The millennial generation (children born between 1982 and 2002) is very different from their parents. They are more ethnically and racially diverse, less religious, less likely to have served in the military and more tolerant of people who follow alternative lifestyles. They are on track to become the most educated generation in American history.
But wait, there is one problem: These young people, who want to launch careers and enter their first jobs, they have been set back by the Great Recession. The recession has hurt all Americans but it has been particularly hard on the millennial generation – those young people who became adults in the years of the new millennium.
The Pew Research Center has found that the millennials are the last hired and the first fired. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that only 41 percent of millennials said they were working full time – a decline of 9 percentage points since 2006.
Only 33% said they were satisfied with their paychecks. One-third of the millennials said their parents are still helping them pay their bills.
The situation of Stephanie Gunawan, a millennial living in Evanston, is illustrative. She was recently offered a full-time job as a receptionist at a car dealership. The job pays $10 an hour, plus benefits. Just to make ends meet, Stephanie will have to apply for food stamps. On the other hand, receiving benefits, instead of being on a relative’s health care plan, would be a good move for her.
Ms. Gunawan graduated last May with a bachelor’s degree in fashion business from Columbia College, so the job at the car dealership has nothing to do with her degree. Still, the 22-year-old considers herself lucky. If she takes the job, she will go to work every day, and she does not live with her parents.
Meanwhile, for young people without a college degree, life is even more difficult. Teen unemployment in Illinois is among the highest in nation. A recent report commissioned by the Alternative Schools Network (2013) found that only 8.7% of black teens in Chicago were employed in 2010 and 2011. The rate for Asians was 15.5%, 20% for Hispanic teens and 21% for whites.
The report also states that in low-income households (earning less than $40,000 annually) only 10 of every 100 black teens were employed in 2010 and 2011.
This high unemployment rate is costing not only young people but our country as a whole. When young people do not work, they do not pay taxes. According to a new report (2014) by the Young Invincibles, a youth advocacy group, the U.S. loses $25 billion a year in uncollected taxes from young people who do not hold jobs.
Like Stephanie Gunawan, most young would-be workers are motivated, hard-working and loyal. But they cannot get their foot in the door of any prospective employer.
Still, Ms. Gunawan says she hopes one day to use her degree in fashion to design clothing or accessories “that will last – things that will be an investment and not just trash.” Until the economy picks up and there are more available jobs, she has put her career goals on hold.
In the meantime, she looks to the Youth Job Center, here in Evanston, for help.
“The YJC helped me get on my own two feet, and I fall back on it a lot for help and resources,” Ms. Gunawan. “Even though I’m still struggling, the YJC helped me understand my situation.”
The U.S. economy is in a period of transition. Manufacturing jobs have moved overseas, college tuition is ever more expensive and jobs leading to a middle class lifestyle seem to be increasingly hard to find. Meanwhile, minimum-wage service jobs are hardly adequate to raise a family, buy a home and save for a mortgage. These are the challenges most millennials face every day.
Every year, the YJC counsels 1,500 young people. It offers a free computer work center, job readiness programs, assistance with resumes, and coaching about interview procedures. The Center encourages clients to get their G.E.D. or go on to college. Staff members help young job seekers overcome barriers to employment such as lack of childcare, problems with transportation, and expungement of felony records.
YJC staff are not just working to find first jobs for young clients. Instead, they are thinking of the client’s long-range goals of launching their careers through meaningful, engaging work and entry into the middle class. YJC has partnered with Evanston Township High School, where we have established an automotive program, as well as Oakton Community College. This will help to ensure that our clients learn a marketable skill they can use to move beyond entry-level, minimum-wage jobs.
The YJC needs jobs that our young clients can fill. If your business has a part-time or full-time position that needs to be filled, contact the YJC. The YJC will refer an applicant who has taken our work-readiness courses, armed with a resume, solid work habits and an eagerness to work. Giving a deserving young person a job, this helps him or her take the first step toward building a career. The opportunity Evanston businesses provide can change one person’s life for the better. It can make our community, and our country, stronger too.
Nancy Traver is on the board of the Youth Job Center of Evanston.