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Down economy means altered dreams for Millennials

Tuesday - 8/16/2011, 3:55pm  ET

Meera Pal,

WASHINGTON - Entering her third year of college, Kelly Young has watched as friends who graduated several years ago continue to look for employment.

Watching their difficulty and seeing the U.S. economy continue to worsen, Young, 20, has begun to consider delaying her entry into the troubled job market to instead attend graduate school.

"Watching my friends struggle to find jobs and get their lives started after college has certainly made me anxious as to what will really happen when I get my bachelor's degree," the University of California at Irvine student tells WTOP.

"Nobody I have talked to has set forth an optimistic outlook on what the economic situation will be like in two or three years, so that definitely makes me feel like my odds of getting a job right out of college won't be any better."

Young, like an overwhelming majority of her peers, is modifying her dreams for the future given the current economic uncertainty and constraints.


In a recent poll by non-profit Generation Opportunity, 77 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they are delaying major life changes due to a number of economic factors, such as high youth unemployment, the increasing national debt and federal spending.

"We actually see this as part of the untold story of the long-term impact in human terms of the economic downturn in a very, very tight job market," says Paul T. Conway, president of Generation Opportunity and former chief of staff of the U.S. Department of Labor. "We actually think this will play out for many, many years, beyond any point of recovery."


D.C.resident Matt Hittle, 25, finished his undergraduate degree in 2009, "in the depths of the recession."

He says he "left commencement like thousands of other new grads -- jobless."

After applying to dozens of jobs and internships to no avail, Hittle's mentor suggested he take the GRE and enroll in graduate school.

Graduate school allowed him to delay the job hunt and gave him better footing in the job market. He made professional contacts and developed marketable skills. He now works on Capitol Hill.

"Though my grad school education started out as a reaction to having no job, I realize in hindsight that the workload and teaching responsibilities forced me to a level of maturity I wouldn't have developed if I had gone straight into a job," Hittle said.

Conway says while a majority of young adults are frustrated with having to change life plans, they are confident of their own abilities to navigate the landscape.

"There is frustration with what has been presented to them in terms of debt, and economic opportunity," he says. "But they are optimistic in their own potential to make a significant difference in the direction of the country. You're seeing a generation that is used to and expects and demands change."


The survey by Generation Opportunity also found that 54 percent of Millennials believe America is on the wrong track, 56 percent believe the wrong leadership is in Washington and 69 percent say political leaders do not reflect the interests of young Americans.

Julia Druhan, 27, who is in graduate school at Georgetown University for a master's degree in public policy, points to the debt ceiling debate. She says it unnecessarily became a big political circus.

"I'm both overwhelmed by the political banter and the rhetoric that made this into a worse problem then it needed to be, and my annoyance and frustration came from the sort of unwillingness on both parts," she says.

Conway says the views of this generation are significant indicators of the general direction, outlook and overall mood of the American public.


While a majority of Millennials are feeling frustrated at having to put off major life decisions like marriage, investing and home buying, some are actually using the dip in national home prices and low interest rates to enter the housing market.

John Higgins is one of those individuals. Higgins, 27, originally from Baltimore, purchased a house in Fort Mills, S.C. about two years ago.

"The market had started its decline so deals were good," he says. "Eventually, I was able to strike a good enough deal to pull the trigger."

"Right now things have continued on the downward slope, but I got in on the downward slope."

Higgins also recently got married, which he says was a good thing for him and his wife economically.

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