At Work & Economics 101 & Public Square & Theology 101

The Summer of Discontent: the Millennial Generation’s Search for Meaningful Work

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With due respect to Shakespeare and John Steinbeck, for millennials, the “winter of our discontent” has continued into summer. At least, that’s the impression one gets after reading the latest jobs report released last Friday.

The pace of job growth has slowed, ABC News and other sources report, and that doesn’t bode well for the already discouraging job prospects of many young adults.

  • Gallup recently reported that fewer young adults aged eighteen to twenty-nine are holding full-time jobs – 43.6% as of June 2013, compared to 47% in June 2012.
  • Generation Opportunity, a non-profit organization focused on political and economic issues pertinent to young adults, found in its most recent Millennial Jobs Report that the unemployment rate for this same age group was 16.1% in July 2013.
  • David Leonhardt, Washington Bureau Chief for the New York Times, reported in May that the United States has one of the highest shares of unemployed young adults, with 26.6% of adults between ages twenty-five and thirty-four being unemployed. Leonhardt found that according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, this percentage is higher than in other larger, wealthy economies, including those of France, Britain, Germany, Japan, and Canada.
  • According to the Mercatus Center and one of its recent reports on the economy’s recovery, only ten percent of young adults between the ages of twenty and twenty-four are in the labor force.

In short, it is, as Generation Opportunity’s president told ABC News in April, “a rough time to be a young person in America.”

One writer navigating this tough economic environment is Tyler Castle, who recently chronicled the current status of his job-search experience after graduating from college in May. In fact, his article, My Success Story: What I Learned from Jesus and John Wooden, was published the same day the July jobs report was released.

Castle writes,

I am a 23-year-old college graduate. Am I quickly making a name for myself in the political world? Playing professional sports? Or rapidly climbing the corporate ladder? No. I’m serving tables at a restaurant while I search for a job. In a society that compulsively obsesses over achievement and success, it is easy to become discouraged. At times I feel like a failure. Is this really what years of education gets me? Many other recent college graduates are in similar situations. Some are working in mindless entry-level jobs. Some find themselves in one unpaid internship after another. And even worse, others are back living in their parents’ basements.

Castle also shares candidly about the effect this is having on his generation:

As a result, those of us who are not “successful” right out of college can easily become depressed and vocationally debilitated—in D.C. and other large cities, particularly, some just give up and head home. Is this simply a reality of life? Are we destined to lead unsatisfying vocational lives?

Yet there is reason for hope. Taking inspiration from Scripture, John Wooden, and Hugh Whelchel’s book, How then Should We Work?, Castle shares the biblical view of success that is shaping how he views his experience looking for meaningful employment:

  • Society tells everyone they can be whatever they want if they just work hard enough; in fact, they can be the best! These are lies, and unhelpful, especially when discerning one’s vocation and trying to find work.
  • A more healthy, realistic, and challenging view of work takes its cue from the parable of the talents and other Scripture passages teaching us that God gives each of us unique skills, gifts, and opportunities that we are to develop and use for his glory.

While society at large may see Castle and others in his situation as failures, these thoughts have helped him see his situation differently. Castle explains,

…the fact that I am not hugely successful a year out of college should not be too disheartening. For those in situations like mine, don’t lose hope because society says you are a failure. Continue to work hard as you strive to glorify God and make a return on his investment, however meager it may seem. Because in his eyes, your effort and motives are what matter most.

While July’s jobs report may not hold a lot of encouragement for millennials looking for work, Castle’s experience and biblical truth he shares might provide some helpful guidance along the way.

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  • Francisco

    Greg,
    I wonder if young people are experiencing a collision of generations. The “formal economy” of nationalized metrics vs. the “informal economy” of niche’ markets and broad sweeping innovation.

    For me, I work a very healthy job in an area that I am passionate about, but the environment which I must work in limits me on multiple levels.

    From a personal perspective and being a few short years ahead of millenials I understand the frustrations of trying to “work” in a highly suffocating environment where work is defined by only a set number of criteria due either to limiting regulations that prohibit lemonade stands or the intense pressure to conform to the status quo in order to avoid potential liabilities.

    As it is our God-given desire to produce something of value, perhaps we have a bifurcated view of value creation that discourages productivity because of environmental (as in the market environment) constraints.

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