America’s Most Stressed Generation

In today’s latest bit of depressing sociological discovery by The New York Times, reporter Catherine Rampell highlights what personal finance bloggers have been saying for years – college degrees are the high school diploma of years ago, but the cost for the degree isn’t fairly matched with the proper career and salary.

The article features a law firm in Atlanta that has a policy to only hire employees with college degrees, even for the $10 per hour “runner” job that really shouldn’t require a college education to perform. Due to diploma inflation and weak job markets, it’s easy to make the cut off for consideration in any role a degree. The firm agrees the education isn’t really necessary for the positions, but the social life gained in college to joke about school sports teams is. How sad.

In 2005, when I graduated college, the job market was better than it was today. I still had a very hard time finding a job, but refused to settle for an administrative position which took the four years of schooling I had just completed and rendered them useless. Luckily, I had the fortune of changing jobs frequently early in my career and moving up with each transition. These poor college grads working at this law firm are loyal to a fault, and are excited for small raises being promoted from one position that shouldn’t require a college degree to another. These are the same people who need to go back to school to get an MBA or professional masters degree in order to make any sort of reasonable living. The bachelors degree just gets them a very basic job.

Economists have referred to this phenomenon as “degree inflation,” and it has been steadily infiltrating America’s job market. Across industries and geographic areas, many other jobs that didn’t used to require a diploma — positions like dental hygienists, cargo agents, clerks and claims adjusters — are increasingly requiring one, according to Burning Glass, a company that analyzes job ads from more than 20,000 online sources, including major job boards and small- to midsize-employer sites. 

Yikes. At this rate, a master’s degree will be the requirement for an entry-level job in a few years. I look at my younger sister who is currently in her last two years of undergrad and worry about her prospects. At least she’s getting experience in an employable field — which, amazingly enough, is recreation management — her internship experience should get her foot in the door for a role as a camp professional or hospitality events planner. These jobs also shouldn’t require a college degree, but she’s gained a great deal of knowledge and maturity in college that should help her in her career. I’m concerned for her, however, that in two years she’ll enter a very tough job market, and the only roles available will be on the very entry-level end of the spectrum, without room for growth.

Arriana Huffington yesterday came up with a new name for Millenials – Generation Stressed.

According to Stress in America, a study commissioned by the American Psychological Association, Millennials are the most stressed demographic. The study asked participants to rank their stress level on a scale of 1 (“little or no stress”) to 10 (“a great deal of stress”). Millennials led the stress parade, with a 5.4 average. Boomers registered 4.7, and the group the study labeled the “Matures” gave themselves a 3.7.  According to Generation Opportunity, the unemployment rate for Millennials rose to 13.1 percent in January, up nearly 2 points from December.

Between 2000 and 2011 wages adjusted for inflation fell by over 11 percent for young high school grads and by 5.4 percent for young college grads, according to the Economic Policy Institute, It doesn’t help that, as a study by the Center for College Affordability found, 48 percent of working college grads are in jobs that don’t require a college degree and 38 percent are in jobs that don’t require a high school diploma. The report concluded that from 2010 to 2020, while 19 million college grads will be hitting the job market, the economy will add fewer than 7 million jobs requiring a college degree.

This all makes me feel very lucky indeed — I struggled a bit after graduating but found my footing in a few years. By the time I was 23, my life was well on its way to some sort of stability. For most college students who have graduated since 2008, that picture has looked a lot bleaker. It appears to be getting worse. Companies are taking advantage of the poor job markets, as they should in a capitalistic society, yet our entire generation is suffering. We are living through the great depression of our era, which seems to strange with the modern technical innovations which bring luxury to our everyday lives, even as many live from paycheck to paycheck. I wonder when, if ever, society will turn around the economy will look chipper again. It doesn’t appear to be happening anytime soon. But in the worst of times there are the best hidden opportunities if you’re willing to take risk. Staying in a $10 per hour job for five years out of college and getting excited when you’re promoted to a position that pays $12 per hour is not risk. Leaving the security of your $10 per hour job to start your own business is. Even if you have to work part-time to pay back your loans, the only way out of this mess is by taking on a lot of calculated risk early on in your career. Otherwise this generation is completely screwed.

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2 comments

  1. cashRebel says:

    All the sour economic data for my generation aways makes me thankful I’ve been able to find gainful employment. I guess it makes ne wonder if ill need to get a masters degree to remain competitive in 10 years. Right now, my answer is no, but we’ll see…

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