May 23, 2012
Recession Generation has stories to tell, lessons to teach
In The Seattle Times' new special report The Recession Generation, young people are opening up about what they face in the job market today.
Their stories are worth reading and learning from.
I admire their persistence, their optimism, their continuing passion for their dream careers even when they remain just that -- dreams -- while these workers pay the bills by serving burgers and handing out gym towels.
I am rooting for them to get out of their parents' basements and into a home of their own.
I also want to tell them that even though I'm sure many of them will eventually find good jobs and be successful, the uncertainty of the Recession Generation won't end there. They are going to have to be innovative and adaptive, possibly forever.
I know. Technically, I'm part of the trend.
Between 2005 and 2009 the median net worth of workers 35 and younger plummeted 55 percent, about double the national average, according to statistics from Pew Research Center used in the special report.
It wasn't just freshly minted graduates. Those of us who graduated before the recession and were lucky enough to easily find employment in our field were just getting ourselves established when the recession hit.
Before we knew what happened (or that the creepy ease of getting big home loans was a warning), we were piled high with the trappings of adulthood: Mortgages, new children and debt -- lots of it.
We worked our good post-college jobs, commuted our harried commutes to the houses we thought we could afford, and shelled out our high child-care costs that amounted to a second mortgage.
All the while, many of us didn't want to admit the slow-dawning truth: This did not feel like the stability of that American Dream we had imagined, like many of us had seen our parents' generation enjoy. It felt like a terrifying, fast-spinning carnival ride about to fly off its foundation.
The word "career" no longer connoted a long, relatively stable path. What we got used to instead were rounds of layoffs that rippled through our companies and organizations like plagues.
What we got were skyrocketing loan payments and frozen salaries and parents and families who were suffering, too, and could not offer any help. They needed our help.
Even for those of us in the post-post-graduate phase, sometimes it still feels like we are gripping onto our lives by our teeth.
Workers of all ages have suffered in this economy, and one could argue that older workers, those over 55, face as tough a climb (or tougher) as millennials in finding work.
But those of us in the Recession Generation will likely feel the effects of the downturn for the rest of our lives, the series reported. We're wary, and a little bit hardened.
There is, however, an upside to this. Remember how the folks who came through the Great Depression knew how to pinch a penny? How they could save, and exercise financial self-control, and work for what they wanted?
Millennial workers have our own strengths. We could easily be the most flexible of any generation of American employees. We are utilizing technology to rewrite our story. We are expanding our skills at a rapid rate.
We are nimble, creative, determined and, perhaps most important, entrepreneurial. If our dream job or company doesn't exist, we just might create it.
Of the Hazen High grads who responded to the informal Times survey as part of the special report, only 6 percent said they expect to be less successful than their parents.
That optimism is what will make dreams materialize for the Recession Generation.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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