Thursday, August 19, 2010

What Is It About 20-Somethings?

I just finished reading this infuriating article on the NY Times website about 20-year-olds and how we all refuse to grow up (read it here: This is only one out of dozens of articles I've come across in the last couple years, and I'm really tired of reading the same thing over and over: I know, Baby Boomers are awesome and we 20-year-olds are lazy bums. Enough already! Rather than launch into a rambling, raving rant, though, I'm going to pick out some points from the Times that angered me the most and respond to them.

1. The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain un­tethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life.

My argument: As a 20-year-old who is competing for those jobs, this is an absolutely unfair assessment. I don't want an unpaid internship or grueling underpaid job, but oftentimes this is all that's being offered. I have a masters degree and more than four years of working experience, and yet I'm in a constant struggle to find a job that pays the bare minimum for survival. I just want enough to pay all my bills and put away 10% of my salary into savings. And I don't even have any student loan or credit card debt...but more on that later... And forget about benefits (health care? Who needs that?). In the course of my job search, I've seen dozens of job listings for unpaid internships and entry-level editorial assistant positions, only to discover, upon reading the full job description, that the duties required of the position go above and beyond what a reasonable person could construe as "intern" or "assistant" tasks. Knowing how desperate the competition is for jobs, particularly in this economy, employers know there will always be someone who will take these positions for little or no pay, simply because it's at least something. It's better to have an unpaid internship than a gap on your resume. A friend once explained to me that the reason there are no jobs for us young people is because the older generations, who should have retired by now, are still working. So no one's moving up in their current place of employment, and there's no space for anyone new to move in. So I blame this lack of real, long-term jobs among 20-year-olds on the people who destroyed the economy and now can't (or won't) retire to let the next generation in (and then of course those same people complain about how lazy we all are).

2. One-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year.

Again, does the writer think we like moving every year? Moving is a big expensive hassle. Taxes go up, rents go up, but our salaries get cut or lost. Young people are constantly moving because we can't afford it when our rents are raised but our salaries are still dismally low. Sure, homeowners who lost their houses should be pitied and should receive help, but if we're young with no savings and crippling student loan debts, and we can't afford our rent, well then we're just lazy and immature.

3. They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s, more job changes than in any other stretch.

Again, not something I want in my life. But when job after job has no benefits and doesn't pay enough to afford a visit to the doctor, how can people possibly be expected to stay there forever? Additionally, what's that old phrase--last hired, first fired? Well with layoffs happening everywhere, that leaves pretty poor prospects for those young people in their first job, huh?

4. Getting to what we would generally call adulthood is happening later than ever.

Well considering that "masters degrees are the new bachelors" (apparently), we're staying in school far longer than any generation in history. Again, it's not a choice that is being made by us, but for us, due to the dictates of the employment industry. At this rate, eventually we'll all be expected to have PhD's!

5. Is emerging adulthood a rich and varied period for self-discovery...Or is it just another term for self-indulgence?

So we're told during our childhoods that we should follow our dreams and that we can be anything we want--but once we grow up and actually try to pursue that dream career, we're scolded and told that we should have a long-term job, wife/husband, and babies all by the age of 30. But it's simply not that easy to find all that! There are massive obstacles in the way that are, at least to some degree, out of our hands. It's particularly difficult to "grow up" when one has been in college through the age of 23, followed by six figures of debt from attending said college, and bleak job prospects in a broken economy.

6. But the expectation that young men and women won’t quite be able to make ends meet on their own, and that parents should be the ones to help bridge the gap, places a terrible burden on parents who might be worrying about their own job security, trying to care for their aging parents or grieving as their retirement plans become more and more of a pipe dream.

I'm starting to sound like a broken record here, but once again, the broken economy is not our fault! We're being punished because people two or three generations above us thought it would be a better idea to fulfill their own greedy ambitions at the expense of the entire country. So enough with the wailing about how we're a drain on society and our parents. And let's touch on the "being unable to make ends meet" just one last time--the reason we have trouble making ends meet is not because we're just lazy. There are millions of people all over the US having trouble making ends meet thanks to a bad economy, widespread unemployment, credit card debt, and more. Unemployment benefits have been extended to 93 weeks--nearly two years! And I'm not saying that those benefits should not last for that long, but why is it better for a 30-year-old to depend on the government than a 20-year-old to depend on her parents? What's the difference?? Both ages can't make ends meet for a variety of reasons, but no one's demonizing the 30-year-old.

Last thoughts: I certainly don't advocate goofing off and living off your parents until the age of 30. But there are lots of other factors at play beyond sheer immaturity that aren't allowing 20-year-olds to fully "grow up." This whole article, and the ideas it's espousing, are the same generation gaps that have always existed. Old and young resent each other. The battle wages on. But I, for one, am sick of reading about it, and am sick of being demonized as lazy and immature. And, for the record, despite my current lack of a full-time job, I work my butt off at two part-time freelance jobs, have not received benefits or health care (even when I held a full-time job) since 2007, and somehow manage to pay all my bills each month without the aid of my parents. I was forced to move a year ago due to raised rent, fear every day that I'll need a hospital trip that will bankrupt me for the rest of my life, and worry that I'll never be able to afford a wedding, a child, or a house.

So yeah, give me a job or get off my back. 

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