Petri: The millennials -- underemployed and overlooked
The State of the Union may be improving. But the state of the millennials is still pretty dire.
I know that we are noted, as a generation, for our ability to complain. We complain on Twitter, via text, in person, on Tumblr. We are Generation Always Says We'll Quit Facebook But Still Hasn't. We are squeaky wheels.
But we could stand a little grease about now, and none is forthcoming. This is a problem.
Millennials are grotesquely underemployed. We waded bravely into the workforce waving extremely expensive sheets of paper that turned out to be almost meaningless. Nearly half of college graduates have jobs that don't require four-year degrees. And those are the ones who are working.
The rest of us still paid too much money for educations at universities that did nothing much to improve our critical-thinking skills. As of last month, 13.1 percent of millennials were unemployed, according to Generation Opportunity. And that doesn't take into account the 1.7 million who have stopped looking for work.
Even our optimism is flagging. We are stressed: 52 percent of us reported being kept awake with stress in the past month, according to USA Today. Nineteen percent have been diagnosed with depression, more than any prior generation (which might reflect more awareness of mental-health issues but still is not pleasant).
We are stressed about work (76 percent of those stressed), money (73 percent) and relationships (59 percent). We are no longer fun to be around because we spend the entire time staring gloomily into our Pabst Blue Ribbons and muttering about how much we identify with Florence and the Machine lyrics.
We need Barack Obama to be there for us. We were there for him. Who do you think got him elected? A lot of us volunteered for Obama, and he didn't even mention us in his State of the Union address. We are the ones who received all those creepy fundraising emails. But we are hurting.
We used to think the world would be our oyster. Now the world just looks like our parents' basement.
And we were so good! We never messed around. We never embraced 1970s fashion. We never burned draft cards or bras or -- anything but CDs of illegally downloaded music, really. We had nothing remotely like Woodstock. We were trained by our loving helicopter parents to supply correct answers on any standardized test we were handed, to speak in complete sentences and to maintain a firm grip on our social media presences. But the past few years have been a test of a totally nonstandard kind. What do we do now? And what has our hard work gotten us? A lot of student loan debt. Stress. And -- that's about it. Not jobs. (I write this as someone with job-market survivor's guilt, but then I have a job in the newspaper industry, which means that 10 years from now I am certain to be unemployed.)
In his last State of the Union speech, the president suggested the need to control the cost of college and deal with the more than $1 trillion of student loan debt Americans had amassed. But it's not just student loans. Yeah, staying on our parents' health insurance was nice, but what happens next? Hitting the snooze button on these bills won't fix the larger problem of what we are going to do with ourselves. The fact that we can't afford to pay them back is now a symptom of the problem, not the problem.
We have no idea how to handle this. We have tried listening to music. But Beyoncé is not as reassuring as we would like.
We understand one's 20s are never easy. They are the point when all your confident "whens" start melting into "ifs." Sure, it's the economy. But for how much longer? We were expecting more options than to be depressed because we do not have jobs or depressed because all our friends are getting married.
We should have known that Hope was the most dangerous thing in Pandora's box.
Although our voting levels barely decreased from 2008, The Cool Election Where We Knew Everyone Running, about half of millennials did not vote in November. Thirty-one percent said before Election Day that it did not matter who won because none of the candidates represented their interests. No one is looking out for us.
The president has taken on a lot of causes that are important and well and good. But there's one group that Obama needs to stop ignoring: us. Yes, we care about today's children. But what about our futures? If Obama really believes, as he said in his inaugural address, that "we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future," then he needs to speak to us. We could use the reassurance.
Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog at washingtonpost.com/blogs/ComPost.