Generation Y Deals With a Falling
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September7, 2009

By Natalia Real, Featured Columnist

Today is Labor Day in the US, the traditional holiday when hard-
working Americans celebrate a well-deserved day-off tending
backyard barbecues and soaking up the last rays of summer sun.  But,
this year, the year when Americans and indeed the world struggles to
recover from the most severe economic downturn since the Great
Depression, the festivities may be more poignant than joyful.
Especially so for the generation trying to enter the workforce for the
first time.

Many 20-somethings today are facing thwarted prospects—the
opposite of what they grew to expect having come of age in the
ambitious ‘90s and ‘00s. It can be even more frustrating to experience
unemployment for Generation Yers, who many a time are still unsure
of what professional path they want to follow, than for other

To make matters worse, young people are suffering from the economic
downturn more than other demographics: the national unemployment
rate for 20 to 24-year-olds was 12.9% in February, up from 9% a
year ago and higher than the overall unemployment rate of 8.1%,
according to Bureau of Labor Statistics. For people aged 25 to 29, the
rate (not seasonally adjusted) was 10.6%.

Notwithstanding, while some find themselves stuck and fearful of
taking risks, others are devising plans to make the situation work for
them, even if they have lost their jobs. Here are the stories of several
Generation Yers and their experiences within the economic crisis.

For starters, not everyone has experienced substantial changes in
their lifestyle. Take Judie Berlach, 25, of Tampa, FL. She is in medical
school and supplements her income by giving private math lessons,
just like she did while getting her MA. “I'm not in an industry largely
affected by all of this… I'm very protected,” she explains, as she was
already a medical student when the economy sank. While she remains
on her regularly low budget, Judie says, “I'm saving a lot at this
point… I'm also still investing because the stock market is on sale.”

Judie’s boyfriend, Gus Maswell, 23, is a pilot. While he doesn’t make a
lot of money, she says, “The airline industry is very mercurial. He's
not saving. He's not changed anything, though he probably should. I
wish he were being more prudent about it.” Judie describes Gus as a
risk-taker who isn’t letting the financial crisis get in his way, who
instead is looking to reap the positive aspects of the crisis: “He sees it
as a time to make investments, so you can make money. Buy low, sell
high, right?”

Andrew T., 24, of Chicago, IL, is a coder. He moved to Chicago last
year after getting an offer tempting enough for him to leave his job in
Pennsylvania. Andrew is still in a great position, although he confesses
that the possibility of getting laid off is always present in his mind. He
copes by pushing it to the background. As far as his peers, “It depends
on the field,” he says. “Most of my friends in technology-related jobs
still have them and are doing well. People who studied liberal arts
seem to be having problems…A few friends were laid-off, but a
majority managed to get new jobs pretty quickly.”

Like Judie, Andrew sees graduate school as an attractive alternative
for many: “I think more kids are going to grad school than before.
Also, while you might expect that many are moving back in with their
folks, most still live away from home.” He also finds this a fitting
opportunity for taking leaps of faith: “I think people are more likely to
take risks now. When you're not tied down with a job you can try
different things and are more likely to explore alternatives.”

Some people, however, do feel significantly crunched. Jamie Huit, 25,
of Vancouver, WA, has only been able to procure a job because she
speaks Spanish: “I work at an NGO and take care of the Spanish
speakers who come into the clinic. Basically, I make slightly more than
minimum wage and I’m always at least a little bit in debt. It’s pretty
depressing.” Ideally, she would like to teach English in South America,
but she doesn’t see this as the right time for her to take such a risky
leap. For the past two years, she’s stayed in the same town hoping for
something better to come along, for things to change. “There’s just
nothing out there, nothing better than this around here. I feel
paralyzed. I do socially valuable work, but frankly, I would change
jobs if I could,” Jamie admits.

Others, like Kate Rowland, 27, of Boulder, Colorado, are keeping a
bright outlook and milking the crisis: “Right now I’m turning it into an
opportunity to travel the world in places where the currency favors
me—I have some dollars saved up, and they are worth more here than
in the US. Now I’m living in hostels in Colombia.” It’s only “so-called
excusable,” Kate says, to live this unpredictable, spontaneous lifestyle
because the market is what it is: “I’m not home in the States making a
‘decent’ living because the market’s so tough up there anyway. I have
a lot less to lose, and I’m making the best I can of it.”

When you are raised with certain standards and expectations, it can
be hard to let go of stability and office jobs, depending on your social
class, if only because others expect you to. But in the current state of
things, “it’s less pressure to succeed traditionally speaking, and so I
get to feel less guilt as I wander scenic foreign streets at night
drinking a beer, meeting new people, and learning Spanish,” tells
Kate. “At the same time, I have no job and only about USD 200 left in
the bank...There’s always a risk, whether the economy is good or bad.
Anyway, I’m moving to Uruguay next week and I’ll see about settling
there and teaching English.”

While some can’t go a day without feeling the weight of the financial
crisis, others live blissfully unaware, such as Rebecca V. Ades, 25,
from Burlington, VT, who teaches English for different companies in
Buenos Aires, Argentina. “I was living in Chile when the economy
whacked out, and now that I’m here I don’t really have to think about
the economy. You can always find jobs teaching English here and I’m
doing all right,” she says. But was she going to return to the States
after her stint in Chile? “I didn’t have a plan. And after I met Damián
[her current boyfriend], it was his huge smile that pulled me across
the Andes.”

The very lucky ones, like Diego Emanuel, 25, of Miami, FL, are
profiting from the current situation. Diego is a web designer for a local
newspaper, and since last year, he’s been getting more freelance
work: “I think it’s because people don’t have a job and they want to
start their own business, invest, or maybe up their sales. I make their
websites.” As a designer in the paper, he has fortunately not suffered
salary cuts or lay-offs, but reveals that “150 people in the paper and 1
in my department were fired. Many people’s salaries were cut by
10%, others by 5%.” But for now, Diego is keeping his fingers

Then there’s Carolyn Baker, 27, of Portland, OR, who was dismayed
when she lost her job: “When I got laid off in November, I couldn’t
believe it. I mean, I worked at a start-up and we were such few
people that I thought there was no way they would let me go,
especially since I was responsible for so much and knew the ropes
like nobody else.” But they did let her go: “they actually replaced me
with a part-time, unpaid intern, which felt pretty insulting.”

Even though she was beyond upset at first, she took her
unemployment and turned it into her own company: “Now I’m a
freelancer—I’m an emarketer and ghostwrite for a start-up’s blog. In
the past, I would have been way too scared to take the plunge into
something like this, but I have to say, I absolutely love working
independently. And I’m not doing badly either. Plus, everything I know
about emarketing I learned at my last job—it’s funny how things can
work out.”

More from this author:
Find our more valuable information on the dealing with the falling
The Incredible Shrinking Dollar-What It Means to You/ Why
the Rich Get Richer / The Perfect Storm in the American Economy

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