Millennials and Opportunity•
As mentioned in our earlier post about our listening conversations with the millennial generation, there were too many important and unique viewpoints shared to condense everything into one mere post. So I’d like to use this opportunity to share a few of the millennials’ perspectives around job opportunities and the current market.
The first topic that was raised at each meeting, whether we were listening to high school dropouts or college graduates, was great concern around employment opportunities available for 18-24 year olds. For instance, one community member from Brockton, Massachusetts, made this passionate comment in response to a new police station that is being constructed in the city, “We don’t need more police if you open up jobs so we’re not on the streets, if you open up schools so we’re not on the streets, and if you give us opportunities and something to work for so we’re not on the streets.”
In addition to the lack of job opportunities that are available, many millennials emphasized the importance of having positive role models growing up – something that they felt was lacking in their communities. They felt that seeing and learning from the personal experiences of those who were able to be successful in their careers or lives would provide invaluable inspiration and motivation to young adults. For instance, they shared concern over the fact that so many youth are not made fully aware of the power of education, and consequently make poor decisions early that affect them later in life. They felt that if the benefits behind obtaining an education were made more visible to them, they might have made different choices. Furthermore, for those youth who might have had a misdemeanor in past, finding a job has become nearly impossible. This becomes especially difficult in smaller cities and towns when newspapers publish (with photos) lists of individuals arrested, an action that often puts a scarlet letter on all those trying to rebuild their lives.
When thinking about current and potential programs that can support millennials in confronting the issues they face, many felt that current system needs to be changed, claiming that present social services are focused too heavily on short-term results that do not ultimately break a cycle of immobility. For example, public assistance programs that require an individual to work a set number of hours often leave very little time, if any, to pursue further education. To the millennials, it would be better for their long-term growth if these programs supported simultaneous education and job training. One community member for Washington DC, for instance, said that she could not go back to school because she had to work to receive public assistance – a structure she wished was reversed.
Even amongst the millennials who are upcoming or recent college graduates, many found it difficult to locate or obtain a job, let alone finding and waiting for their “dream job.” This concern grew out of the reality that there are fewer jobs available than the number of people seeking them, as well as worry that the value of a college degree is decreasing, seeing that additional educational experience is often needed for even entry-level jobs. “A college degree is no longer a boost,” they voiced, “but a necessity.” In addition, these millennials said that the lack of availability to paid internships was a problem – a controversial issue that has been debated in the public arena. Another young woman in our Boston meeting spoke about the difficulty of paying back college loans amidst the rising cost of housing.
If the above paragraphs do not paint a large enough picture of the type of issues people between the ages of 18 and 24 are facing, one only needs to turn to a recent New York Times article that discusses a new report released around black youth unemployment. Writes the Times: “The headline on a new report tells the bad news: ‘Only One in Four Young Black Men in New York City Have a Job.’”
David R. Jones, president of the Community Service Society, an advocacy group for New York’s low-income residents which produced the report, said, “The recession has created a landscape of the unemployed and underemployed with particular catastrophic consequences for young African-American men…Now young black men between 16 and 24 years have become the banner of hopelessness, particularly here in New York City.”
It is clear that the millennial generation is confronting a unique set of barriers to opportunity and economic mobility, and OpportuntiyNation will work to find solutions to these problems with young leaders in addition to those that will help other generations. Organizations like Mobilize.org, Year Up and YouthBuild are making a difference for this generation and are a part of the coalition, and we hope you will join us in this effort!