of society are we that we pay the most to those who shuffle money and make deals for the highest, while we pay those who aid and guide and educate our lowest, the least?

    • This was supposed to be more along the lines of a column, where it just establishes a basis for the current frame rather than propose answers. Then again, I did propose a few solutions in the way of improving teachers or healthcare. But what would you recommend?

  6. I can not wait till our generations wakes up and votes all the old vestiges of yesteryear OUT. The ONLY way we can pay our debt is to pay it.

    Stop screwing with teachers, police, firefighters, and emergency care workers. They did not bankrupt this generation. Bush era Republican financial greed did. NOT unions, not healthcare, not Unemployment Compensation. They need more, not less.

    Ask anyone who’s out of work and can’t support their family if they’re still Republican. Ha – fat chance, still wanna hang out with the cool kids now your college degree means squat. Not so cool to be republican no more is it.

  7. @Ingrid Well, I would say that as the person who got a shout-out for partly inspiring said post (*blush) that I disagree with the top part of your comment. Of course it’s true that we should look for solutions and even that most of our energies should be focused there. But that doesn’t mean we can’t voice our discontent and I think that trying to understand how we got somewhere (truly, not just blame Republicans) is an extremely valid mechanism for dealing with and moving on from our grief. Because I do truly grieve that the career and life I have worked towards since I was 13 years old may never happen for me.

    And, I do think that we get a lot of blame, as a generation, for our situation. Like Evan said, we’re accused of arrested development. The generation before us makes fun of the way we seek “spiritual fulfillment” and we’re made to feel lesser because we never felt poverty. We’re in a lose-lose situation where we’re expected to work respectable, white collar jobs for the money and to support our families like our parents did (as opposed to the dreamy passion jobs our generation laughably pursues) but the reward, the security, for ourselves and our families that is associated with that is now simply off the table. Or jobs in general are off the table. So if we want to spread the blame around a little, I think we’re perfectly within our rights.

  8. I’ve been saying a lot of similar things for a few years now. I never went jobless, but I’m still fairly disenchanted with where we are and how we’re viewed. If you speak up, you’re whining. At the end of the day, we were practically brainwashed to invest in ourselves, but we’re not getting a return on that investment.

  9. i know i’m like, super-late to the party for only having just gotten around to reading this, but: i think a big step towards figuring all this out will be us discussing the situation with each other in this way, not so much w/r/t evan’s original post as much as the comments and replies.

    imma bookmark this to comment further later, but for now, i think it’s not an insignificant thing to notice that not one of us finds any disagreement with the initial premise of things being pretty fucked up. honestly, my initial reaction to all this — and again, i’m probably just lagging a little behind everyone else — is gentle surprise that we’re all grappling with this individually yet collectively, followed by what i have been raised to view as a naïve hope that somehow we can think about this together more extensively.

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  11. Shit try being gen x,we had it much worse,at least your parents aren’t divorced

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