Millennials set back by bad times, but persevere

By By Dave Helling

The Kansas City Star (MCT)

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 8 2013 9:00 a.m. MDT

If he’s right, millennials will outrace the Great Recession largely because they’ll define their lives in ways their parents and grandparents may not recognize.

The 2008 economic collapse rocketed through the job market, forcing millions out of work. At its height in October 2009, the national unemployment rate hit 10 percent.

Yet millennials, particularly those who entered the workforce as the recession hit its peak, suffered more than any other age group. In 2010, 37 percent of 18- to-29-year-olds were unemployed, the highest rate in three decades.

Baby boomers faced employment challenges, too. But many simply dropped from the workforce, living off admittedly thinner nest eggs that millennials didn’t have.

The picture has improved since the depths of the Great Recession, even for millennials. Some jobs have opened, and career paths have been restored.

But the problems of out-of-work millennials may echo through the national economy for years. When quality entry-level jobs are scarce, it takes longer for inexperienced workers to land the training and advancement their parents took for granted.

“Young people who graduate from college in a bad economy typically suffer long-term consequences,” concluded Pew, “with effects on their careers and earnings that linger as long as 15 years.”

Some economists, though not all, say the problem is made worse by boomers who didn’t leave the workforce, clogging the pipeline for entry-level positions and advancement.

Such trends suppress potential earnings growth, perhaps for decades.

“Anything that’s extreme and lasts for a while at that age is permanent, one way or another,” said nationally known demographer and author Neil Howe.

Problems were particularly pronounced for millennials in their mid-20s who tried to enter the workforce in the teeth of the recession. For some, the answer was a return to college.

“I have a lot of friends coming out of school right behind me who said, ‘I hear the job market’s bad, so I’m going to stay for my master’s,’ ” said Jessica Best, 31, of Kansas City.

While those decisions give millennials additional skills, though, they leave many with astonishing levels of educational debt.

Since 2004, total student debt tripled to more than $1.2 trillion — now second only to mortgage debt on the nation’s balance sheet.

And repaying that debt from lower salaries has proved difficult. The delinquency rate on student debt, a recent Fed study suggested, is close to 30 percent. The average student loan debt is more than $26,000.

Not every millennial facing job struggles decided to go back to school.

Some entered the workforce by taking the few jobs that were available — often low-paid, low-benefit, part-time. Some took unpaid internships.

While that helped the balance sheet, it left many millennials frustrated at a world that had changed in ways they didn’t expect.

“I was very confused,” Gillespie said. “I’m like, ‘Why am I doing this? Why is this happening to me? I went to school and got my degree, now where’s my job?’ ”

Eventually, Gillespie found a good job in health care. That also reflects a common millennial approach — unlike their parents, 20-somethings comfortably move from job to job, employer to employer.

One study suggests millennials will change employers an average of seven times before age 30.

Stephon Jones, 22, took several lower-wage gigs over the past several years, waiting for a break. He got one this summer when Ford offered him a job.

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