In past cycles of the U.S. economy, a college degree — or even a high school diploma — could be enough for a job seeker to land a well-paying position that afforded them staples of an American lifestyle, such as home and car ownership, leaving home as a teen or young adult, and starting a family. In the new economy, with high unemployment rates for teens and adults, neither a college degree or high school diploma comes with a job guarantee, and many young adults are reacting by living with their parents longer, delaying marriage and child birth and indefinitely postponing large purchases. 1
Part of the dissatisfaction in the job market for new graduates and young professionals is not that they are unemployed, but that they are underemployed. An underemployed professional is described as someone who makes a living doing something that requires lower-skill levels and does not require their degree. In an economy where the underemployed are considered the fortunate ones to some, many keep their jobs to pay the bills and supplement their work with something more fulfilling, like a part-time job, volunteering, internships, a hobby, or starting their own business. The new professional who finds him or herself underemployed may find comfort in having a job, but they must take chances, find their grit, and search for (or create) employment opportunities that will keep them engaged in the professional world they hope to join and ultimately, improve.
Through working with young professionals, I hear stories of new grads and professionals who are moving above being underemployed by taking a leap of faith. Kenny is a new graduate who graduated with a degree in English. He started working at Whole Foods in college, and continued working there after graduation. A regular patron knew Kenny was a writer and told him she knew a nonprofit that was looking for a copywriter for their newsletter and website. He called the nonprofit and got his first professional writing job, where he got experience setting a freelance wage, working with clients, and meeting deadlines outside of school. He was open, receptive and failed to be a “victim” bemoaning his current status. That outlook is attractive and positively impressed this patron who is opening all kinds of doors for Kenny.
Izzy, a graduate of a prestigious women’s college, works at a coffee shop for six months out of the year to save money to travel to Nepal, where for the remaining six months she lives with a local family and volunteers at an orphanage. Her ten year goal is to start her own organization in Nepal that would allow her to spend more of her time at the orphanage, and less time at the coffee shop. By living with her parents the six months out the year she is in the U.S., she is able to save money off her barista wages for her flight to Nepal, as well as bring suitcases of needed supplies to her kids. She is purposeful in her choices and focused on her long term goals.
Alice is a college senior who recently quit her well-paying supervisor job at a grocery store for a lower-paying job at a non-profit organization that better aligned with her career goals in political science. As a new hire, she worked odd hours canvassing neighborhoods, which was not her ideal job, but one that she hoped would help her get her foot in the door of the organization. After a few months, the position for her dream job opened, which came with a salary and an office. Alice went for it, and against dozens of applicants in the organizations, landed her first professional job. She was convinced that her willingness to step in to her passion, even for lower pay, would ultimately pay off and it did.
The job market can be difficult for many of today’s young adults, but those who are resourceful, driven, have vision, and fight for a position in the new economy will find their hard work pays off. Have a teflon attitude about your gifts, talents and passions and you will forge your own rewarding, sustainable path.
1“US Wealth Gap Between Young and Old Is Widest Ever,”by the Associated Press. 7 November 2011. KPBS. Accessed on 7 May 2012. http://www.kpbs.org/news/2011/nov/07/us-wealth-gap-between-young-and-old-widest-ever/