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Don't badmouth the kids; it's tough out there

Look at the statistics; its harder than ever for grads to get into the working world.

By doubleace May 2, 2011 10:19AM

This post comes from Lynn Mucken at MSN Money.


He was, as he proudly proclaimed, 91. Looked 70. And full of opinions as we chatted while sharing the swimming pool.


"Kids today are spoiled," he boomed, referring not to children but to young adults. "They expect everything for nothing."


Respecting my elders -- I am, after all, a relative kid at 65 -- I resisted booming back with "Nonsense!" Economically, life may never have been harder for those entering the real world.  Post continues after video.

In September 1966, my wife and I headed south for my senior year at the University of Oregon. Nancy was five months pregnant and we had $250 between us. We had to find a place to live and pay for tuition and books. Of course, I had no job. But we compensated by having not one bit of concern about our future.


Our parents may have been pessimistic about our chances and those of their future grandchild, but we weren't. Optimism is hard to scrub off the young.


I quickly found a full-time job in a plywood mill. It was hard, dirty work and I came home every night smelling like an air freshener on steroids, but it paid $2 an hour and I could work swing shift and still take a full load of courses.

Soon I landed a cushy gig, monitoring the computer lab at the UO. The government-subsidize​d job for low-income students paid $6 an hour for 15 hours a week. I squeezed that in between classes and the mill.


Less than a month later, a twice-a-week newspaper in a nearby town hired me as a reporter. My predecessor, a single woman with two kids, had been getting $90 a week, but they offered me $95 "because you're a man." I grabbed it and quit the mill.


Yeah, I was working hard -- I don't get credit for the studying; it was either that or get drafted and sent to Vietnam -- but the simple fact was that jobs were easy to come by. I had never worked in a mill, knew nothing about computers, and my journalistic skills were a joke. Yet, I was making $170 a week when the average U.S. household income was $142.


Life is not like that today for most of the college-educated generation just coming of age.


Here are some comparisons between life when I transitioned from college to the working world in the late 1960s, and what the situation is today.


Paying for college.

My parents had seven kids, so I was on my own. During the summers, I worked as a laborer for a real estate agent who had rentals and was building an apartment building. I got $2 an hour for doing the heavy lifting and brainless maintenance. Over the 12 weeks of summer vacation, I brought in about $960.


Tuition and fees were $330 a year, and used books cost about the same. Until I got married, I shared a one-bedroom apartment on the backside of fraternity row -- two single beds and a double with almost room enough to walk around -- with two other guys, each of us paying about $40 a month. With a little work on Christmas and spring vacations, and a $300 student loan each year, I wasn't flush, but I seemed to have enough for the usual expenses: car, dates, beer.

Today, the University of Oregon resident undergraduate tuition is $8,190 a year. If you worked as a barista at Starbucks, you would make $12 to $13 an hour, including tips. A summer's work could bring in $6,240, not even enough to cover tuition, much less books, rent, food and fun. Consequently, today's students -- or at least those without a college fund -- have to go in deep debt with loans. They start their working lives in a hole.   


Finding a job.

When I graduated in 2007, I was offered three reporting jobs: in Roseburg, Ore.; Caldwell, Idaho; and Sarasota, Fla. Bob Woodward I wasn't, but there were lots of small-town papers hiring. Within a year, I was picked up by The (Portland) Oregonian, the largest-circulation newspaper west of Denver and north of Los Angeles.


Things are not like that today. There are still good entry-level jobs in some industries -- not print journalism, of course -- but 1.94 million college graduates under the age of 30 are malemployed, a term coined in the '70s for college graduates who cannot find work that requires a degree, so instead settle for low-skilled jobs.

In 2000, according to data compiled by Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, about 75% of college graduates held a job that required a college degree. Today that's closer to 60%.


Sum said those graduating in June are not likely to see major improvements. About 1.7 million students are projected to graduate this spring with a bachelor's degree and 687,000 with a master's, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

"We are doing a great disservice by not admitting how bad it is for young people (to get a job)," he said.


Buying a home.

In 1970, my wife and I bought our first home. It had three bedrooms, two baths, a one-car garage and a full basement and was on a tree-lined, family-friendly street within an easy walk of parks, school, shopping and transportation. Built in 1913, it also oozed character.


It cost us $15,500, and our initial monthly payment was $164, including insurance and taxes. Our household income was $10,000 (my wife didn't work then).


The house last sold in 2006, for $400,000. values it now at $344,000. To buy that house today, at the same income-to-price ratio we paid, would require a household income of $229,448, or both people earning $115,000 a year. How many couples three years out of college make that kind of money?

These are very bad numbers for the young. Yet, according to a recent Associated Press-Viacom poll of Americans ages 18 to 24, a stunning 90% expect to find careers that will bring them, if not wealth, happiness.


Linka Preus, who is working at an Ithaca, N.Y., bagel bakery, told The Associated Press that every generation has its own struggles, and bad economies eventually improve.


"Even if it never gets better permanently, we'll adjust to whatever it is," said Preus, 22, a linguistics and cognitive science grad from Cornell University who plans to go to graduate school.


"I just don't really see myself being able to obtain the kind of money my parents could when they were my age," said Mark McNally, 23, who earned a history degree from the University of Minnesota a year ago and now works part time in a liquor store. "I'll be able to find (a good job) in the future, I'm sure of it," he said. "I'll find one or go back to school."


Good luck, kids.


More on MSN Money:
May 14, 2011 11:53AM
Geeze, what's with the virulent comments? I thought this post was enlightening. My father always talked about how his grandfather could afford a middle-class lifestyle with house and car for a wife and 6 kids on a brick-layer's salary, but I'd never seen the numbers before. I'm 23 and graduated two years ago with a BS in Biology...a "practical" degree, right? Well, with an honors diploma and solid work history, the best I could find fresh out of college paid $8.40 an hour, 30 hours a week. No insurance, no benefits. My SO was still in school, so that had to feed and house two people for a year. We're in southern Indiana and in good health, so we could make it work, but not for long.

Now I'm back in school trying to get a higher degree that might score me a /real/ job, from which I could start saving money instead of forever hovering with a near-empty bank account. I'm juggling an internship and two part-time jobs while taking classes, hoping against hope that my resume and skill set will be strong enough to edge out the competition by the time I graduate. I don't mind if "some 65 year old" feels sorry for me. It's nice that not everyone is telling me I just need to work harder.
May 2, 2011 5:49PM

Sorry, but I'd rather have a 90 year old call me lazy than have a 65 year old feel sorry for me.


If any boomer wants to feel sorry for anyone in my generation then he should have thought about that some time during the last 40 years and not screwed up the world so badly for us.


We'll be alright just as soon as we can get all these greedy, idiot boomers to just stay home and quit screwing things up.

May 2, 2011 7:26PM

Dude, you sound just as bad as the 90yo but in reverse with your claims that the problems with world are the boomers fault. 


Hope you're busy making the world a better place for everyone.  Hate to think you're being a hypocrite.

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