Profiles of the Jobless: The 'Mad As Hell' Millennial Generation

In August, the Atlantic asked readers to share with us the one thing people didn't understand or appreciate about looking for work. You responded with beautiful, heart-wrenching accounts of the job search that we have published in four parts: The Unemployed Speak and Advice from Employers, Longer Voices of the Jobless, and What It's Like to Be Jobless in Your 20s.

The response from young people has been so overwhelming that we've decided to publish a second round of the most passionate, indignant and poignant dispatches from (or about) Millennials, or Generation Y. Leave a comment or send a note to our private email account aboutmyjob1@gmail.com. Keep reading and sharing.

"I want to blame the universities and grown-ups who should have known better. Instead, like my me-first generation, I blame myself."

Subject line: MAD AS HELL

I'm only 23 and it's been barely over a year since I graduated from university.  Yet already the work environment and the consequences of the "real world" have warped and degraded me. All I have are feelings of disillusionment and betrayal.  If I were a mood ring, the color would translate to somewhere between quite desperation and self-loathing.  I work full-time at a temp position that under-utilizes me.  I make sure not to finish work to quickly, for fear it doing so will only shorten my employment. Before that I worked in retail.  Before long, I may end up back there.

Much of my rage is reserved for a predatory system of higher education and the failures of a generation that came before. I'm angry that a "state" university costs as much as it does. That many, if not most of the students who attend, treat the experience like a 4-year version of MTV's Spring Break. Massive grade inflation means one less standard deviation between myself and those who don't try. Lax entrance standards means that even in smaller classes, half of the students do as little as possible, have nothing to contribute, and see learning as a necessary evil, if even that. These "state" universities are more interested in funding nice football stadiums than maintaining up-to-date libraries or modern classrooms. They are more interested in your tuition than your education. And will continue to hound you for Alumni contributions long after graduation. 
 
Then there's the baby boomer generation. Guardians of the state, they have left it dysfunctional. Watchdogs of the economy, they have let it burn. Stewards of the earth, they have done little to curb its exploitation or prepare for a more sustainable future.  From Reagan on the country has lived "above it's means."  More tax cuts and higher spending. And every time the house of cards threatens to fall down, consumer spending  receives another stimulating injection in the hope of averting the dismal reality on the other side of of the bubble.  But this time there's apparently nothing left to do. This time the debt is just too big. This time, the baby boomers say from the comfort of lower unemployment and a stable mortgage, there's no escaping the pain. They are more concerned with keeping inflation low then the employment of their children. They are more interested in protecting their 401K and Social Security benefits than investing in tomorrow.  They spent our future and now need us to pay the costs.
 
But most of my anger is reserved for myself. I pursued a "Liberal Arts Degree" in communications rather than a B.S. in engineering or computer science. I spent all four years at a state university rather than the first two at a community college. I worked in the summer instead of getting an internship. I worked harder at my classes than making contacts and networking with professionals. Not everyone is suffering in this economy, and if I were going to college for the first time this fall I'd know how to prepare. But I didn't at the time and now I'm left to face the consequences. I want to blame the universities and "grown-ups" who I feel should have known better. They were the ones, after all, peddling the mantra of "go to college, study hard, get a job."  
 
Instead, egotistical like the rest of my me-first, entitlement ridden generation, I blame myself.

"Serving people drinks was more rewarding than this full-time job, and it is killing me inside."

In high school, I worked two jobs, took college coursework, participated in ten student organizations, held prominent leadership positions and earned a 4.0 GPA. I was rewarded with a scholarship to a top twenty university and had the whole world ahead of me.  In college, I studied Business. I was active in campus groups, had multiple internships and held a 3.9 GPA.  After seeing many of my older friends obtaining great jobs with signing bonuses and benefits, I decided to graduate 3 Semesters early. This was May 2008. 
 
After graduation, I began applying for my dream jobs. I started to get some responses, and then the economy tanked. I tried to follow-up with those who had expressed interest. No response. I extended my search to other cities and states and could not even get a phone interview. I then began searching for less than ideal positions. Not a call back to even be a Secretary. So, I became a bartender.
 
Eventually, I took an unpaid internship in a field I never imagined working in. There I was, Miss 4.0 Honors Student, working for free with freshmen and sophomores in college. After a year of promises that the position would soon become a paid one, I decided to move on.  Refusing to move back in with my parents, I picked up a second job. Then one day, I got a call. The company I had interned for had recommended me for a position with another firm. I couldn't believe it. Summer of 2010, over two years after I had graduated from college, I finally had a real full-time job.
 
Only this job was nothing that I would have ever wanted to do. I am still here to this day, only because I know how difficult it will be to find another. I continuously read articles about unemployed recent graduates and lend a sympathetic ear to my job seeking friends.  I feel as if I am wasting my life, sitting here at this desk, doing trivial work and browsing news articles all day. When people tell me that I am lucky for having a job, I want to cry. How can this mundane existence actually be envied?! I do have a roof over my head and health insurance, but my optimism about the work world has been severely damaged. I did not work this hard in order to obtain this outcome. Serving people drinks was more rewarding than what I do at my full-time job, and it is killing me inside.
 
It is terrible that so many of our nation's top youth are going through the same struggles.  Some say that we should not expect things to be handed to us, and that we should just stop whining.  That may be the case for some, but what about those of us who never expected anything?  There are thousands of us who worked hard and did everything that we were supposed to do.  We were told, "If you push yourself and work harder than everyone else, you will succeed."  We did not create the problems our nation is facing today.  We didn't vote for the politicians, we didn't borrow too much money, we didn't buy things we couldn't afford, and we didn't build the hopes and dreams of an entire generation, only to have them come crashing down. 
 
To those of you unemployed now, go find an internship. Freelance. Volunteer.  Do anything to make connections. If you are still in college and are not trying to get multiple internships before you graduate, you are a moron. Does it suck that you have to work for free? Yeah, it sucks and it isn't fair, but that is the only thing you can do right now. 
"You just have to buckle down and stop whining."
I'm a Gen Y'er and feel pretty content with American society. I went to a run-of-the-mill liberal arts college (without a prestigious scholarship), majored in the humanities, and set off to work. Before I started graduate school, I had several jobs, some good, some not so good. But I reminded myself that my sole goal in life at this point should be to make as much money as I can and pay off loans.

This piece makes it seem as though Gen Y'ers are all altruistic academic/athletic super workers, and they simpler aren't. Many Gen Y'ers complain about the lack of jobs, but refuse jobs they don't want to do. It's equally dumb to apply to jobs you're not qualified for (just because you have a college degree doesn't automatically qualify you to run a retail store, for instance. Granted, it's not rocket science, but it's understandable why store managers would want to hire professional and mature workers with experience).

I  understand that many regions are more depressed than others, but I still feel there are plenty of jobs out there to keep one busy. I washed dishes, I cleaned cars, I dug ditches, waited tables, and was even lucky enough to score a couple of high(er) paying internships at respectable firms. You just have to buckle down and stop whining.
"I truly regret what's happening to the Millennial generation but the world shifted out from under them."
In my experience, there has always been work. It is what you are willing to do that is the key.

When I went to university I found a job in construction, carpentry. By the time I graduated, I was a certified history teacher and a good carpenter.  My life path has lead me into three separate professions, construction, sales, and now landscaping.  I am 47 years old.

In landscaping, we have 177 employees.  Very few white or black Americans apply for these jobs.  It's hard work, it's hot. If you make the cut and are able to work through the winter, it's cold, but their is a path up.

I was fortunate in that fate allowed me to work in college with two very different skill sets.  In the mornings I spoke the language of the intellectual, in the afternoons I spoke entirely in the vernacular of the "real" world.  This experience allowed me to move between worlds.
 
I am sure the people profiled are very smart and well educated. And if they're as smart as they say they are, then they should have the intelligence and the physical dexterity to become an electrician, or a mechanic. Get your skills up and you'd be shocked... shocked at what kind of money you could make. There is honor in all work.  Start thinking in three dimensions and outside the box. 

I truly regret what's happening to the Millennial generation but the world shifted out from underneath them and their parents refused to recognize that going into massive debt in the 20's for a college education is not worth the trade off in a two-tier society.  
"My daughter and I are looking for a job at the same time."
My daughter and I are looking for a job at the same time. Now. She is a recent graduate from college, highly literate, well educated, a beautiful writer, with excellent people skills and a work history. I am an empty nester with numerous degrees, excellent people skills, and a long and diverse work history. I too came of age during the recession of the seventies. My daughter graduated in 2009 which was dubbed "the toughest labor market in years," and has found herself working at least two part time jobs to make ends meet. She has been looking for full time employment for at least 18 months. According to Sarah Murray of the Wall Street Journal, statistics show that, "Even those who land jobs will likely suffer lower wages for a decade or more compared to those lucky enough to graduate in better times." And for those of us in our fifties?  Many of us were laid off during the recession at an unfortunate age. Most are trying hard to get back to work and having a tough time of it and are constantly hyper age and gender conscious. Many fifty somethings were highly paid at a time when companies were cutting back and most will never find jobs that pay them a comparable wage. Many if not most, may never find themselves fully employed again before Social Security kicks in and those lucky enough to have vested pensions or fully invested 401k's.

The loss is clearly personal, familial and social. Personal, because job loss and an extended inability to find one, does serious damage to ones confidence and ultimately the ability to find a meaningful job in ones field. By the time a suitable job emerges, younger more facile and recently graduated will be entering the workforce. There are numerous other personal costs to an inability to find a job as well: the guilt about being unproductive, fractured friendships, inability to socialize with ones friends and ultimately ones deteriorating self-image and prolonged familial dependence (for the lucky ones).  Familial, in that many of those college graduates are moving home or being aided financially by families some in which at least one wage earner may be earning less or nothing at all due to the recession, thereby creating additional strain on an already difficult situation. In many of these families college loans of a considerable amount continue to pile up and go unpaid. Finally, the ultimate costs are social and cultural since so many with great educations, creativity and a vision for the future will not be contributing in a positive manner to the society in ways they had great hopes to, thereby not only creating discouraged workers but cynical and disheartened citizens as well. Ironic and maddening since we are constantly told that the country needs creative and energized workers for a rebounding economy.  Add to these woes a housing crisis, and the job situation is exacerbating misery and poverty amongst many in the middle class.
 
For the lucky recent graduates perhaps putting off entering the workplace with a graduate degree may be an option. Having raised my children to believe that they can be anything they wish and work hard to achieve, I nevertheless worry about my daughter and her generation giving up. I worry about her becoming bitter about the divide between the rich and the poor, given the fact that the gap between the wealthy and the poor is objectively increasing and middle class prospects continue to wane.
 
For those my age and older, many have given up on a retirement of travel and the occasional spa treatment or retirement at all. Most important, many of our generation are giving up the most precious gift, the gift of time and its quality with ones family. We know of more than one family continuing to live together in spite of divorce or dissolving family living situations.
 
While my daughter's generations' inheritance dwindles, I can't help but wonder how long it will take for them to become a radicalized element within our society as others in European countries have seemingly become. Positive engagement is difficult to sustain given the economic and political atmosphere on display today in the country especially when unemployment is six percent in some segments of society and up to 15 in others and there are serious ongoing discussions about doing away with unemployment benefits and social security.
 
Of course I have seen incredible creativity on the part of both generations in their job hunts that do sometimes pay off. More often however, I see a dispirited couple of American generations struggling with inadequacy and depression.
"After hundreds of applications for assistant positions, I received zero calls back."
I spent 15 months searching for a full-time job out of school. Over 600 applications in total, and I received a call back for an interview from 3 of those (1 was part-time). Over those 15 months, I stripped my resume from that of an award-winning broadcaster graduating summa cum laude to literally making up secretarial experience to make myself appear qualified for administrative assistant positions. Why? Because after literally hundreds of applications for assistant positions, I received zero calls back.

I was blessed to receive a call from a university just days later for an assistant position, and I have caught some breaks since, landing what I would call a dream job. Yet I lost a year of my life; looking back, those days don't seem to have any details besides applying for jobs and abounding hopelessness.
"I think we'll go down as a Lost Generation."
Being unemployed in your 20s is, simultaneously, a huge relief and a huge disappointment. It's very luxurious to stay out until all hours of the night, with no regard for an alarm clock! But also crushingly lonesome to realize, at 10AM, all of your friends are leading much more productive lives than you are. I've lucked out financially: between unemployment, being diligent about my savings account from the time I was - seriously - 11, and eating dinner at my mom's a few times a week, I don't struggle with my bills and most months even have enough money for a spontaneous trip to some other northeastern city. It helps to get out of your routine, and to stay busy, and to pretend that you're just on vacation. Pretend that you don't spend your other days like a machine, sending out resumes to anyone who might even consider hiring you.

I made what some might call a pretty grave misstep at 19. I decided to take a semester off school. Autodidacts are notoriously awful at sticking to schooling, and I'm no exception. I loathed every minute of it, and thought that a semester off to clear my head might help. That was almost 5 years ago, and I haven't gone back since. I can't count the number of times I've heard from my dad, "well, if you had just gotten your degree..." In some cases, he's probably right. There are likely a few companies that overlooked me because the "education" section is conspicuously missing from my resume, but I can't help thinking about all of the loans I'd have to be paying back right now. What if I were still unemployed, in spite of a nice piece of paper from a respectable university? I would be living back at home in the suburbs: no spontaneous trips, without the ability to walk anywhere I need to go, writing a check to the bank every month. That sounds like hell.

Overall, I'm concerned for my generation in light of this recession-depression-what-are-
we-even-calling-it-now. What if we, as individuals, don't fully recover from this? I think we'll go down as a Lost Generation before too long.
"Don't be sad and depressed. Be angry."
As a GenX-er, I sympathize.

I sympathize, because many of my experiences (and the accompanying emotions) are so similar to yours. And maybe that's why your generation is so often unfairly - or fairly - perceived as having a sense of entitlement. When you're fighting for your survival, it's natural to become fixated on your own plight and perhaps not see the pain happening all around you.

You say that you're willing to pay your dues if we would just get out of the way - but we have no where to go. The baby-boomers before us have remained firmly entrenched, their retirement savings pillaged by unchecked greed.

You say that all you want is a $30,000-a-year job, just so you can afford to live.  I have to catch myself, trying not to chuckle.  You see, that's all I wanted too - and that's all I got. My wife and I both have degrees, have worked hard and been loyal, dependable, productive employees.  And our reward for that has been more than a decade of making a salary that seems to hover perpetually in the $30,000 range. So when I hear that all you want is to step out of college, with not even a tenth of my experience, and make the same salary I make - well, I can't help but feel a twinge of indignation.

My generation was promised that things were going to get better and many of us were naive enough to bet on it. So we got married, bought houses, and worked 70-hour weeks. Now our jobs are gone, our houses are getting taken away, and our families are being torn apart. I'm not sure whether it's worse to have the rug pulled out from under you, or to have no rug to begin with.

I do know this- if you're looking for a place to direct your energy, try voting. Or better yet, take to the streets. Don't be sad and depressed - be angry.  It's not the previous generations that stand in your way. If you want to know where to direct your wrath, all you need to do is ask some questions. Why have the salaries of average workers (who have steadily become more productive) stayed stagnant for the past two decades, while the richest one percent have gotten exponentially richer?  Why has the average CEO salary increased 400% since the 80s and ours hasn't? Why do Republicans defend lowering taxes on the wealthiest Americans, when the wealthy already pay less taxes than they ever have? Why did a hungry homeless man spend 13 years in prison for trying to steal bread from a church, and yet the corrupt bankers responsible for our economic disaster are sleeping in their own beds every night and literally getting richer by the minute?

These questions should make each and every one of us furious. We should be marching in the streets and demanding change - forcing change if need be.

So why aren't we?
"The Baby Boomers' entire lives have been all take and no give."
Nothing infuriates me more as a Millennial than the self-righteousness of the Baby Boomers. Their entire lives have been all take and no give. Their parents lived through a Great Depression and World War II and stood up to grinding poverty, unfettered capitalism, authoritarian communism, fascism and the prospect of nuclear war. And what did my parents and their generational cohort do? 

1. They spent their teens and twenties having lots of casual sex and getting really high on lots of stuff. If they went to college, they probably treated the drafted soldiers who had to go to Vietnam with contempt and scorn when they came back. If they didn't go to college or into the military, that was okay too because you could have a stable, middle-class job with a twelfth-grade education back then. And even if they got stuck working a crappy McJob, the minimum wage was more than 50% more in real terms back then than it is today, and they paid less for things like healthcare and college tuition. 

2. They spent their thirties living like the characters on Cheers, promoting their careers and wearing suits with improbably big shoulder pads. Stagflation made defined-benefit pension plans increasingly difficult to manage, so unlike their parents, they were supposed to start putting money in things called 401(k)s and IRAs. Did they do that? Of course not! Reaganomics is going to expand the economy so much that we don't need to save for a rainy day! It's Morning in America damnit! And with all our tax cuts, we'll retain more of our lifetime earnings anyway. 

3. They spent their forties and fifties treating their children like porcelain dolls to which nothing bad should ever happen and no remotely negative thoughts or words should ever enter their precious little minds. Play at the park? There could be pedophiles. Little League? Everybody should get a trophy. That way nobody ever has to feel sad ever. PlayStation for Christmas? I'll just put it on the credit card. Remodel the kitchen so it's capable of gourmet meals we'll never actually cook? That's what home equity loans are for. 

4. In their sixties, they wondered why the paltry amounts they'd put in their retirement accounts weren't adding up to much. Didn't save for the kids' college either. Oh well, that's what loans are for. They'll get a good job when they graduate and pay it all back. Cut Social Security? What are you? A socialist? Ask me to pay more taxes to fix this massive deficit? What are you? A socialist? Maybe I can get one of those reverse-mortgage thingies to retire...Why can't my kids find jobs? Kids these days, so lazy and entitled. In my day, things weren't this easy...

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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