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Why can't the selfie generation find jobs?

By BBC News
Washington, DC

image copyrightLarry Busacca
image captionSeth J Carr writes that millennials are unjustifiably labelled as "selfie-posting, social media-crazed underachievers"

On Friday the US Labor Department released the latest national employment figures. The report had good news for many - overall unemployment remained at 6.7% - but continued to paint a dreary picture for the crop of 20-somethings now entering the job market.

The unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-olds was 12.2%, while 16- to 24-year-olds came in at 14.5%.

But are these younger Americans - "millennials" or "Generation Y" - to blame for their joblessness? Is there something about this generation of Americans that is making it harder for them to enter the workforce, or is the economic deck stacked against them?

Millennials get a bad reputation as "selfie-posting, social media-crazed underachievers," writes Seth J Carr in the Chicago Tribune. Despite the selfies, millennials have valid reasons for their lack of employment.

If you're not part of Gen Y, you didn't grow up with the highest student debt in history in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Maybe that's why so many millennials are living in their parents' basements, unemployed or underemployed.

Many millennials are not unemployed by choice, writes Tim Donovan for Salon. There is a large demographic of "young, undereducated, poor and, all too often, minorities" that are unable to find work.

Rachel Lu, a philosophy professor at the University of St Thomas, writes in the Federalist that millennials have been told by their baby boomer parents to chase their dreams and raised to take advantages of opportunities for self-improvement instead of "putting down roots".

"The emphasis for today's new adults has always been on self-perfection," she says. "Obligations to others were supposed to slide gracefully into the picture at some later date."

Lu says it's incorrect to blame millennials wholly for their situation. The current sluggish economy is not of their making.

Walter Russell Mead, writing in his blog for the American Interest, says millennials will have to learn to adjust. They "think they can sit idly until the government or the economy offer them a nine-to-five office job," he says.

"This is not how the world works today. The turmoil of the new information and service economy means that millennials will have to be their own job creators if they want to work."

That's likely a good thing, since a large number of millennials have an uphill climb to land work in a stable office job. A study by the employment and recruiting company Adecco found that hiring managers are three times less likely to hire a millennial than a mature worker because they see older workers as more "reliable" and "professional".

Many young adults are choosing to venture into entrepreneurship, such as independently creating software for mobile devices, because they find having a meaningful job is better than accepting an unsatisfying job. This isn't a sign of laziness, writes Zachary Karabell for the Atlantic, but rather is "evidence of a generation of college graduates determined not to settle, which bodes well for our future".

Others call 20-somethings unrealistic in their desires to run their own businesses and wait for the perfect job. Millennials need to embrace the traditional office workplace, writes Jewelyn Cosgrove for Policy Mic:

Many of us aren't accustomed to the same kind of work that Gen X has been doing for years. Over half of millennials would like to start their own business, and many have relied heavily on freelancing to make ends meet during the down economy. Millennials, myself included, are often quick to forget the value of more traditional skills in the workplace, skills which are just as useful as our well-honed career survival instincts.

Although Cosgrove thinks that millennials may be ill-prepared for today's economy, she hasn't lost all faith: "We are frustrated, downtrodden, and maligned by the media, but we are ever hopeful."

(By Hannah Sieff)

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  • US economy
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