Young, Gifted, and Still Living at Home

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Photo credit: Lendingmemo.com.

Photo credit: Lendingmemo.com.

I am a lost soul caught up in the doldrums of the economic recession.

Like so many other young Americans, I find myself overeducated, underemployed, and living with my parents. It’s not a status of which I’m particularly proud, but I see no reason to be clandestine about it.

Graph courtesy of the Pew Research Center report "A Record 21.6 Million In 2012: A Rising Share of Young Adults Live in Their Parents’ Home" August 1, 2013.

Graph courtesy of the Pew Research Center report “A Record 21.6 Million In 2012: A Rising Share of Young Adults Live in Their Parents’ Home” August 1, 2013.

The fact that I am not alone in facing these challenges is cold comfort. In 2012, according to the Pew Research Center, 36% of “Millennials” (adults aged 18-31) lived at home with their parents, the highest share in nearly 40 years. Between one-third and a half were college students or college graduates. The phenomenon is so widespread that this migration of adult children returning home to rebuild in the wake of economic misfortune has earned this generation its very own nickname: The Boomerang Generation.

Although this living arrangement might be tricky at times (I speak from personal experience), it’s preferable to the alternative, especially since full-time work has evaded my grasp for almost two years now. Being able to live with my parents is why I am not standing on a street corner holding up a cardboard sign that says: “Will proofread term papers for food.”

As far as unemployment rates go, Texas is below the national average, (5.7 percent statewide in March compared to 6.7 per cent nationally). However, if you zoom out and isolate the statistics for recent college graduates across the nation, the picture becomes a bit bleaker. The unemployment rate for recent graduates is the highest it’s ever been in 20 years, as is their underemployment rate (defined here as graduates working in jobs that don’t require degrees).

Over the years, job hunting in San Antonio has been a mixed bag for my peer group, but the aforementioned data seems to be an accurate model for what I’ve seen play out within our city. I have a handful of friends who have carved out niches for themselves in a variety of professional fields. Those who worked straight out of college or high school seem to be doing the best.

The ones who continued their education by completing graduate or law degrees have been less fortunate. Many had to take jobs unrelated to their field of study, or they settled for part-time work. Others procured full-time work only after receiving insider tips from acquaintances who had already found jobs locally and had inside information on new openings at their workplace.

Some of my friends had to move out of town to find meaningful employment and begin the task of paying down their sizable student loans.

The growing pressure of student loan debt in the face of inadequate employment is one of the main anxieties troubling individuals of my generation who invested so much time, energy and money earning prestigious degrees.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, outstanding college debt nearly tripled from $364 billion in 2004 to $966 billion in 2012. Student loan debt now surpasses auto loan debt and credit card debt, and has contributed to putting millions of American families in financial jeopardy, a situation only exacerbated last summer when Congress allowed the interest rates for federal student loans to double.

There was a time, long ago, when the primary challenge associated with attaining a college education was the actual academic work itself. These days, an even greater challenge is paying for your degree after the mortar board is thrown and Sallie Mae starts knocking on your door.

I remember being a doe-eyed teenager, gawking at how extravagant tuition prices were when the time came to scope out prospective colleges. My family assuaged my fears by telling me all about student loans and scholarship opportunities. They emphasized that investing in one’s education was “the good kind of debt.” A degree enhanced earning power for their generation. In the current economic climate, I don’t know if that advice still holds across the board, especially for all degrees.

Experts still believe, no matter how dire the statistics, that people with college degrees will be able to bounce back more easily than those without credentials once the economy improves more drastically. How long that takes is another story entirely.

Graph courtesy of the Pew Research Center report "A Record 21.6 Million In 2012: A Rising Share of Young Adults Live in Their Parents’ Home" August 1, 2013.

Graph courtesy of the Pew Research Center report “A Record 21.6 Million In 2012: A Rising Share of Young Adults Live in Their Parents’ Home” August 1, 2013.

It’s true that the economy is getting better. Job creation is slow but steady. Unemployment will drop, but it’s estimated it will take until the end of the decade for the labor market to return to the healthy vigor it once had in the mid-2000s, much less the 1990s. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but most people aren’t in a position to wait that long.

My previous job did not require a college degree. Ever since I was let go from that position and graduated with my master’s degree, I’ve been trying to apply for openings of comparable skill and rank. I’m now starting to think my new credentials might actually be perceived as a hindrance rather than an asset. After all, why would most employers hire someone whose higher education might serve as leverage for higher pay if the job didn’t require specialized knowledge? Why hire someone better equipped to leave that job for greener pastures?

I’ve tried to diversify my targets and apply for jobs that require advanced degrees, but so many of them ask for a minimum number of years working in specific environments ,like communications offices or public relations offices. I may be a fast learner, but who wants to put the effort into training a newbie when you could hire internally or find someone who has more hours in the field? My work experience is, unfortunately, more limited in scope compared to my academic background. The disparity between the two effectively traps me. I imagine it traps a lot of other people out there too.

One of the suggestions I’ve read online is to actually downplay your strengths: Remove any advanced degrees and prestigious experience from your resume so that you appear better suited to work jobs for which you are technically overqualified. It may be my last, lingering shred of pride talking, but I’ve managed to rationalize not heeding that particular piece of advice just yet.

In addition to committing what amounts to misrepresentation via omission, erasing my academic history from my résumé just feels like a monstrous betrayal of personal identity. Renouncing my life’s work, the few accomplishments I actually have the right to feel good about, is just too depressing for me to seriously consider at this time.

The very notion of having to deny myself like that in order to survive professionally leaves me heaving angry sobs, crying out like John Proctor at the end of The Crucible: “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life…How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!”

Family life with my parents on Easter 2014. Courtesy photo.

Family life with my parents on Easter 2014. Courtesy photo.

Arthur Miller-inspired dramatics aside, I remain hopeful about my future.

My parting advice to fellow unemployables out there is to reconstruct your vision of what you thought your life was supposed to look like at this stage. Stay in motion. Don’t snub crumbs. Shoot anything that moves and count it as another potential résumé bullet. For the time being, success might have to look unorthodox. It may not take the shape of what our parents knew, like the freelance graphic designer who works at home doing piecemeal projects from her computer. It might not be enough for you to get by without a little help from others. If you’re blessed to have such support in your life, please don’t feel ashamed in taking it. Be gentle with yourself.

Above all else, no matter what anyone tells you, don’t let your self-worth be determined by the presence or absence of a paycheck.

You’re so much more than that.

*Featured/top image: Photo credit: www.Lendingmemo.com.

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19 thoughts on “Young, Gifted, and Still Living at Home

  1. I’m glad someone wrote this! We Millennials need to hear that our peers have this same experience.

  2. I lived at home until age 28. Its hard to find a job without a name brand engineering degree. These days college admins seem more concerned with growing the football programs at the expense of academic programs. I continue to watch the FAU college of engineering lose professors and drop classes while the FAU football team gets a new stadium, fancy private gym, and impunity from academic standards as well as the crimes they commit on campus. They should just get it over with- close down all the academics and make it a college of football. We have nearly reached a point where engineering degrees are worthless unless its from MIT, Stanford, or places that undoubtedly care about their academic programs. Find me a MIT grad who can’t find a job.

  3. This is an excellent article, accurately capturing the realities of this issue. On the flip side, my son has one year of college and won’t return just yet, to my dismay. He makes an excellent income as a waiter and MOST of his co-workers are college graduates, many with advanced degrees, which provides little affirmation for the benefits of a college education. It’s a sad state of affairs, but remember, your education IS NOT just for the advancement of your career… it’s equally for the development of your intellect and character.

    • If I could insert a gif into this comment box that depicted a standing ovation, I would do so now for you, Janet. I agree with you that the value of education extends far beyond professional development. That’s one of the reasons why a core curriculum exists in the first place. I remember having so many pre-med friends who sneered at the thought of having to endure a semester of Sociology or Philosophy in order to have the necessary credits to graduate. I always thought that attitude was so short-sighted. How can you be a good citizen if you don’t learn about History/Political Science? How can you be a decent writer without practice, say in a composition class? How can you grow if you don’t allow yourself to be exposed to new ideas? I’m glad your son is doing well but, like you, I hope he considers returning to college one day. Just for his own edification 🙂

      P.S. A hearty thank you to all the commentators (and readers) for their input regarding this article. It is very much appreciated!

      • I believe it is pointless to make people more well-rounded. I think specialization is in order. People will learn to interact with the world, with their society the way that suits them best. We do not need classes that teach us things that come by way of social interaction.

        If the schools need to program us then they should do so with blocks of information. What skills are necessary to be a journalist and what will it take to teach those skills and what will it take to learn those skills? What will it take to be a business professional. I don’t believe I need Geology or the biology to learn how to be a business professional.

        I do however believe in an interdisciplinary approach to solving problems but normal schools don’t teach like that. MIT, Stanford, Harvard (and the other big names) , they all teach students how to solve problems using skillsets from different disciplines. They go beyond the old ways. The southern association of colleges or whatever accrediting institution in charge of these local and regional universities and colleges is doing a terrible job of keeping us competitive with Chinese, Japanese, South Korean, British, and northern and western U.S. schools. We have been held back!

        If the schools are trying to teach us how to be polymaths then they’re doing a terrible job.

        • Correction – I believe the University of the Incarnate word is taking an interdisciplinary approach to solving problems with their convergent media program but even that may not be enough. I’m not sure if everybody in the university gets to participate in the program at one time or another.

          The MIT Media Lab is an awesome example of the best kind of interdisciplinary approach to solving problems and helping students get the most out of a university education – that is if students participate. I do not have enough information on it but I will visit soon.

          I think every school should have some kind of research institution with people from various majors.

  4. I read your article and definitely found the personal connection as I graduated in 08. To answer your question about omitting experience, yes many employers are fearful they will have to pay your previous wage if they fire you. Basically no deli, or restaurant wants to hire then fire someone that used to make $100k. A large company can afford it but most businesses in town are small.

    This country is still the best place in the world to be a writer and the best to have an idea. There has never been more opportunity for someone with an idea or passion only that there is no specific job tittle for passion. Don’t make another resume or portfolio, find what your good at that no one in the world can match. You don’t need unsolicited advice because your bio says your a screenwriter so just listen to your heart.

  5. I have lived in the back of cars, trucks and rv’s. I have lived in sleeper cabs of some awesome big trucks. When you do those things you start to realize that having a home no matter where it is, is important.

    I also have actual homes that belong to me. I own and co-own lots of property. None of that would be possible if my parents not have taken me back in when I got out of the military. There is nothing wrong about staying with parents. I stay with them whenever I get a chance. My address still remains the same from the time I lived with them which was over 7 years ago. I use their Internet connection too. We help each other out.

    You’re not alone! There are lots of people like you out there. I remember reading several articles on the subject and it has been a “thing” since the great recession. Be proud! You have awesome parents.

    About employment – The Eagle Ford still needs people! Go get ’em!!

  6. I disagree with everything in this article. Instead of asking how you can find a job ask how you can provide value, then charge for the value you are providing. Forget about building your resume. Resumes are a completely outdated concept. I would advise that you actually do go out and live in the streets. It will probably make you more innovative. Don’t be so entitled. The fact that you have degrees does not generate revenue for anyone. Increasing revenue is all the market cares about and none of us are above that natural law. It’s just economics.

    I taught myself how to program on a netbook in a furniture-less crap apartment while waiting tables. I didn’t have a car either. I remember Josh Jordan ,who commented earlier, hooking me up with my first paid project. I don’t think he helped me out because I had any advanced degrees, I have no degree. He just wanted a project to get done. If Josh remembers correctly I had to borrow my girlfriend’s laptop for the project because I couldn’t put photoshop on my netbook lol. Good times.

    • The point of the article was not to imply that people with degrees are somehow more entitled to jobs than people without degrees. I only wanted to explore how the choices some degree-seekers made, which they thought would be beneficial to their careers, might actually be detrimental in this current economic climate. At the very end, I think I did encourage innovative thinking. I suggested that it may be necessary for individuals to adjust their expectations and take whatever opportunities they can get in order to find success during these turbulent times.

      Additionally, I can’t help but notice some contradictory messages in your post. You suggest that I live on the streets, but admit to having a job as a waiter and living in an apartment (albeit one without furniture). You advocate a kind of rugged individualism, but admit to needing a girlfriend who had a laptop with photoshop in order to successfully complete your first paid project. I guess John Donne was right then? No man is an island? That’s the advice I was trying to give at the end of the article: For people not to feel consternation about using the resources they have at their disposal.

      I really like what you said about discovering what value we can contribute to society and then charging for that value. Phrasing it like that reframes our potential not specifically in terms of individual talent, but external need. That might help a lot of people think differently about what they can do to make a living! Thank you for taking the time out to comment 🙂

      • I think he was trying to keep it short and not go into detail with his life story. I understand where he is coming from. His experience differs from yours so you’re attempting to rationalize his viewpoint, which isn’t working.

        Basically, he is suggesting that you try to live in the real world to find out for yourself what it is like. The other parts of his comment don’t require speculation or romanticism.

        Also, an individual can maintain their individualism with help from others but there are always costs like time, money or opportunity costs associated with that help. Individuals in society bare social costs often.

        In my view, his waiting tables or relying on his girlfriend from time to time does not compromise his individualism or make his position any more or less legitimate. They are voluntary transaction as is his relationship with his apartment landlord. Your relationship and the help you receive from your parents is not the same thing. I would say that your situation is involuntary since your parents understand your position. Still, I am only working with available information.

        This quote by Jean-Paul Sartre best represents my feelings-
        “Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.”

        What is the alternative of that rugged individualism you seem to dislike so much? Is it collectivism?

      • Text does not have tone. I did not mean to sound malicious. You obviously have a talent at writing and I am not implying at all that you are not valuable. My biggest point is that degrees are not valuable, skills and talents are valuable.

        I don’t think it is bad to rely on people for things. I just think it is bad to rely on people if it traps you in a dangerous comfort zone. I would wait tables again if I had to; that is why I wasn’t living in the streets while I was learning to program. I am not at all afraid to take a job that is perceived as below me.

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