College Grads: The Lost Generation Of Our Time?

I just found Chris Isidore’s article “The Great Recession’s Lost Generation” — the idea of recent college graduates like me being “lost” due to the recession is incredibly worrisome. At the same time, the analogy seems excessive: from what I can tell, the original “Lost Generation” of World War I was labeled lost because so many of them died. Elite college grads may not be starting the prestigious careers they’d planned, but it’s a far cry away from death.

I am of two minds about this article. On the one hand, it seems classist — at the very least, it’s very focused on people with a certain amount of privilege (at least a college degree, particularly those who graduated from the Ivy League). We may not have the opportunities for which we’d hoped or planned, but most people don’t have those opportunities, even when the economy is doing well. There are so many people who are hurt far worse by the recession than we are.

At the same time, the article speaks to me. “About 60% of recent graduates have not been able to find a full-time job in their chosen profession, according to job placement firm Adecco. . . . Many others are underemployed, or working part-time or temporary jobs and internships.” — I’m experiencing that difficulty. I’m not intending to complain because I’m really grateful to have a job lined up, but it’s not what I was dreaming at college.

The article mentions this expectation that if you graduate from an Ivy League school (or, in my case, one of the Seven Sisters), it “will mean something — that it will guarantee you a job.” And perhaps that’s unrealistic, but regardless, it’s no longer the case. I couldn’t even get an interview for the AmeriCorps VISTA position I wanted when I was in Chicago, and that’s not an actual paid job: it’s a year of service.

It worries me because, as the article puts it, “According to one study performed by Till von Wachter, an economics professor at Columbia University, the drag on income lasts for 10 years, on average.” I just graduated from college — having job issues for a year or two is understandable. But for it to create decade-long consequences is something else.

To quote Avenue Q, “I wish I could go back to college. In college you know who you are. You sit in the quad and think, ‘Oh my god, I am totally going to go far!’” We dream about the amazing things we’re going to do after graduation, and then . . . the jobs assume will be there just don’t exist. And while this past year has been fantastic, the source of the awesomeness has not been job prospects, and I don’t know how I’m going to go from here to, well, wherever it is I want to go. It feels self-indulgent to worry about that, but there it is.

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2 responses to “College Grads: The Lost Generation Of Our Time?

  1. I see where you’re coming from about the privilege, but I think the point isn’t that people who graduate from good schools (or any schools) have it worse, but that when we started college, it was reasonable to assume that going to college, especially a top college, which is generally more expensive, was an investment in our future. Having the degree that we have was supposed to mean something to employers. In some cases it does. I certainly got my internship this summer because I talked up the value of a liberal arts education in my interview and luckily my interviewer also went to a liberal arts college, so he understood what my education meant in terms of what I could accomplish for them. But in general, employers these days don’t hire people just based on their education because so many people lost their jobs in this recession, the job market is flooded with people with actual experience, something you and I just don’t have. It’s an employers market and if they can find non-entry level people, they will and they do, so we’re going to make it into our late 20s or (hopefully not) our 30s never having held down a steady job in our field. Our generation certainly isn’t as bad as dead, but as far as having an experienced workforce in the future, there’ll be a huge gap where our generation belongs. The worst part about it is that none of this is our fault. It’s a greater issue that we unfortunately inherited and are suffering the consequences of.

    Also, to show how times have changed: recently I watched the Pallbearer, which came out in 1996. The main character is about 25 and a few years out of Cornell (I think…) He’s unemployed and living at home. He goes into a job interview towards the beginning of the movie and they ask him, looking at his resume condescendingly, “you graduated from college three years ago. what have you been doing since then?” In 1996, if you didn’t have a job that far out of college, it meant you were lazy. That scene really struck me because these days that’s just so normal. Despite it being normal, though, some employers, most of whom were also employers in the 90s, are still in the mindset that that’s something to judge a potential candidate on. If recent college grads were the only people out there looking for jobs right now, that mindset would dissipate quickly as employers realized that all of their candidates have holes in their resumes, but since people moving into second careers are also out there, the employers aren’t learning what the job market looks like to a recent college grad and once the recession ends (*crosses fingers*), we’ll be those people lingering about the job market with little to no discernible experience in our fields that employers still don’t quite understand.

    Going back to the thing about privilege, when I was trying to find an internship for this summer and kept getting turned down, usually for people with more experience, I kept thinking, “I have a Bachelors degree from a Seven Sisters college. I’m halfway done my Masters degree. I’m smart and interesting and have relatively good people skills. If I’m not getting hired, I can’t even imagine how hard it is for people who never went to college or who are attempting to get their degree from a state school or community college while raising a family or whatever.” I am so aware of my privilege when it comes to my job search. What’s worrisome is that even privilege (in whatever form) doesn’t even get you as far as it used to.

  2. My personal experience graduating from college in 2003, before the economic bubble burst, was that without internships under my belt, I simply COULD NOT get a job in the non-profit sector where I wanted to work. It took me almost a year to get a PAID internship (I worked retail and carpet cleaning to pay the bills and did unpaid internships to gain experience during that time), and I was told that 200 people applied for the paid internship that I finally did get. And that was in DC in 2003, when money was everywhere and the war boom was at its height.

    I had the same disillusionment when I got out of college because my parents (who hadn’t worked in the USA for decades) had this idea that when you graduate from college, you could easily get a good job. I found that times had definitely changed. I strongly believe part of it is that SO MANY people go to college now-not to technical schools to learn applied skills or for associates but to four year colleges. There are way too many people getting four year college degrees who have very little work experience. There are even a lot of people who have at least one internship under their belt. SO its incredibly competitive because these days, it seems like almost everyone has a college degree and did an internship too. More people are going to college now than ever in the history of the country, and a lot of them are only doing it because they believe that without that piece of paper, they cant get a job. Now you have to have that degree just to apply for jobs, many of which dont actually require the skills that a college education is supposed to give you to do the tasks you are being hired for. Lots of jobs you dont need that college degree, but its still required just to apply. Frankly I think we need to reassess this. Dont require a college degree if the job doesnt really need it. Dont force people to go to college who dont want to go and increase the number of technical schools so people can train for jobs that they want.

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