As my junior year of college comes to a close and I’m forced to take one step closer to the real world, I tend to divert my attention to social media. Show me some pictures of dogs doing human things, a recipe for cheesy beer dip, and a listicle telling me why I deserve a gold star and I’ll be happy as a clam, blissful in my college bubble, and coping with my quarter-life crisis in the best way I see fit.
I think I’m safe until I scroll through my Twitter feed some more.
That was so relevant. It hits home. I spun the wheel-of-feel and landed on ‘worried.’ What’s going to happen to me a year from now? Have I done enough? Shoud I go to grad school? Get my Ph.D.? Maybe I should just go to culinary school. I’ve been told that my fear of not having a job post-graduation is irrational, and maybe it is, but what’s the likelihood of me snagging the job I want? What’s the likelihood that I’ll be able to apply all my hard work to a job that challenges me and that will provide a stepping stone to my dream career? Will I somehow become a “real person” with a real job? Will I be a waitress forever?
A million thoughts run through my head at once and I am reminded of the eternal struggle that comes with being a millennial, primarily the subject of employment. Come on, adulthood, just let me live.
One third of the U.S. population was born between 1980 and 2000, myself included. This 30-year age range is, coincidentally, the same group that is trying to become financially independent, at least to some degree. Obviously there is a vast variety of qualifications among that group. The Ph.D. graduate from Cornell won’t be bagging groceries at the local grocery store alongside high school seniors…or will they?
While the city of Ithaca, where I currently reside, is rich in education, housing both Cornell University and Ithaca College, and boasts the lowest unemployment levels in the state of New York as well as being the “Smartest City in America”, nearly half of its residents are below the poverty line, or earning less than $21,590 per single person household annually. To earn that much, a person has to make just under $10 an hour working 6 hours a day, every day, for an entire year. Meanwhile, New York State as a whole is about half as educated, and only has about 15 percent of residents below the poverty line.
According to a New York Times article published in 2013, Ithaca is fearless and thriving in an area of the country plagued by high unemployment. While this is all well and good on paper, highly educated individuals are still struggling beyond expectation. In the same article, Gary Ferguson, executive director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, backhandedly brags about the top-notch qualifications of Ithaca’s low-earning working class:
“This is the classic place where you have baristas with Ph.D.’s…You have people with incredible skill sets who choose to remain here.”
“A large factor influencing the census data and poverty statistics here is students,” says Jennifer Tevares, President of the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce. “So while many students who are graduate level may have Bachelor’s degrees, they do not have full-time employment outside the university they attend, which could garner them and/or their family an income level to be considered above poverty line.”
In some cases the job one pursues may still put them below the poverty line. For example, adjunct professors are severely underpaid, and while these people are, in many cases, the people who help us millennials shape our own futures, figure out our dreams and help build our resumes, sometimes they get stuck bagging groceries too.
The Department of Labor anticipates about 328,040 new jobs annually in New York State between 2012 and 2022. With over 6 million millennials in New York who hope to join or advance themselves in the workforce in a field that they’ve familiarized themselves while in college, that number seems more bleak, especially to those who have chosen to live in areas like Ithaca with narrow economies.
The graphic below organizes New York State’s 2012-2022 job projection by favorability (i.e. will the economy allow these jobs to continue existing?) and annual openings. The larger the circle, the more openings there will be. While only a few of the circles are labeled (due to space — sorry, guys), I invite you to scroll over all of them. When you hover over a section, you will be shown the job title, approximate annual job openings, education levels of the people who work these jobs, and necessary work experience.
Note how the majority of the red (highly favorable) jobs do not require any college experience. Coincidentally, these also seem to have the most openings. Surely there are exceptions — the medical field is highly favorable with nearly 8,000 annual openings if you count surgeons, physicians, nurses and health information technicians — but while education is traditionally equated to employment and therefore, wealth, there is no guarantee.
Though I cannot pinpoint what I’ll be doing a year from now come graduation, I feel that it’s safe to assume that the job market will become only more competitive. My degree will become less likely to ensure me a job, and I’ll probably be leaving Ithaca, the college town I hold so dear. I might move home to Syracuse, whose residents aren’t as educated, but the job prospects look slightly better (but still not good), as shown in the first graphic. Maybe I’ll move to the city, a longtime aggregator of new grads and young folk, that has recently been losing its appeal due to high costs of living.
Or maybe I’ll keep living in the now, wait some tables, and enjoy the time I have left before my fellow grads and I battle to the death to find a job that pays the bills.