At one point in your life you may have felt pressure from your parents or grandparents to find a good paying job and stick with it, because that is what they chose to do. However, it’s likely that the events of their lives haven’t transpired exactly the way that yours has.
Maybe you’ve graduated college or you’re thinking about going to college and maybe your parents didn’t. Many of them had the opportunity to enter the workforce with little to no experience and were able to make a career from it, which is fantastic! We’d love to be able to do the same thing, but careers just look different for the average millennial these days. Before we ever enter the workforce we’re working out exactly how to manage debt from college, building up a resume that employers want to see, and are trying to find a career that is fulfilling and engaging. Can we do it all?
Is It Worth It to Get a Degree Anymore?
College costs have more than doubled since 1980, but somehow wages haven’t increased much for graduates. The average young adult salary for a bachelor’s degree earner in 1965 was about $38,000. The average millennial salary now, is about $45,000, just seven thousand dollars more. In addition, $38,000 went much farther in 1965. One source calculated that a $45,000 salary in 1965 would have the purchasing power of about $350,000 today.
There’s no disputing that salaries haven’t changed nearly enough to fit our modern economy and that’s really frustrating for millennial students. They may have seen their peers struggle to find a good paying job right away and become buried in debt without a way to pay it off. Yes, going to college can seem like a risk for young students, especially because our job market is much more saturated with graduates than our parent’s or grandparent’s ever was.
On the other hand, a high school graduate can only expect to earn about $28,000 annually. Presently, the choices are to try and live off of $28,000 per year or possibly earn $17,000 more annually and manage to pay off your student loans, which can seem overwhelming. However, that extra $17,000 per year is a big deal. That’s the difference between $15/hr and $23/hr. The choice is pretty clear.
Another thing to keep in mind, these salary estimates are for young employees 25-32. This isn’t an estimate of what a person could make over their lifetime. Studies show that high school graduates can expect to earn about $1.2 million over their lifetime, while a bachelor’s degree earner will pull in around $2.1 million — nearly double the amount of pay.
So, it seems that the issue lying with millennial graduates is finding a good paying job quickly, not necessarily earning more money over their lifetimes. Sadly, there isn’t a guaranteed fix for this right now. Yes, it may be a risk short term to invest in your education, but the long term earning potential is unparalleled.
Does a Traditional Career Path Still Exist?
You may know individuals in your family that have managed to work for one company for most of their lives and you may or may not wish to go down this path yourself, but there are some things you’ll need to know about the workforce today before you stay with a job you don’t like.
To start, you’ll need to work hard (not just taking classes) during college to bulk up your resume. Sadly, landing your dream job right out of college might not be possible even if you have a degree. Employers these days are not only looking for degrees, but also experience — experience that is hard to get while you’re investing in your education. Many millennials are frustrated with this fact and feel that their college didn’t prepare them for this reality before they graduated. However, studies show that Gen Z (those born after 1995) understand this fact and have reported trying to gain this working experience while in college. Research shows that millennials are more likely to stick to computer searches for their dream job, instead of trying to find job placement through their college career center.
First things first: if you’re working on a degree currently, it’s smart to also work with your career center to try and land an internship or part-time job that aligns with your post-college career goals. Any experience when you graduate is better than no experience.
After college, many millennials report switching jobs often, unlike previous generations. This is due to several aspects of the modern career path. Millennials want job engagement. Surprisingly enough, their need for engagement surpasses their need for a larger salary (although many young folks would also say they feel underpaid). It seems that young career people would like to stay at a job like their parents, but they don’t feel valued at their current workplace. They feel expendable and don’t see a way to grow within many companies.
In addition, millennials that want to switch jobs often feel unqualified to search for a new, more lucrative job. As such, many millennials gain experience through several different jobs before applying to the one they’ve had their eye on all along. Again, it’s this sense of bulking up your resume before you can be considered for a long term position. So, don’t feel bad if you work several jobs in your twenties and thirties. It’s important to see every job opportunity as experience gained, and not time wasted.
Of course, there will always be exceptions to these cases. Yet, the data shows that millennials are doing their best to live the American dream. We want to make enough income to live a comfortable life, we see the value in education, and would love to work a gratifying job for most of our lives, but things have changed for us and this isn’t always achievable for us. The point is, millennials are still finding their place in the workforce. Our career path might not be traditional, but we’re determined to find that balance of job satisfaction, fair wages, and career growth — it just might look a little bit different than our parents.
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