Friday, January 16, 2009
Christine Chase, 24, searches for a job on her computer in her apartment in Campbell, Calif. Chase was laid off from her contractor job at AT&T in the Silicon Valley in August.
The land of milk and honey is souring for Generation Y, just as its members get their careers into full swing.
With the unemployment rate skyrocketing, employees under 30 have the most reason for worry. Joblessness is far higher among younger people than for those later in their careers.
For workers under 29, the unemployment rate jumped to more than 11 percent in December, compared with under 9 percent a year ago, according to Labor Department figures. That is far worse than the overall rate of 7.2 percent, up from 4.9 percent a year ago. The rate for teenage workers, from 16-19, is far worse -- approaching 20 percent. For workers in their 30s and older, the rate is still under 7 percent, and generally declines as workers get older.
The staggering jobless numbers for twentysomething workers are no surprise to Lindsey Rhein, 24, of Placentia, Calif.
She’s been out of work for nearly four months after getting laid off as a legal assistant for a construction company. She’s applied to over 700 jobs and has gotten only seven interviews, leading nowhere.
Even with a master’s degree in forensic psychology and a bachelor’s in sociology, she hasn’t been able to land a sales associate job at Target, and she can’t even get a call back from McDonald's, where she applied for the fast food chain’s management training program two months ago.
FACT FILE Jobless by age
Younger workers have been especially hard hit in the current downturn.
Total U.S. 7.2%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
The experience has shocked Rhein.
“We were told it was our generation's time to shine, that we could achieve our dreams plus more,” she says. “When I was laid off I thought finding another job was going to be cake.”
At a time when the nation is struggling with one of the worst economic downturns since the Great Depression, Gen Yers like Rhein are facing a rude, job-hunting awakening. They often have to stand in line behind their more senior counterparts as any companies lucky enough to be hiring take their choice of more seasoned job applicants.
So baby boomers rushing to get Botox or dress hipper in order to compete in a tough job market may want to reconsider.
Older workers seem to have a leg up on the youngsters. It’s a harsh reality that happens in almost any downturn, economists and labor experts say, but this one has been particularly hard on younger workers because many were blindsided.
“Recessions almost always have the same consequences — experience pays off,” says Edward Stuart, economics professor at Northeastern Illinois University.
Breaking down job numbers
A sector-by-sector look at employment over the past decade.
Given that this is a “macro-economic recession,” he adds, the job losses have been widespread, across almost all industry groups, making it even harder on younger workers, most of which have never experienced a severe economic downturn. “New entrants into the labor force tend to be younger people, and companies don’t want to hire them now.”
Another factor keeping the jobless rate high among younger workers may be their unwillingness to accept any job that’s offered, says Todd Steen, professor of economics at Hope College in Holland, Mich.
“When you’re younger you’re willing to look a little more, maybe move around or live with parents,” he says. “If you’re 50 with a mortgage, you’ll do anything to work hard.”
Indeed, James Anderson, 29, says, “I could have had a job by now if I lowered my expectations on salary and the job.”
Anderson, who earned a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan in 2007, was laid off in October from his contract position at General Motors’ research and development center in Detroit. After a fruitless job search in the area he has decided to move to Boston to live with his sister because he believes there are more job opportunities in the Northeast.
He’s not happy to be moving away from where he grew up, but he hopes the move will lead to his goal of getting a job in the computer industry.