YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Recession is a dose of reality for young workers

Many had been raised to believe they could do anything. Now as they lose their first or second jobs because of the recession, their high expectations are being dashed.

March 21, 2009|Associated Press

NEW YORK — Molly Stach thought she was doing everything right until she got laid off from her public relations job in December. Since then, the 26-year-old has been struggling with self-doubt.

"Why don't they want to hire me?" she asked of the companies not responding to the resumes she sends out each week. "I went through four years of college, graduated. You get praised while you are working and then all of a sudden you are not employable."

For twentysomethings who are losing their first or second jobs because of the recession, the economic downturn has been an especially bitter pill. Many of them had been raised to believe that they can do anything and be anything, and are finding their high expectations dashed.

"Many were raised to believe that the world was their oyster," said Alexandra Robbins, author of "Conquering Your Quarterlife Crisis." "And in this kind of economy, that's just not the case."

The national unemployment rate for people ages 20 to 24 was 12.9% in February, up from 9% a year ago and higher than the overall unemployment rate of 8.1%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For those ages 25 to 29, the rate -- not seasonally adjusted -- was 10.6%.

Getting laid off is a humbling experience for members of Generation Y, many of whom have never experienced financial hardship or big disappointment, said Nancy Molitor, a clinical psychologist in Wilmette, Ill. She said many of her young adult patients feel depressed, devastated and uneasy about their future.

"A lot of these kids grew up thinking they were going to be able to have it all," she said. "They feel frozen just when they should feel excited and hopeful about the future."

Although twentysomethings don't generally have the financial responsibilities that many older workers do -- such as paying the mortgage and raising children -- getting laid off is still stressful and hard to deal with because they are still trying to figure out what to do with their lives and are "ardent about doing something meaningful for a living," Robbins said.

Craig Hengel, 27, of St. Cloud, Minn., was surprised to be let go from his job at a printing company.

"Losing my job is something I never thought about because I am educated, very hard-working . . . and have never had to deal with something like this," he said. "I don't really know what to do next and I'm not finding much answers."

In previous recessions, companies tended to let go of more senior workers because of their higher salaries, said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. But younger workers are faring worse this time around as employers hold on to the employees who have more knowledge, experience and better work habits, he said.

Also, a growing number of workers older than 60 have been returning to the workforce and capturing jobs that would have gone to young adults, he added.

Brianna D'Amico, 23, was the first to go at a Washington, D.C., high-end retail group where she landed a job. She had been there six months when the company restructured; everyone else had five or more years of experience.

"It really hurts to lose a job that you really like, that you were good at, that you were praised for being good at," said D'Amico, who is collecting unemployment. "For a while I felt so embarrassed I was laid off."

In some ways, growing up in a time of plenty has made it harder for twentysomethings to adjust because they have to learn new skills, such as budgeting, living frugally and staying out of debt, said Dr. Judith Orloff, author of "Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life."

Still, she added, many have a youthful outlook that there's plenty of time to fix things and get back on track.

Some are hitting up the Bank of Mom and Dad, who themselves are experiencing financial struggles. Others are looking at the situation as an opportunity.

Hengel has taken an unpaid internship in music PR while he searches for another job. He is also moving closer to the Twin Cities, where there are more career opportunities.

Darnell Holloway, 24, who was let go from an investment bank in San Francisco, is considering graduate school. He's already started studying for the GMAT.

Stach, of Wakefield, R.I., is using her free time to blog. And D'Amico has rented four seasons of her favorite melodrama, "The O.C." She also spends hours looking for jobs and hits the gym five times a week.

"I know something will come for me, something good is around the corner," she said. "Until then, I'm taking suggestions."

Los Angeles Times Articles