For the first time in a long time, the current American generation may not attain a higher economic status than their parents. This is mainly because the Millennial generation has been hit by a set of economic circumstances out of their hands. Indoctrinated with the American dream, but facing a seemingly dire economic landscape, what are Millennials to do?

Here’s a panorama of the current situation. Compared with the 7.7% unemployment rate across America, Millennials face a staggeringly higher percentage: 12.5%, according to Generation Opportunity, a non-profit that advocates for Millennials, in their February 2013 Millennial Jobs Report. Further, an additional 1.7 million 18-29 years olds are jobless, but not included in official numbers because they have ceased to search for employment.

That means, in actuality, 16.2% of Millennials are without a job.

Coupling with unemployment are the numbers of Millennials underemployed. A graduation certificate in hand is no guarantee of a spot in a workplace that doesn’t smell like coffee made by your own hands.

A 2012 article on the Atlantic pointed to statistics suggesting more than half of Millennials are unemployed or working jobs that do not require a bachelor’s degree.

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A study by Millennial Branding and PayScale titled “Gen Y on the Job,” uncovered the same trend.  Founder of Millennial Branding, Dan Schawbel, wrote for Time Magazine online about the findings. Here’s what he found on Millennial underemployment:

They are graduating into poor-paying retail jobs. Our study found that over 63% of Gen Y workers have a bachelor’s degree, but the most commonly reported jobs for Gen Y don’t necessarily require a college degree. What’s ironic is that in order to compete for professional jobs in this economy, a B.A. is usually required, yet when everyone has one, it’s hard to stand out.

Further, Millennials have been pegged as less spend-happy and American dream go-lucky than their parents. A house? A car? Simply inconceivable due to price, and, overall, unnecessary. A February Atlantic article reported that Millennials have less debt than their parents, in part due to the decline in home and car ownership.

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And perhaps Millennials themselves are simply less interested in attaining these two staples of the American Dream. Another Atlantic article suggests that the Millennial interest in sharing and the interconnectivity generated by social media may be indicative of a generational shift away from their parent’s ideals.

Read more about one example of this trend by fellow writer Amanda Morris.

So, what’s the outlook for Millennials? There are messages from both sides of the spectrum: don’t give up hope versus don’t maintain high expectations.

A recent Forbes article suggested that the recent slight decline in unemployment levels may be indicative of the cyclic nature of economics. For example, the 1970s depression sparked prognoses of doom, but the economy picked back up quickly thereafter. The writer offers hope that Millennials who save for retirement can beat the gloomy predictions if they manage their money better than their parents.

On the other hand, a report published on the Urban Institute in 1997 predicted that this generation will not achieve a higher economic ranking than their parents due to a decrease in intergenerational mobility. Based on the opportunities and economic growth of a society, the author concluded that the economic decline is the key detractor from Millennials’ potential, and explains why Millennials have a lesser income than their parents at the same age.

Finally, a fellow Millennial offered her insight into the current Millennial attitude and outlook at the New York Times online. She said that unlike our grandparents’ experience in the Great Depression, Millennials are not as interested in saving to get by as much as in the question raised by the 99%. Why is only 1% of the country experiencing growth and success far above everyone else?

So where do you stand on the debate? Do Millennials have a hopeful future despite increased unemployment and underemployment?

If you aren’t  interested in the idealized American dream of your parents, what does the American Dream mean to you?


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