Where have all the young ones gone?
Now more than ever, young Americans are faced with the tumultuous task of finding their place in this world. That’s not to assume things were easier when Generation X (1962-1981), or the Baby Boomers (1946-1961) were young. During their formative days, America was fighting different wars. There was the Cold War and the civil rights movement, Reaganomics, Kuwait and the FannieMae—all things we, Generations Y’s (1982-2000) weren’t around for, or for which we where too young to realize the implications.
We were raised with technological advancements like dial-up AOL and the iPod, but also the twin towers and terrorism, and Obamacare and SallieMae. Most of Generation Y is all grown up now. Some of us are getting married and starting families, but most are still trying to start our careers and gain financial independence.
I graduated from college in North Carolina with a degree in creative writing in 2010. I knew it was going to be tough finding a job with a liberal arts degree in the depths of a recession, so I looked abroad the semester before I graduated. I landed a teaching job in South Korea and I was to leave that October.
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I was actually swimming in the deep-end of the proverbial pool of my peers, most of who were drowning in American debt and joblessness. And I must say that year in Korea was one of the best years of my life. I met people from all around the world, and I worked with children. I made enough money to pay SallieMae outrageous student loan bills every month, and I even saved enough to travel once my contract was completed.
It wasn’t until I returned home that I realized how good of a job I had had in Korea. When I came back I couldn’t find decent employment, despite my education and work history. Some said I should go back to school, and some said I should go back to Asia. Despite all the advice, I was sure I could make my living in New Hampshire as a young adult. It hit me hardest when I was living in the basement of my parent’s house, working at a laundromat with no benefits, earning minimum wage. I applied for a job at the local bar and even they had a list of applicants ahead of me, waiting for a chance at a bar shift. So, I left again — this time for California and then Central America to teach.
I came back to New Hampshire this past year looking to settle down after years of traveling for work. Sadly, it seems that my employment potential has deteriorated in the eyes of employers over the past few years. Where I have experience on an international level with travel writing and teaching, I lack the years of foundation my competitors have when trying to break into new fields. I find myself stuck during interviews as either under-experienced for some jobs, or completely over-qualified for others. When trying to stay ahead of the curve during a recession, I can’t help but think that I’ve taken myself out of the pool. Living out of a backpack while traveling, I’ve had some pretty low-end jobs in some extremely poor countries, but at least I was learning a foreign language and experiencing new cultures. I’d live in the basement of my parents’ house for my whole life if I had to pay my student loans while earning anything close to minimum wage here in the states — not to mention rent, car insurance, healthcare, or groceries.
The factors are heavily stacked against Generation Y, and to our own undoing. We need affordable higher education, childcare, healthcare, and mortgages to grow families. For the Millennials (2000-present), we need high school classes that will teach them how to file a FAFSA and college application, so they don’t fall into the same mishaps as so many in Generation Y. We need small businesses with incentives to take on a younger workforce. We need young people to want to live here in New Hampshire, not fear economic depravities and financial shortcomings.
We need room to advance in our companies here in the New Hampshire so that we not only survive, but also have the potential to make a little nest egg for our future children. Undoubtedly there is the expectation of even more inflation and higher premiums and tuition fees for future generations, as well.
I feel my hand is forced when I say that I am looking to leave New Hampshire again. It’s hardest for the families, to see their children forced to relocate in order to find gainful employment in an ever-changing economy. Previous generations are working longer, keeping space in the work force from young adults, while trying to support their young adult children through hard times, all the while more and more jobs are shipped overseas to lower corporate expenses and taxation. But to what avail? In what shape will we leave the homeland for the future generations to come?
It’s my sense of adventure and promise for employment that keeps me looking for jobs abroad. I’m lucky to actually enjoy travel, and blazing my own trails in the unknown. It seems to me most Americans are distraught and feel stuck, while I’m still thrilled by the idea of managing a youth hostel in Guatemala, or pearl farming off the coast of Northern Australia. Traveling is my passion and I love it, but I can’t see doing it forever. To what will I return when I decide to live in New Hampshire for good.
Patrick Mallory lives in Peterborough.