The Story of a Generation: We Are the Unhireables

48% of working college graduates are underemployed.

We are the Unhireables. We went to college. We got good grades. We stayed out of trouble. We interned. We applied. We interviewed. We did everything we were supposed to do. And no one hired us.

This is the story of a generation. My generation. We’re in our 20s and early 30s. They call us the Millennials. But lately it seems a more accurate name would be the Unhireables.

The previous generation didn’t have this problem. In the 1990s, unemployment was low. The job market was strong. Now, I hear people my age say things like, “What job market?”

In 2000, the United States had the lowest unemployment rate for 25-to-34-year-olds in the industrialized world. Now, we have one of the highest rates.

Last month marked the 53rd month in a row that the unemployment rate was in double digits for 18-to-29-year-olds. It fell from 11.7 percent to 11.1 percent, but mostly for the wrong reasons.

The unemployment numbers don’t tell the real story. They don’t count someone as “unemployed” if they’ve stopped looking for a job — for example, out of frustration after too many failed attempts — and that eliminates a lot of unemployed Americans who desperately need a job. Fewer people are job-hunting today than they were a couple years ago, and we can’t blame it on the aging Baby Boomers because they’re actually trying to work more to make up for the savings they lost during the recession.

Here’s a more relevant statistic: Before the recession, over 63 percent of the American population had a job. During the recession, it plummeted below 59 percent, and it’s flatlined ever since. In the last four years, the economy has grown, but the job market has stayed exactly the same.

For the unemployed, there has been no recovery. The recession never ended. It has lasted six years — and counting!

There is no parallel for this in postwar history. My generation is alone in this experience. No other living generation has graduated into a job market that has been so bad for so long.

I’ve heard it said that it’s all a matter of education. College graduates have a lower unemployment rate than the less educated, so isn’t the real problem a lack of skills, not a lack of jobs?

If you’re asking this question, then you haven’t talked to many young college graduates. Over half of bachelor’s degree-holders under 25 are unemployed or underemployed — meaning they’re working part-time when they want to work full-time. Half of all employed college graduates are working in jobs that don’t require a college degree, and over a third of them are working in jobs that only require a high school diploma.

Even graduate school isn’t the meal ticket it used to be. Only about half of all law school graduates are working in full-time legal jobs.

And the longer they stay unemployed, the less likely they are to get a good job. More job openings tend to bring down the unemployment rate, but not the long-term unemployment rate. In fact, one recent experiment found that the long-term unemployed got fewer callbacks from potential employers even if they had far superior qualifications than the other job candidates. As Paul Krugman recently put it, we are “creating a permanent class of jobless Americans.”

But it’s worse than that: We are creating a permanent generation of jobless Americans — a generation whose earning potential will always be stunted by the bad luck they had of graduating at the wrong time, a time when their nation abandoned them, ignored their plight, pretended they didn’t exist, blamed them for a crisis that they didn’t cause.

It must have been nice to live in an economy where people were rewarded for sacrificing and studying and working hard. But that was before our time. And so, we press on: searching, stressing, toiling, waiting. This is our burden. This is our story. We are the Unhireables.


This op-ed was published in today’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel.