Financial Struggles

MARIETTA – The millennial generation – the 18 to 33-year-olds – faces a financial battle that experts say might leave them as the first generation to be worse off than their parents.

The baby boom echo, the surge of children born to the baby boomers of the post-World War II period, resulted in almost 80 million people at the forefront of the U.S. economy.

Pew Research Center reported that because today’s young adult generation came of age in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the group is on an uphill climb to establish themselves financially, resulting in more living with their parents, piled up debt, unemployment and money woes.

Katy Gee, a 2012 graduate of Warren High School, has faced the struggle head on, and is currently in the process of fighting to get out of it.

Gee, 20, put nursing school on hold and decided instead to look for a full-time job to save money, and was eventually hired at MicroImage Inc., where she worked with doctors and hospitals to image official documents.

“We ran out of people to work with, and I realized I was going to be unemployed,” she said.

That was months ago. After that, Gee moved back home to live with her parents and began the hunt again, a process she said was long and at most times disappointing.

“I looked for months, put in 20-some applications, and only got one interview after working so hard,” she said.

Gee said she got on the computer every single day and applied for dozens of jobs on websites like indeed.com, all with no luck.

Regardless, Gee, who was raised in a supportive family and now has a child of her own, always kept the mentality of never giving up.

“It’s important to me to be independent. I want my child to know that you need to be able to do things without asking others for help all the time,” she said. “That’s how my grandmother taught my mother, and that’s how she taught me.”

Gee credits her own ambition and Washington-Morgan Community Action for the success she has today, as the organization has worked with her on resume, job-training and interview skills, including giving her part-time work in its offices as part of the Workforce Investment Act.

After months of searching, Gee recently started work full-time as a title clerk and receptionist at Summers Buick GMC in Marietta.

“It’s never really how I pictured my life to be, but I’ve learned to love it,” she said.

The unemployment rate for the bulk of the generation, 18- to 29-year-olds, is currently at 11.4 percent, not including an estimated 1.95 million in that generation that have given up looking for employment, according to Generation Opportunity, a nonpartisan political organization that supports the force of the youth generation.

Nationally, unemployment is at 13 percent.

Nicole Kuhn, assistant director of admissions at Washington State Community College, said young adults are facing heavy competition in the job market.

“What a lot of adults really need is a career in demand, especially in the local economy,” she said. “It’s really important that they’re doing research on jobs before they jump into them.”

Kuhn said these days many who are past the traditional 18- to 22-year-old college mark need more flexibility.

“Whether they already have a family or they have a job but want to do better, they need to have the ability to juggle all of that, and it can be really tough,” she said.

According to Pew Research, 36 percent – or 21.6 million – of adults ages 18-31 were living with their parents in 2012, the highest amount in four decades and four percent higher than when the Great Recession hit in 2007.

“When I was going to school, I was commuting to save money because I could, and now that I have graduated and have a teaching job, I choose to continue to live at home because it cuts costs,” said Lynette Stengel, a third grade teacher at Salem-Liberty Elementary School. “I just got my masters degree, and doing this prevents it from all piling up.”

At age 25, Stengel said she is fortunate to have parents that support her in her decision.

“I don’t have any concrete plans for the future, because this is all still new, but I plan on continuing to stay here until I can save more,” she said.

Job services specialists often find that though there are jobs out there for younger people, the high costs of living can keep them from being able to launch as early as they would like to.

“A lot in that age group haven’t been able to find secure employment, or if they do they find themselves at the bottom of the totem poll where they have a job where they’re working 15 hours one week and 35 the next,” said Kathy Lott-Gramkow, employment and training specialist at Washington-Morgan Community Action. “But they’re out on their own and they can’t afford to look for anything else.”

Lott-Gramkow works with anyone coming in that need helps getting work or on their feet, and said though college students are given the chance at a higher income, they still have their own set of problems.

“Instead they come out with heavy financial burdens that they have to face before they can have a car or their own place,” she said.

That burden has a ripple effect, that puts strain on the student first and then out into the economy.

StudentDebtCrisis.Org, a nonprofit dedicated to reform in the student loan system, reported in January that student loan debt in the U.S. had reached $1.2 trillion, and as a result, 40 million of those Americans in debt are not buying cars or houses.

“Now there’s a question about the value of an education with the rising costs of tuition and job prospects that are not as rosy as they used to be,” said Marietta College economics professor Greg Delemeester. “The recession has this generation in a tough place, and it’s taken time to recover.”

Delemeester said in the 1970s, the cost to put children through school consumed about 10 percent of a family’s income, whereas now it consumes almost 25 percent.

“Now, people are trying to save costs and families are having the child live at home,” he said.

David Combs, director of adult technical training at Washington County Career Center, said a lot of the time the school’s programs serve adults who are returning after being in the workforce to get more training.

“Maybe they were a business major in college and couldn’t get a job making more than $10 an hour and they realize they need more to get by,” he said.

Combs said the benefit of adult training at the career center is that most programs are fairly condensed, and adults can get in and get out without piling up debt that comes with a college education.

Besides the job market he sees the younger generation’s work ethic as being a road block, he said.

“That ‘stick-to-it-ness’ isn’t there as much, and they’re more laid back when they do become employed,” he said. “We get feedback from employers that they offer overtime and benefits, but the workers would rather have their free time. It’s a bit of a ‘you owe me’ attitude.”

Not to mention that this generation, Combs feels, underestimates the real costs of adulthood, and that moving right out on your own and buying your own car in your mid-20s is not realistic anymore.

“It’s a ‘want it now’ attitude, but they don’t make the connection that you have to make the money to have all that,” he said.

Gee said though her story is a bit unique, she sees the struggle her peers face too, though she said her generation often takes what it has for granted.

“I see a lot of them with a perfect opportunity to get a good job or go to school, but instead they go out and do nothing,” she said. “The saying is ‘good things come to those who wait,’ but I think it should be ‘good things come to those who work their butt off for it.'”