“I don’t get it,” my mother said. “Why are people my age giving you kids such a hard time?”
It was the first week of June, and my mother and I were on our way to see The Drums play at Webster Hall. I bought those tickets when I had a boyfriend and a job, but I recently lost both, and I felt going to the show would help take my mind off things. I had asked my mother to be my date for the evening.
“I mean, my parents’ generation said the same thing about us,” my mother continued. “But there were jobs.”
Let me put these remarks in context: my mother doesn’t usually take my side on things. Growing up, she was generous and loving, but uncompromising on her expectations. It was good preparation for reality of the outside world. So when I graduated from Wesleyan last year, I thought between that the wrinkles in the labor market being somewhat smoothed out and a good head on my shoulders, I would be fine.
I started applying to jobs in October 2011, the fall semester of my senior year. I haven’t counted the amount of resumes and cover letters I’ve sent out. I don’t want to. When I hear stories of acquaintances and friends who sent out hundreds of cover letters only to resign themselves to graduate school, it makes me more discouraged than ever.
Since graduating, I’ve knocked on doors in 100-degree heat as a door canvasser in Chinatown and folded sweaters during the Christmas rush in a retail store until one in the morning. Most recently, I worked at an insurance agency where my superiors had so little faith in me I was entrusted to perform one mind-numbing data-entry task until I was laid off — two weeks before I would have qualified for unemployment benefits. In between all these gigs, I sent out resumes, went to networking events and interviews, held my breath, and hoped. I’ve had multiple interviews with the same organizations with no offers.
I’m reasonably intelligent, very hardworking, and desperate for experience. Many of my classmates and friends are similar situations. And yet it seems everywhere you look, we are the reason for our predicament. We’re narcissists; we don’t understand economics; we want to live with our parents forever; we look to Obama to rain down health insurance from the sky. And that’s just what the media says. It's not easy being told for the umpteenth time from a potential employer that it's not you, you just don't the specific skill set or experience they are looking for. I had a slew of articles I wanted to write last week, good articles coming from a personal place, but you can't write when your last shred of confidence has been put through the wringer. All you want to do is curl up into a ball and cry.
Recently released data is proving the critics wrong: millennials are not the problem. The New York Times published an editorial two weeks ago that proves my mom right — there are no jobs, at least, there are significantly fewer jobs than there should be in a robust economy, and employers are not keen to fill them. This allows employers to be picky and subjective, leaving job candidates like me and many others subject to vague terms like “fit” rather than “qualified.” Even though the unemployment rate in 1983 among 20 to 24-year-olds was a staggering 15.8%, the unemployment rate among college graduates was less than 4%. Georgetown University recently published a study that puts the unemployment rate for college graduates had decreased from 8.9% to 7.9% in 2013. These numbers, while encouraging, could be misleading. Some graduates could be giving up looking for work or going to graduate school to wait until the economy picks up again.
My fear isn’t that I’ll never get a job to pay my loans and provide me with health insurance. My fear is that my generation will be even bigger boneheads to the generation after us when they graduate college, and that we will have our revenge on those who refused to provide us with opportunities when we were young.
But I don’t think that will happen. Millennials are an optimistic bunch, not because we’re narcissistic, or too young or inexperienced to know better. We don’t just want to make the world a better place; we do so every day by using what tools we have to create our own jobs, start movements, write books, make music, and force the jaws of fortune to open for us. The silver lining to this harsh reality is that it seems these high unemployment figures are short-term figures. Data in the Atlantic suggests that overtime, college graduates eventually find work that matches their skill set.
As for me, I haven’t thrown in the towel yet. The world is a big place, and I’m sure that there will be something around the corner for me. I just have to keep looking.