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Op-Ed: Young, educated, and underemployed

By Julianne Keu     Aug 29, 2012 in Business
You’ve just graduated with a bachelor’s degree. You work full-time at Starbucks to pay off your student loans, while you search for jobs in your discipline on the side. Months later, you find yourself back where you first started.
This story is not uncommon of today’s college graduates. According to a survey published by Rutgers University in May, only 40 percent of graduates in the past five years say their job required a four-year degree. Eighty percent said their job wasn’t on their career path at all. According to another report by, although 63 percent of Gen Y workers have a bachelor’s degree, the majority of jobs they take don’t require one.
I am a millennial too. Growing up, my parents had always stressed the importance of post-secondary education. As I entered university though, I noticed their sentiments change from “You need a bachelor’s degree to get ahead” to “You need a bachelor’s degree to keep up.”
Indeed much has changed since their time. While the unemployment rate for the 20-29 age group has typically been higher than the national average, underemployment is more prevalent than ever. Jobs that decades ago would have gone to entry-level professionals are now going to older workers.
The next question is “Why are Gen Y workers underemployed?” Are they the overqualified, frontline victims of a crippled economy? Or are they simply whiny and self-entitled? What may come as a surprise to most people is that the answer is a bit of both.
A culture of entitlement?
From the Clinton administration to the beginning of the recession in 2008, Americans lived comfortably. Families could own a home, go on vacations, and send their kids off to college. These kids would spend four years in a blissful concoction of freedom and adult responsibilities, then graduate to a steady job. Life was good.
Then the economy took its deepest plunge since the Great Depression, and people lost their jobs. With all due respect to the families who have been affected, a larger scope of people seem to be clinging onto the expectations they once had. Now they can’t live in a grand home, vacation in Mexico, and pay for their kids’ college tuition. The kids instead take out loans to spend four years as liberal arts majors, then graduate to hit a brick wall. Life, now, is not so great.
Losing in a global economy
As countries like Israel, Finland, and Japan soar as leaders in technological advancement, the U.S. falls to sixth place. Americans remain “number one” in one category though; they are the number one debtor nation in the world.
Moreover, money could be better invested. While billions of dollars get funneled into oil subsidies and a half-trillion dollar defense budget, education gets cut, and Congress continues to push for lower corporate tax rates. Under the guise of job creation, they say, “Protect our corporations. When we give them a break, we give you a break!”
Where to go
The single greatest investment a country can make is in tomorrow’s leading innovations. Invest in the sciences, entrepreneurship, technology, and education. In the latest OECD world education ranking report, which assessed students in 34 developed countries, the U.S. placed 14th in reading, 17th in sciences, and 25th in math. South Korea, Finland, Canada, New Zealand, and Japan took the top spots. The American worker isn’t just competing with her comrades in the labor market anymore. She’s competing with workers all around the world; many of whom are much more skilled than she is.
As for my Gen Y friends, you may feel hopeless. I hear you, and I feel it too. It’s tempting to think that retail is your only choice until the clouds wither away, but you must pull yourselves up and try harder. Reprioritize your goals, look for work in a different city, and develop your skill set. This process won’t be glamorous. You might have to give up Friday nights or take the bus everywhere you go. In essence, your entire outlook will have to change.
For the individual and the nation alike, a new game plan must be in order. In addition to iPads, Facebook, and YouTube, Gen Y can either be remembered for slipping away, or rising above, and propelling the world into a greater future.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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