Juliette Dallas-Feeney: Resilient in a recession

Forget that I have CNN and MSNBC on my résumé, the hours I put in at three unpaid internships, the leadership experience I gained in student organizations and my clips from The Hatchet since freshman year – all on top of full course-loads and part-time jobs.

Apparently, all my efforts were useless.

Last week, Business Week magazine ran a cover story titled “The Lost Generation.” According to the article, the continuing job crisis is hitting young people especially hard, damaging both our future and the economy.

This is not something a bright-eyed college senior, two months away from completing her bachelor’s degree, wants to hear.

But before I resort to using the $200,000 college education my parents paid for to become a grocery bagger, let’s stop using negative buzzwords like “hopeless” to describe our situation.

Truthfully, the economy pretty much sucks right now, for both you and me. In the U.S., the unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds has climbed from 13 percent a year ago to more than 18 percent. A Yale study found that for each percentage-point rise in the unemployment rate, those who graduated during the recession earned 6 to 7 percent less in their first year of employment than their more fortunate counterparts.

I always assumed that my college degree would lead to a salaried job that I enjoyed, which would lead to money, which would lead to stability. In today’s economy, that formula might need to be recalculated. There is even more competition for jobs, with young adults a few years out of college applying for the same jobs as myself and my fellow classmates. This might mean that my vision of being a successful journalist in a senior-level position, settled down with a family in my dream house, might take longer to realize than I expected.

Too often, colleges do too little to tell us the truth about what it’s like out there when we leave the comforts of campus life. Even GW, which is arguably less “college” and more like the “real world” than non-city schools, is at fault. It’s been drilled into our brains since Colonial Inauguration that if we don’t have four internships by the time we’re juniors, we’ll never make it.

But the University should be using its resources to confront the reality facing its future alumni. The Career Center’s job fairs, résumé critique service and GWork job search Web site are all useful tools. But GW isn’t going far enough in helping soon-to-be grads prepare for getting a job in this vastly different economic reality. The Career Center could host a Q&A workshop on how our job search will be different and what we can do about it. Employers, alumni and career counselors could be panelists. They could also host a workshop on creating a financial plan. Personal finance is rarely taught in high schools, let alone colleges, but it is especially necessary for students graduating in a recession. We will likely have to alter our budgets, whether we’re trying to get a job or planning to go to graduate school.

I don’t know one college senior who isn’t stressed out about his or her future. But we are a resilient bunch and we will get through this. If it takes applying for 10 jobs a day over the next few months, I’ll do it. And if I have to get a part-time temporary job, I’ll do that too.

One of the greatest things about our generation is our determination. When we want change, we make it happen. We did it last November and we’ll do it again. We’re not lost. We’re finding our way.

Our grandparents learned to make do with less as they entered adulthood in the 1930s. And they won a world war and built up the strongest economy our country’s ever had.

Now it’s our turn.

The writer, a senior majoring in women’s studies, is a Hatchet columnist.

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