When I graduated college last May, I had a lot to be proud of. As the first person in my immediate family to graduate from college, I not only graduated Cum Laude, but with two degrees. I made a few films, including a documentary about the Natives who lived in the town I grew up in, a mixed-media animated art installation, I contributed to a projection mapping event, and had my work shown in a few galleries. I wrote stories, poems, and screenplays. I lead a group of honor students as President of my transfer honor society, wrote blog posts about really important things such as CCD and helping people learn how to reduce their carbon footprint. These blog posts convinced eight of my friends to try menstrual cups, about twenty of my friends to get rid of their chemical shampoos and try the no-poo method, and way more than twenty of my friends to switch to a natural deodorant. Even now, after posting some of those articles about a year or two ago, I still get texts or snaps from people telling me that I inspired them to try something new and make a positive change in their lives. I had a lot to be proud of.
Since January, I had been applying to jobs nonstop betwixt shooting and editing my senior thesis documentary, learning about globalization through literature, and freaking out about graduation. Despite a few responses from people who said they needed me to start the next week or that I could contact them once I moved to LA (which was the only thing I knew I was definitely going to do post-grad), I heard back from almost no one. I went to the Career Center and they helped me perfect my resume. I constantly updated my LinkedIn profile to no avail. By the time it hit August, after moving all of my stuff to Los Angeles, I had applied to about one hundred and fifty jobs – maybe more. I had written about a hundred unique cover letters for each position I applied for. I heard back from maybe five or six of those applications. So, that’s about a 3.3% response rate. This does not include any interviews or anything like that (because sometimes, I would have an interview and not receive a response either). This 3.3% response rate is just that – the amount of people who have responded to my job applications.
Now, the job search is scary for everyone, such as a recently unemployed person, or someone who is looking to find a better job. However, it is exceptionally terrifying for recent college graduates from the Class of 2014 and the Class of 2015. Studies show that 50% of these college graduates in the United States are unemployed after they graduate, no matter where they went to college or what their race or gender or their sexual orientation (although it is of course, harder for social minorities to find a job).
More people in the U.S. have college degrees than ever before, especially women, despite the dramatic increase in tuition costs compared to the time when, let’s say, our parents were the age we are now. Although it’s fantastic that we’re geared towards a more educated society, this means that there are less jobs for those with these degrees. There are less jobs for, well, everyone. We’re in the middle of an economic crisis which is forcing recent college graduates, who most likely expected to have a better life than their parents, to move back in with them, live off their health insurance, eat their food, or to try and live somewhere else, but still with support from their parents. The quality of life, despite the advances in technology, has dwindled since our parents’ time.
Let’s take my parents, for example. My parents decided to go a less traditional route compared to their college-bound peers when they were in their twenties. My father, the son of tool-making business owners and brother to three other siblings, decided to learn the trade from his father, take a few classes to excel at his chosen career path, and continued on to make a comfortable amount of money with his blue collar job, built his own house, fixed his own cars, and managed to have and support two children.
My mother decided to go a riskier route by attending art school and although she’s extremely talented at oil painting, interior painting, and faux finishing (her specialties), as an artist, she had to work and continues to work freelance with the support of her husband.
My father was part of a union. He was promised retirement, he worked decent hours (for the most part), he was provided health insurance, dental insurance – the whole shebang. Although his career is perhaps less glamorous than one would hope, his job created stability and benefits that gave him the opportunity to raise a family and do a bunch of other cool adult things. Despite all of this, I was taught that this wasn’t enough – that college was the way to go – that I would make more money than they would (as long as I wouldn’t become an artist according to my mother) and that as soon as I graduated, a beautiful unicorn job would descend down upon me and rid me of my monetary worries for the rest of my short little life. It kinda sucks that they were wrong.
In combination of the stock market crash of 2008, the Iraq War that makes barely any sense, the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs, and let’s just throw in the prison industrial complex (because it really sucks), our once booming economy has plummeted.
Although it isn’t talked about in the media, people my age who have just graduated from college are struggling. We’re struggling to pay rent, struggling to pay for food, and struggling to pay off our insanely high student loan debt with its insanely high interest rate. There aren’t many jobs and the jobs that are around are highly competitive and/or still pay about $15/hr which is barely enough to live off of in most cities in the United States.
On top of that, benefits are mostly nonexistent with most entry-level jobs nowadays. I’ve seen jobs labeled as “entry-level” but require 5+ years of experience and a Bachelor’s Degree. Some of these jobs are secretary jobs…yes, really. To answer phones, you must purchase a $160,000 degree first and yes, you will make minimum wage – but maybe get health insurance if you’re lucky. There are job sites that require a paid membership to apply. There are internships that pay $50 a week, $300 a month, and hire recent graduates for these positions, which is definitely illegal.
Older generations laugh at the millennial generation for being “lazier” than other generations, for not being able to pay off college. I don’t know which lazy people they are talking about. We’re working hard just to pay rent, we buy most of our clothes at thrift stores, we’re applying for student loan deferment, and some of us are applying for food stamps straight out of college.
However, the silver lining of all of this is that not only are recent post-grads more frugal with their money than ever before, we’re finding creative ways to make money, work freelance, or start our own businesses. We’re living in the age of information in a technology-obsessed world which we grew up with as it progressed. We’re more involved in politics, activism, and trends than ever before. We can learn the truth about something in a matter of seconds from a mini computer that rarely leaves our hands along with countless sources that back up our research.
For now, I found a part-time job akin to the jobs I held in high school, paying even less than I made then. Don’t feel bad about your situation, friends, because you’re not the only one. Don’t feel bad if you still can’t find a job, if you need to apply for food stamps, if you need to take a demeaning job as a cocktail waitress, if you’re still living with your parents, or if it seems like all of your friends are way more successful than you. It’s not you. It’s not me. It’s the system and it’s the economy. Keep trying your hardest to reach your goals and try not to lose motivation until you reach them. Stay busy. Volunteer. Do something besides applying to a bajillion jobs because it’s better than nothing and it’s sure as hell better than blaming yourself.
What does this mean for today’s recent college graduates? In the age of information, has the value of a college degree decreased? Do you have a college degree or are you planning to get one? Are you afraid of life after graduation? Do you think things will get better? Tell me in the comments below.