Are todays college grads sacrificing their future—because of our avarice?

American Eagle

What is the American Dream?
The American Dream is commonly defined as:

  1. The ideals of freedom, equality, and opportunity traditionally held to be available to every American.
  2. A life of personal happiness and material comfort as traditionally sought by individuals in the U.S.

I’d like to add that part of the American Dream has been the hope that each new generation would be better off than the last. Parents hoped that their children would do better than they have done.

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What it’s like, from Gen Y’s perspective:
Before graduation. In Morgan’s words:

“Each semester I have to figure out my new routine, including my class schedule, labs, homework, group projects, class projects, studying for exams—all that stuff. I have a part-time job and I’m in the band, so there’s my work schedule and band rehearsals. We go on a Spring tour. It all changes every semester.

“As I see it, my friends are important, not just socially, but I’m finding people that I’m going to stay in touch with professionally as well. So it’s important to interact with my professors and build a relationship. I’m going to need their recommendations when I get out, and I want them to know who I am when I ask! Managing roommates isn’t a walk in the park either. Rei is from Japan and Abhaya is from India. When there’re problems in my room it scarfs my sleep and the tension is a terrible distraction.

“There’s a whole other layer that deals with the administrative stuff like parking and Campus Security, the Bursars office, and the Resident Hall Director…oh, and laundry, hair cut…well, all that stuff. I’m graduating this semester and that adds two or three hours a week—I mean that— to make sure that everything’s in place: cap and gown, tickets for my family, invitations have to go out including my parents’ friends…it’s endless.”

* * *

After graduation. Robin graduated last May, almost a year ago:

“It’s really amazing, like, my whole world just disappeared in one day. Before graduation I was texting my friends, we’d meet for dinner, hang out. We’d study together, date together…we were close. I mean like, every day.

“Then I graduated and moved back home. We connect from time to time, but it’s not the same. It’s as if somehow we all disappeared. Our whole world collapsed and evaporated. Sometimes I think it’s all a nightmare. Uh… like I’ve been catapulted into some sci-fi movie and my entire life for the last four years ceased to exist. It’s really weird.

“I earned a degree in global economics and now I have a part-time job selling outdoor gear. I’m glad to get even that.”

* * *


The “me” generation…really?
Millennials. The “entitled generation.” Also dubbed the “me generation.” These early career jobseekers find themselves in circumstances they did not create. They are carrying the weight of the economy, the ecology, as well as the healthcare and social security for 78 million baby boomers. Perhaps they should be dubbed the, “What about me?”

Approximately 68% of millennials have college degrees. According to a study by the Associated Press and reported by the Atlantic, over 53% are either underemployed or unemployed. They are the most severely affected sector of our labor pool…and no one seems interested. Perhaps we are tempted to think, “They’re young. They’ll recover. They can live at home. They have time.”

A Crippled Gen Y?
Choosing to ignore the Gen Y reality will cripple this generation and the nation as a whole. The starting salary of a career carries lifelong implications that will impact every aspect of their life from the quality of their diet to securing a college savings plan for their children. And we have only begun to see the impact on their self-esteem, their confidence, and the decay of their hope. What happens to their “American Dream?”

Who is to blame?
Isn’t this to our shame? All of us? It’s still our country—right? I admit I have taken for granted that “Washington” will do the right thing. I’ve been uninvolved because I mistakenly believed that one person can’t have much of an impact. So, in part, the fault is mine. I’m changing.

Here’s why we must act now!
Cliff Zukin, a senior research fellow at the Rutgers University’s John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development gives us sobering reasons to get involved:

“This generation will be permanently depressed and will be on a lower path of income for probably all of their life — and at least the next 10 years. Professionals who start out in jobs other than their first choice tend to stay on the alternative path, earning less than they would have otherwise while becoming less likely to start over again later in preferred fields.”

Misconceptions about Millennials:
Gen Y has been stereotyped as poor communicators who are disloyal to their employer and who don’t have a work ethic. A study commissioned by Ernst & Young dispels these stereotypes and shows that all three generations (Boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y), valued flexibility in the workplace. Over 80% of all three generations believed that their number one deliverable to their employer is quality work and going the extra mile for the team to succeed. Differences in communication preferences had more to do with changes in technology than generational culture.

The entitlement generation
According to an article in Time, this generation is known for a variety of questionable actions. This includes eating out at restaurants they can’t afford, impulse buying and “self-gifting” during the holidays. The article also sites several new studies indicating that Millennials eat out less than their Gen X and Boomer counterparts. Seventy-one percent believe that home ownership is something they earn and a key indicator of their success.

Priority one
Truly, the crucial goal for the Unites States is to overcome today’s economic challenges and re-establish a foundation where Gen Y can flourish and help us rebuild our nation. Everyone can contribute. We can all take steps to improve our national and personal economic future.

My Gen Y experience:
I’m not trying to say that the entire generation is beyond reproach. Certainly those preconceptions came from somewhere. However, I think it is fair to say that the Great Recession has changed all of us. The Millennials that I have had the privilege of working with have without exception and without suggestion indicated, “I want my parents to be proud of me. I don’t want to let them down.”

The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person's determination.

Call to action:
If you are in your mid to late career:

  • Cut back on spending to pay off credit cards. Every little bit helps.
  • Remember that we are going to get smacked with higher taxes so plan accordingly.
  • If you are out of work, please read the blog “Attention Boomers: Are Jobs Coming?”
  • Activate a self-imposed sequestration on both personal and household finances. Put together a short and long-term financial plan. Determine to complete the plan on schedule.
  • If you are out of work, get real professional assistance. Find someone who will work with you financially so you can get back to work.
  • Encourage jobseekers whenever and wherever you find them.

If you are a recent grads or in your early career:

  • Your vision for your future is your lifeline through this season of you career as well as your life. Don’t let go of it!
  • Don’t let one day go by when you are not actively engaged in some aspect of your desired profession. LinkedIn Groups make this possible.
  • Continue or begin to build your long-range network of both mentors and colleagues.
  • Put together a work group (3 to 5 people) for your job search. Be accountable to the group and on an individual level until everyone has a job.
  • Encourage your classmates, now colleagues, who are unemployed.
  • Get professional career assistance. You are worth the investment. You haven’t failed if you need help, however, you might fail if you don’t get it.

To all jobseekers I encourage you that there are jobs out there. It’s a matter of strategy to get one.

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3 thoughts on “Is Our American Dream Gen Y’s Nightmare?

  1. Larry Alvarado responded to this post through a LinkedIn discussion. His response is posted here with his permission.

    We all have to live in the sandbox we find we’re in, at least at first. The government is suposed to protect our lives, with liberty for all (not the constraints, regulations, limits an expanding government often does) so we can pursue our happiness. I don’t see equality as part of this since ithat concept is often tinged with equal results attitudes. People come here because of the deams of success for them and their families and in many cases may are successful

    The Millennials are starting life behind the 8 ball so to speak – they must begin living with the weight of debt that someone else saddled the country with, especially in the last 5 years or so, but it started happening before this time. It’s just started to get so be in the last 5 years there are worries that this debt will affect badly our economic health and vibrancy.

    What will happen over the next few decades depends on what those in charge of the economy (politicians, industrialists, bureaucrats) do and don’t do. When millennials start voting regularly and getting more active in the economy, we’ll see what decisions they make. Other generations have had to deal with depressions in the economy and we’ve eventually come out of it to succeed (the Depression of the 40s was prolonged because of how the government got involved to fix it – just made it worse for a while).

    Think of the government as the refs at a athletic contest. They are there to make sure people play by the rules and may be involved with rule changes in the off season – but you don’t ask refs how to play the game and how to develop the player talent. Just because the goverment gets involved doesn’t mean it knows what its doing. Its there to safeguard our lives and liberty mostly locally – not tell us how to live but that is what a lot of government officials seems to think their job is. We’ve just gotten used to federal governement getting so involved since the Great Depression and the 60s but that’s not really its job – we are a local and state run country as founded

    How the mellinnials and Gen X and Gen Y handle their participation in social life, economics and politics will tell the tale of how life will be for them. The dire predictions come from the view that ‘if all things remain the same…’ but things never stay the same. They must understand how the politics and free market economy systems work so they make decisions for their future whatever they do that makes their lives better and enjoyable. Learn now or pay the price later.

    My views at this time come from Psychology, Success Principles, how the Brain works and learns and some other foundations about human nature and how humans interact in society. We need to really understand how the system of this country works best. If you learn the system, then you can make it work for you. I think too many people have an 1800s attitude of economics and capitalism partly painted incorrectly by the press and activists, of which I was one some time ago. Have learned lots since.

    Check out Larry’s business and website:

  2. Hi Marcia,

    Thank you so much for writing this post. I am so happy to see someone from an older generation who is really able to put themselves in our shoes and agree with what you’ve said above. The Me Generation is much more of a response to the current socioeconomic atmosphere than people think – the need to look out for oneself and understand oneself has risen dramatically. Yes there are those who are born to affluent lifestyles, but there are also many Gen Y’s who have grown up in households where divorce is a norm and independence is required. College costs are dramatically increasing, and the ability to get a job after graduating decreasing. Along with the higher costs of health care, social security, with depleting benefits offered by companies (much less long term job security). My business is 100% developed around Gen Y Career Development and is focused on promoting cross-generational understanding of the world today that our youth are growing up in, with the intent of understanding how to enable and manage all individuals more effectively/holistically.


  3. The difficult fact is that there are around 4 times more people in the US needing and/or looking for employment than there are job openings. So all of the above advice is not going to help most of those in need to actually gain employment and an income.

    What’s missing here: entrepreneurship. Gen Y in particular needs to be encouraged not to simply wait to be hired but to create their own businesses.

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