Life has a tendency to rebel against our attempts to make it unfold according to a schedule. Try as we might to think ahead and plan for the future, there are always enough unforeseen detours to take us off our predetermined course. Part of aging and becoming wiser is realizing that life gets in the way of the best laid plans. This is not to say that falling off the schedule is without consequences. New data is showing what we already know to be the case, at least intuitively: pre-Great Recession college graduates found jobs more quickly and earned more when compared to post-GR graduates. With voluntary exits from the workforce slowing to a trickle, young people hired in 2012 will also have a harder time advancing in their careers than previous generations. In short, perhaps it is unavoidable that the Classes of 2009-2012 will end up wasting two or three years of their lives doing grunt work until finding a decent job, but that delay represents a loss of earnings and a loss of professional capital that young workers will never make back.

While I've had the good fortune of being continuously gainfully employed throughout the downturn, this is one topic on which I think my example is somewhat illustrative. I began looking for a tenure-track job in 2008 and found one four years and hundreds of applications later in early 2012. In the interim, I worked in a temporary position with all the concomitant benefits – no opportunity for advancement, low salary, high workload, no resources, etc. Compare this course of events to an alternate history in which 2008 was a modal year for the job market in my field. Not landing a real job at the outset has cost me, over this four year period, a conservative estimate of $50-60,000 in salary that I will never earn back (picture the value of that amount, for example, invested until retirement age) and a lengthy delay in beginning the long, slow process of career advancement. If I go up for tenure before I'm 40 it will be a miracle, compared to the more common practice of doing it in one's early 30s. Don't weep for me; I don't live in a cardboard box and I'm not going hungry, but the point holds that the delay in getting started in a profession is a costly one with both short- and long-term consequences.

There's no amount of elbow grease or bootstrap pulling that can make up for two, three, or even five years after graduation spent living in Mom and Dad's basement, making coffee for $7.75/hr, or "interning" (i.e., working for free). Those are wasted years, in the economic sense, that you will never get back. And this is becoming a disturbingly common experience for heavily indebted college graduates. Some combination of unemployment, substantial underemployment, or continued dependence on parental resources (if available) are the rule rather than the exception no matter how we slice the data.

Perhaps the worst aspect of this is not the economic cost to young workers but the psychological shift that accompanies changing expectations. Not only are things not improving, but it's getting to a point at which no one really expects them to improve. Failing to find a career or at least a decently compensated job is the new normal, much as moving back in with the parents now fails to raise eyebrows. Young adults enter the Real World for which college supposedly prepares them with a sense of fatalism and a stunted process of personal and social maturation. Moving back in with the parents, for example, halts the process of learning basic adult skills – living on one's own, cooking, paying bills, budgeting, and so on – that the school-to-work transition is supposed to encourage. Not only are young people losing income that they will never regain, but they are potentially extending an adolescence that already lasts too long in our society (with its college culture that encourages juvenile, irresponsible behavior into one's early twenties).

The solution is not specific to this demographic. Instead, their success depends on stronger demand for workers overall. While the weak economy continues to hurt nearly everyone in some way, it will be easier for those of us already on the train to hold on during the bumpy ride than it will be for young people chasing the train on foot to get aboard.

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39 Responses to “HELD BACK”

  1. Xynzee Says:

    Far worse failure to find and secure a viable career path/well compensated employment across one's working life, or finds oneself dealing w a work related injury.

    While spending two or three years living in your parent's basement is bad straight out of Uni. Never securing that first "big break" can be far worse for earning capacity, and we haven't even broached the subject of retirement.

  2. freeportguy Says:

    "the delay in getting started in a profession is a costly one with both short- and long-term consequences"

    Over and above the personal impact, there are ALSO consequences to the economy as a whole.

    There's the old saying "Not making a decision is indeed making a decision". By simply stretching that concept, there IS a cost to society for NOT helping graduates getting a decent job or maintaining low interest rate on their loans, the same way that there IS a cost to changing oil and doing any maintenance on your car every 10,000-15,000 miles instead of the suggested 5,000.

    But to understand this requires an understanding and a vision of reality, not simply living in the moment.

  3. Bosh Says:

    There are also the people who end up doing things that pay well in the short term but don't give any real path to career advancement. For example: ex-pat English teaching. In Korea newbies can get $2,000 month, free airfare here and back, free apartment, $100/month insurance, and low taxes. Pretty damn good for straight out of uni and they're easy to get. But then you get the people who have about he same job five years later and if you do it too long you get a black hole in your resume, I couldn't imagine going back and trying to start climbing a career ladder after doing this kind of work for long enough.

    I'd done a lot better than most at this gig, but a lot of people end up trapped with no real way to advance and no real way to get out. You get people who keep on leaving and keep on coming back since they can't get anything but shit for jobs back home.

  4. Middle Seaman Says:

    Clearly, the semi-comatose state of college graduates in the years 2008 until some yet unknown future time is bad. At the same time, many 50+ workers will probably never be employed again. In the middle life range from 30 to about 50, periods of unemployment, lower income than BGR (Before Great Recession), loss of benefits such as health care and added pension contribution are all too common.

    There is no solution to young people only. We either solve the larger problem or, as we seem only to happily accept, we go on the a destructive path. The problem is political and not economical, but wall to wall the country is willing to vote for the two evil clowns running for president.

  5. blinded by science Says:

    Hate to say it, but the world really does need carpenters, plumbers and electricians more than it needs historians, poli sci and English majors, philosophers, and, for crissakes, business majors and economists. If I had it to do over again, I'd probably spend my first four years of of high school doing a carpentry apprenticeship, where you can actually make money, rather than going to college to earn a worthless degree, build up thousands in debt and have no job prospects in the end.

    No brainer, looks like.

  6. comrade x Says:

    After years of long- haul trucking, I finally paid off the house and could afford to quit and get a job with a local delievery company. Working an eight hour shift and being home every night is pure heaven compared to endless weeks on the road with maybe a couple of days off in between.
    Someone who has the empathy of a three- year old child would say, " I had to do it- so should you!" But then I am not a Conservative. I say, " It sucked and I want it to be easier for my kids and their generation."

  7. anotherbozo Says:

    "the world really does need carpenters, plumbers and electricians…"

    The world, maybe, blinded, but not necessarily the US of A. The construction business is in the doldrums, and you can imagine what that means for the building trades. As to free-lancing repair work and small jobs, they don't compute with the travel time, free estimates, necessary office work, etc.

    Try again. Maybe pole dancing.

  8. Anonymouse Says:

    Welcome to the story of Gen X. I graduated college with a computer science degree in the late 1980s, under St. Ronnie's watch…and spent several years as a substitute teacher for $20/day, a bartender at nights, and any kind of menial, no-benefit temp jobs I could get my hands on to pay the rent on the one-bedroom apartment I shared with 3 other people all in the same boat I was in. Then we had to deal with Boomer snark about why we weren't simply ENCHANTED to serve them lattes and handle their dry cleaning. After several years I finally landed a job in my field paying decent money, but under the Bush regime CEOs figured they could afford that eighth vacation house in Monaco by enforcing rolling layoffs of the people who actually did the work that kept the company afloat.

    It's too depressing to do the math and figure out the hundreds of thousands I've lost through early sub-employment and recent stints of unemployment.

  9. c u n d gulag Says:

    Those at both age ends of the workforce are in serious trouble – the young ones finishing HS and College right now, and those of us over 50.
    Short AND long-term trouble.
    The young people might, might, be able to overcome their slow starts, if a long-term booming economy comes along relatively soon. For those of us over 50, that booming economy has to start pronto, or we're well and truly fecked.

    The "Free Markets" are not "designed" to do anything at all to help people in these situations, so the solutions are political, not economic, as someone mentioned above.

    Thus, the solutions involve having government boost the prospects of those two groups, by creating some more government job opportunities, and giving hiring incentives to businesses large and small.
    And of course, across the board tax increases, to pay for the programs – particularly on corporations and the wealthy people in this country.
    Also, increase SS payments to recipients, while lowering the retirement age, to allow for more opportunities for the young people to fill those slots earlier – and also lower Medicare age eligibility – or, better yet, get a nationalized "Medicare For All" program, which will allow people to try to start their own businesses, or try different things, and not risk losing their company-subsidized health care.

    But one half of our two parties is both batshit feckin' religiously insane and bought-off, and the other is bought off and afraid of the Crazy Conservative Party, and won't have the will to fight the wailing, gnashing of teeth, tearing at the hair and garments, and shrieking howls of "Socialism! Communism!! Fascism!!!"

    So, nothing will change – unless/until something resembling sanity returns to the Crazy Conservative Party.

    Without a return to economic sanity, who will be able to afford to buy cars and houses in the future?
    Who will be able to raise and educate their children?
    Pay for their health care?

    There is no long-term planning anymore in this country. Not in businesses, and not in politics.
    Everything is done for short-term economic and/or political gain.
    The 1% looking to get as much as possible from the 99%, before the whole house of cards collapses.

    And depending on corporations which are less and less reliant on the American markets, to provide magic "Free Market" solutions, is like 'waiting for Godot.'

    And so, we as a nation, are all well and truly fecked!
    A falling Empire, oblivious to it's rapid spiraling descent into the worlds most well-armed Banana Republic.

    Or, maybe we could use a "green" solution, and take the worlds depleting oil supplies to start lubricating guillotines.

    Then, maybe the rich and their corporations might start to get the message: 'If we have to go, we ain't goin' quietly, and we ain't goin' alone!'

    Of course, an educated and informed electorate might help prevent that.
    People might start to vote in their own best interests, and not be conned into voting against them due to wedge issues like religion, race, sex, nation of origin, and/or sexual orientation, drummed-up from the Crazy Conservative Party to win elections, because it hasn't had an original idea since before Calvin Coolidge was in the White House.

    But, in his day of corporate-owned MSM, and 24 x 7 x 365 propaganda, how likely is that?

    Yes, well and truly fecked, indeed!

    End of long-assed rant.

  10. Lecturer Says:

    Wait, I totally missed that you finally made it out of adjunctistan. Congrats! (Maybe there's hope for all of us…)

  11. Aaron Weber Says:

    This does indeed remind me of the Gen-X thing. And that turned out OK once the economy turned around. But of course the economy has to turn around for all of that to happen.

    And congrats, by the way, on getting on the Track.

  12. ladiesbane Says:

    Have we at least shut up the bootstraps libertarians? Isn't someone going to say that every one of you librul lazybones is free to start up a company Right This Very Minute and hire each other? (Except that we'll never be able to be profitable since there are Regulations.)

  13. blahedo Says:

    Congrats on the tenure-track job!

    As for the rest of the post, the conceivable silver lining on the "moving in with the parents" route (which is mirrored on the other end of the age spectrum by the "moving in with the kids" route) is that family units that are larger and more multi-generational tend to be more stable and resilient; a house with three employed workers and four non-workers (of whatever age) is not nearly as devastated by a single job loss as a smaller household with only one or two workers.

    But, hadn't you heard? 30 is the new 21. There was an xkcd from a few weeks ago (http://xkcd.com/1053) that, aside from its main message/joke, equated "by the time they're adults" with "by 30". I raised my eyebrows, thought about it, and decided he's right.

  14. sluggo Says:

    @ Anonymouse

    Amen, Brother! That huge demographic glut in front of guys our age is something!!!! Hopefully they will start retiring by the bucket load soon!!!!

  15. mothra Says:

    Of course, an educated and informed electorate might help prevent that.

    Well, the Republicans have pretty much made sure we won't have that, what with underfunding public education and "No Child Left Behind." Repugs don't want an educated and informed electorate. Bad for business.

    Oh, and as Anonymouse said, it was no treat trying to find work in the graduating from college in the 80's during Ronnie's Regime.

  16. Major Kong Says:

    In the airline business, they changed the mandatory retirement age for pilots from 60 to 65 back in 2008.

    Since advancement is purely based on seniority, everyone on the lower half of the seniority list has seen their career progression put on hold for the last 5 years.

  17. acer Says:

    I don't begrudge Ed his added traffic, but I like this place a lot more when it's not being linked in Boortz.

    I thought Reagan-fellating economic libertarianism died a pitiful death in 2008. Instead, it went into a violent tantrum of cognitive dissonance that may yet take down the world. This is all part of that.

  18. Both Sides Do It Says:

    Another shitty aspect that hasn't gotten mentioned yet is the institutionalization of this mindset. Similar to the shift from a job or two you work for decades to having six different careers before you're 40, working for years at a job with no pay and no opportunity for advancement and which is just as bad as not working at all from a career standpoint will become "expected' and "normal", to the point where if you dare point out that "uhh this is bullshit" you will be socially ostracized and economically punished.

    Also: CONGRATUFUCKINGLATIONS on the tenure-track job, happy for you.

  19. Argh Says:

    There's a silver lining to this, though. As long as people thought the problem was just a temporary blip, they seed content to just wait it out. Now people seem to realize that this won't go away quickly or easily (I don't hear the phrase "in this economy") nearly so much anymore). Maybe they'll be inspired to finally make some real changes in our economic system other than just giving more free money to rich people.

  20. Desargues Says:

    I'm saying this with a lot of survivor's guilt, and I trust you'll soon realize what I mean, but still: congratulations. There but for the grace of god go you. Hopefully you'll have time to post here a few times now and then, what with the pressure of publishing so as to make tenure and shit. Jesus.

  21. BZBee Says:

    Mothra: "Oh, and as Anonymouse said, it was no treat trying to find work in the graduating from college in the 80's during Ronnie's Regime."

    Ah, but that was happening to GenX, so it doesn't count. Now that the Boomer and their Precious, Precious Snowflakes, the Millenials, are involved…it's a national crisis.

  22. dave Says:

    on what planet is a TT job a modal outcome for a newly minted PhD in any discipline from any school? I have a buddy who did a phd in quantum computing from CalTech…pretty much the hottest possible field and the top school. He still did 3 years of postdocs.

    4 years of VAPships then a TT job is an excellent outcome, esp for someone coming out of a non-elite institution. you must drive the other lecturers crazy with your self pity.

    anyway, congratulations on the job!

  23. Doomed, we are Says:

    I don't know why the plutocrats don't see it as an utter disaster that we have a consumer based economy in which consumption is sharply constrained. Boomers retirements went POOF so they aren't buying "stuff", under 30s are crippled with debt and 30-50 are supporting their kids and/ or parents. I guess they're depending on global markets to buy games, tchotchkes, and extra cars? Will that really work? And for how long? It's a sad world where you can't even depend on enlightened self-interest any more…

  24. blinded by science Says:

    "As to free-lancing repair work and small jobs, they don't compute with the travel time, free estimates, necessary office work, etc."

    Beyond the fact that you're overlooking the commercial and industrial sectors of the construction economy, my point stands: Would you rather be 22 and at least have no significant debt and some real job prospects as a licensed carpenter, or a well-educated college grad (let's talk Chaucer!) with $30,000 in loans and a great future with Starbucks, figuring that to get anywhere you're going to have to spend another two or three years getting your master's degree at a cost of another forty or fifty thousand?

  25. Townsend Harris Says:

    More and more college degrees are about as relevant and as well-paid as an MFA from an art school thirty years ago. Back then it was pretty fucking obvious that the only smart students earning MFAs had trust funds or were hell bent on academia.

  26. wetcasements Says:

    "In Korea newbies can get $2,000 month, free airfare here and back, free apartment, $100/month insurance, and low taxes. Pretty damn good for straight out of uni and they're easy to get. But then you get the people who have about he same job five years later and if you do it too long you get a black hole in your resume, I couldn't imagine going back and trying to start climbing a career ladder after doing this kind of work for long enough."

    Pretty much the opposite of my experience. In three years living in South Korea I've a) gotten a university gig b) made some headway learning Korean and c) made some pretty good professional connections both in and outside of academia.

    I'm in much better shape professionally than I was teaching high school back in America. Talk about your dead-end jobs. . . .

    That said, I agree with most of what Ed has to say. It's not whining to complain about finding work when unemployment is close to double-digits. However, I do think it's uniquely American to move out of the house once you finish college. Asia and Europe don't work that way, and living at home until you get married is the norm.

    Of course, this further hurts the already comatose housing and construction markets.

    "I don't know why the plutocrats don't see it as an utter disaster that we have a consumer based economy in which consumption is sharply constrained."

    Bingo. The grand irony of the past decade is that our Galtian overlords are so drunk with privatization and ponzi schemes that we might literally witness to death of capitalism.

    Good times.

  27. Mike Says:

    Would you rather be 22 and at least have no significant debt and some real job prospects as a licensed carpenter, or a well-educated college grad

    Frankly I'd rather be a well-educated college grad, assuming that "well educated" meant a traditional liberal arts education (i.e, learning something about the world).

    I know we're all supposed to pooh-pooh the idea of going to college to become a well-rounded individual, and it's definitely kind of elitist (history? arts? culture? in this economy?) … part of the current race to the bottom is the notion that we exist only as productivity units. Reading Aristotle or Hume did not make me more employable, but I don't regret the hours spent. (Huge caveat: I have a job, at least for now, so it's easy for me to talk…)

  28. cromartie Says:

    The joke in my industry, when I deal with people in HR, is that every complicated law starts in California.

    I correct the HR hack that makes that observation by telling them that laws/rules that are designed to protect workers actually start in Quebec.

    What does this have to do with the topic at hand?


    Les enfants sont comme l'enfer et ne va pas le prendre plus.

  29. wetcasements Says:

    "Would you rather be 22 and at least have no significant debt and some real job prospects as a licensed carpenter, or a well-educated college grad "

    Definitely college. Then again, I'd live in a large city where there are still actually some opportunities. In a small town I guess I'd go with carpenter, but living in a small American town these days is career suicide.

  30. Anonymouse Says:

    "More and more college degrees are about as relevant and as well-paid as an MFA from an art school thirty years ago. "

    I don't know about that. More and more any well-paying jobs are requiring flexible, nimble, crictical thinking like many colleges develop in their students–you know, the kind of stuff the Republicans want to beat out of the 99%.

  31. mel in oregon Says:

    there used to be a radio entertainer name of paul harvey who before a commercial said, " i'll be back with the rest of the story." the rest of the story here is you only tell things from the perspective of the recent college grad. how 'bout the parents who in most cases have sacrificed themselves to get little jason or ashley into a good college & now have to partially support their child again until possibly age 30. don't you think they would like to have their lives to themselves (& their privacy) instead of having to nursemaid you through life? or how about all the people who didn't get to choose whether to go to college or some other equally good alternative? a friend of mine's dad died when he was 14. his mom remarried when he was 16. his stepfather said out you go. so he hit the streets at age 16. he's now around 50. but i'm sure he would have loved to have had parents that would sacrifice for him like most college grads, instead of the scumbag mom & stepdad. as middle seaman said, this depression is not just about the young, it's about everyone.

  32. Bosh Says:

    wetcasements : I've done fine myself. I'm doing academic copy editing, building up a tutoring business out of my house and have a bunch of corporate part time jobs. I'm damn happy with what I've got, it's just that a lot of people I know seem to start out OK and then just never find any ladder to climb up and do the same kind of shit job year after year.

  33. wetcasements Says:

    "to start out OK and then just never find any ladder to climb up and do the same kind of shit job year after year"

    But it's such a weird meme among expats in South Korea. You know what's really a black hole on your resume? Unemployment.

    I dunno. I started out as a teacher so maybe that's the difference. I definitely don't feel like I'm wasting my time here.

  34. SA Says:

    Hm, I tried leaving a comment but I guess it either didn't make it through or got modded out… :-/

  35. Bernard Says:

    Ed, you are not 40? god, you sound way to old/smart/ to not be over 40! lol.

    shows what an education can do to the mind, which is why the Republicans want to destroy it. and have succeeded so well.

    i was expecting bb or other conservatives to respond to your rant. i often wonder why they, Republicans/Libertarians, have no capacity to think.

    since education opens minds, i guess that is the answer.

    i expect the whole system to crash. just a matter of time.bleeding the system is what the 99% and the politicians have designed it to be. to expect otherwise is not facing the reality that St. Ronnie and the Republicans planned for with "Trickle Down." and Fair Trade is for Business CEOs only. getting rid of workers who could afford to buy anything was and is the only reason for Business.

    Business ethic Rule #1 is Screw everyone for the max of profit.
    and the rest of the business's rules simply repeat rule #1, ad infinitum.

    Japan's doldrums for over 20 years is what we have to look forward to. if we are lucky it will last just 20 years. amazing more people haven't woken up from the lies and PR of the Republican Zombie who own America.

    still am amazed you're not older. lol. you sound so "smart." i.e. aware of the reality most Zombies refuse to acknowledge.

    and no, not all Boomers are the evil spawn. after killing all those leaders in the '60s, lots of us know what happens when you speak up too loudly.
    i often think that is why America became the Fascist state it is today.

    that too is another function of getting older, watching the Country and fellow Americans become lemmings and Zombies for the Right. life really does get in the way while busy making plans, as John Lennon said.

  36. Fabio Says:

    Politics aside, I see two main problems towards "getting back on track", which presumably means having things the way they were.

    1. Our global economic model counts on continual growth, yet we live in a world of finite resources. Put simply, there are more people trying to participate in this system than the system can comfortably accommodate. (see: limits to growth)

    2. For those who do already control the resources and wish to continue doing so, the only option is to perpetually control more–otherwise they risk losing what they have. (see: wealth concentration)

    Fundamentally speaking, this trajectory continues to take us away from the way things were.

  37. Kaleberg Says:

    I know enough people recently out of high school looking for work in the building trades. One is a gifted cabinet maker, but the demand for cabinetry is pretty weak lately. It's similar in the other trades. Becoming a master carpenter, plumber or an electrician requires a fair bit of training followed by an apprenticeship, and there's establishing one's career – i.e. finding a reliable supply of customers. When business is slow, no one is taking on newcomers. The big concern is the core of their business, not expanding it.

    Yes, one can become a casual construction laborer and do pretty well during boom times and in boom towns, at least until one gets in one's fifties, but that isn't exactly a career, and when one's body starts to go, the options are brutal. I actually do think that many people are going to college who would be better off, and society would be better off, if they didn't, except for the fact that the jobs open to non-college graduates are even worse than the jobs for grads.

    Maybe if we made all jobs better, perhaps by moving more basic human needs out of the private sector. It would make more jobs better and make it easier for the private sector to create good jobs.

  38. Andrea Cardamone Says:

    I always prefer to get some government jobs because i love to work on the government. Government jobs have lots of incentives. .:""`

    With appreciation