Millennials: the ‘new lost generation?’

Millennials are finding it harder than any generation in 40 years to find median-paying jobs, leaving many to wonder whether today’s 20-30 year-olds will eventually become known as the next “lost generation,” according to research released Monday by the Georgetown Public Policy Institute.

While the news may not come as too large of a surprise coming on the heels of the Great Recession, the numbers released in the report, titled “Failure to Launch: Structural Shift and the New Lost Generation,” laid bare many of the problems recent college and high school graduates alike have faced.

(Lily Choi | The Oswegonian)
(Lily Choi | The Oswegonian)

The labor force participation for 20-24 year-olds in 2012 reached its lowest point since 1972 and the average age at which young workers reach a median-range wage ($42,000) has increased to 30 from 26 in 1980, according to the report.

“The numbers are concerning to an extent,” Aaron Millard, a junior finance major, said. “I definitely know a lot of kids who are juniors and seniors and unsure what will happen to them next, and I’ve felt the same at times, so it could be a real issue.”

The average earnings for recent college graduates grew consistently between 1980 and 2000, but have stagnated since, even decreasing since 2008 to an average around $35,000 in 2012, according to the report.

Tim James, who graduated in May from Oswego State with degrees in economics and finance, said that, despite finding a job the summer after graduation, the numbers are still concerning.

“College costs are rising and income after college isn’t rising much at all,” said James, who will soon begin a full-time job with The Vanguard Group financial management firm in Phoenix. “The fact that the average college graduate doesn’t make $42,000 a year until age 30 would have been a very serious concern to me at graduation, since that’s approximately how much student loans I had.”

The report, which analyzed three decades worth of census data, noted that the labor market model of a worker entering the labor force at age 18 and exiting at 65 is no longer in existence. Instead, young workers are entering the labor force at older ages, after acquiring various required skills through internships, work-study or part-time work.

James said it was his work at an internship that he believes led to being hired by his current employer.

“It wasn’t glorious, it was mostly making photocopies and appointments and transcribing meetings,” James said. “But it was a foot in the door, and it led me to my current job.”

Gary Morris, the head of Career Services in The Point at Oswego State, said his department checks up on students a year after graduation and that around 90 percent are either working full time or enrolled in graduate school, adding that he “flat out rejects” that many Oswego State students take until their mid to late 20s to find gainful employment.

“I don’t care about the job market,” Morris said. “It can be great, it can be bad. I’ve seen both versions, and I don’t care what the job market says … If a student wants to get out of here and do remarkable things, there is a pathway to success and I think we have put together the tools and resources to help students find that pathway.”’

While Morris acknowledges the challenge students face in today’s market, he said the Career Services department stresses that students look beyond the circumstances and focus on what individual student’s are looking for in a career.

“It is a lousy job market, and in a lousy global and national economy, the Northeast is pretty much in the bottom of the job market and, in the Northeast, New York is pretty much in the basement and Oswego County is in the basement of New York – and I don’t care,” Morris said. “If I can get students to get the attitude that it doesn’t matter, that ‘I will be successful,’ then my team has what it takes to make anybody in any major successful.”

Morris said the ideal student, in regards to finding employment after graduation, should try several different things, ranging from activities, clubs, internships, employment on or off campus and a variety of classes outside his or her major.

(Devon Nitz | The Oswegonian)
(Devon Nitz | The Oswegonian)

‘The best thing a student can do is get more experience and see what it is really like to be working in a field,” Morris said. “And if along the way a students realizes this isn’t the career for them, then great, off the list. But at least a student can say ‘I looked into this,’ ‘I spoke to someone about this.’”

Career Services offers several programs to help usher students into career paths beyond graduation, including an Etiquette Dining event and a career fair that will take place Oct. 9.

Millard said The Point and business school have been helpful in finding him opportunities to get experience in his field.

“I feel confident that I have done enough things that a job opportunity will eventually come up,” Millard said, adding that he has experience working as a teller for bank this summer that he believes can help land him a career.

“Networking and flexibility are huge,” James said. “Don’t discount any opportunity you hear about until you’ve heard it all the way through.”

Where exactly to find these opportunities, however, has become a challenge in and of itself. The Georgetown report compiled a list of the large metropolitan areas with the highest employment rates for people ages 21-30 and neither New York nor any of its bordering states placed a city on this list. In fact, the New York-Northeastern New Jersey area, the largest metropolitan area in New York state, placed on the list for the worst employment rates for 21-30 year-olds, with 67 percent of the age group employed. The Minneapolis-St. Paul area in Minnesota, the city with the highest employment for 21-30 year-olds, had an employment rate of 80 percent.

Morris said Career Services accounts for the geographic data in the same manner as the poor overall employment data, by focusing in on what the student wants.

“If a student wants to work as an accountant in Boulder, Colo., we can make that happen,” Morris said. “If a student wants to be a social worker in Manhattan , we can make that happen. Geography doesn’t play a role in what we do.”

James recently moved to Phoenix to start his career, and said he has seen other graduates moving west for work “in droves.”

“The East Coast doesn’t have nearly the job growth that the Midwest and West coast is experiencing,” James said. “I would highly recommend being open to the option of moving across the country for employment.”

The important thing for future graduates, Morris said, is to figure out what exactly works for them.

“We really sit down and think ‘OK, what’s the dream?’ Morris said. “At this point in your life, if you can’t think big, if you can’t go for that brass ring, you probably never will. You’re never more enthusiastic, optimistic than you are at 20 to 22 years-old.”

Still, in light of the gloomy statistics, concern remains that all the enthusiasm of a young generation can be lost amid struggle to find employment leading to, as the article implies, “the new lost generation.”

Millard said he is still optimistic despite the numbers, citing new opportunities provided by the Internet and college recruiting.

“If someone is driven and motivated,” Millard said, “there will always be opportunities out there.”

James also said, though there is sure to be frustration with a struggling economy, he tries to look toward the more positive aspects of the recent economic trends, such as companies that pay higher wages to employees advancing and finding success as well more people from the younger generations taking leadrship roles in the economy.

“I don’t think that we will become the ‘lost generation’ in the end,” James said. “I believe that we are the ‘lost generation’ right now, but in the coming years we will be ‘found.’”