This weekend I got together with a group of friend who I'd gone to school with. We'd all finished up full-time course work in May and wrapped up with night classes over the summer. We had our degrees now, and had been looking for full time work for the last six months.
In past years, most of the people who'd finished our particular program landed jobs right away. But as we went around the room, the story started to sound the same:
"I have an unpaid internship and I don't think they're going to give me a job," "I’m on a temporary contract," "I’ve lowered by standards and I’m still looking," "I've started doing web design on the side to make ends meet while I look," "There's a hiring freeze at half the places I've looked," and "I'm living with my grandmother now, in the suburbs, while I look for work in the city."
This isn't isolated to my friends and our peers. This is a massive trend among our over-all demographic. The Department of Labor has just reported that the employment rate is 46.6% for young adults, persons aged 16-24.
An article in today's New York Post flips that number on its head. 53.4%. Unemployed. This is the largest percentage of young people unemployed since World War II.
Before you start saying "well some of those people are in high school or college," think back. I had jobs when I was in high school and college. So did most of my friends. Back then, if you were a teenager and wanted to work, you could.
And when you look at these facts next to the recent report by the AFL-CIO on young workers, suitably titled "Young Workers: A Lost Decade," a really sad picture immerges.
A generation of people who are simply not going to have the ability to buy homes, to be comfortable enough to start families, to be productive citizens who are able to contribute back to the communities that they are a part of. The American Dream, that if you work hard you’ll be able to do better for yourself than previous generations, is failing us miserable. This generation is going to continue to be pushed out of the way for the jobs that previous generations had access to.
Certainly the high paying jobs aren't available. The Baby Boomers who have them aren't retiring. Sadly many of them simply can't retire, because their savings have been wiped out by the myriad economic catastrophes of the last dozen years (the dot com bust, the economic crash that followed 9/11, the 2008-09 economic collapse, not to mention the rising price of health care).
It’s not just “high paying” job, it’s the “pays well enough to get by” jobs that we just can’t even seem to get a hold of, and part of this is because union membership is down.
It seems to me that, for the most part, my generation has bought the BS about unions. That unions hurt business, that since we’re individuals we don’t need to bargain collectively, that the companies that we work for are on our side.
But unions are good for business. By giving workers a say in the workplace we have a larger sense of ownership of the product and feel more pride in the work we do. We stay around longer and develop institutional knowledge. We create a middle class that can spend money in our communities, especially the other small businesses that, in turn, employ more workers.
Unions give individuals a voice in their workplace. Management will give you platitudes like “there’s no I in team” when they need you to work with others on the job but say “you’re your own man” when it comes to wages. We should know better.
Some of us might even be suckered into believing this kind of hooey, like Mike Duke saying that Walmart is “the largest family in the world.”
I don’t have an answer for the large load that our generation has been handed. Stronger voices in the jobs we are able to get would be a good start. We are capable and hardworking; it’s just finding that opportunity that’s the hard part.