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Generation jobless: ‘Millennials’ struggle with unemployment

The struggles of middle-aged and older Americans during this economic downturn have been well documented. But what about the “millennials,” those born during the Reagan-Bush era?

It may be no surprise that many of them are unemployed — nearly 40 percent of Americans age 18-29 are out of work. That’s the highest rate in more than three decades.

But did you know that starting your first job search during a recession can result in challenges that last for years? That’s what the studies say. Need to Know’s Alison Stewart spoke with some recent grads who are just starting out — pounding the pavement to land that first job.

Producer: Abby Leonard


Share your own stories of the recession in The Pitch Room

Interactive: Jobless rates in context

Video: The young and the jobless, an interview with The Atlantic’s Don Peck

Video: Help wanted: The recession and the unemployment picture, from Nightly Business Report

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    Main Street: Findlay, Ohio
    Need to Know travels to Ohio to assess how workers are faring after the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs over the past 35 years.
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    Following the money: Tax breaks
    New CBO report echoes the findings of Need to Know's "A tale or four tax returns."
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      Certifiably employable
    Rick Karr recently visited Seattle to look at a program designed to give the unemployed the skills they need to find jobs in one of the country’s fastest-growing industries.


  • Anonymous

    I am appalled at the fact that you think just because you have a collage degree
    a person is going to do better!!
    I have a high school education
    started working as a janitor
    went to a press operator
    a line tech
    a PC tech
    and am now a Network Specialist with the same company for the past 5 years
    I have NO degree, no certifications
    what I do have is real world experience!
    and self taught knowledge!
    Sit there with your pressed shirt and $500.00 designer glasses and tell me
    that you have to have a collage degree to “make it” in a recession??
    you have to want to work!
    the problem with the nation is you whinny little bastards that used up your parents retirement parting in collage just to come out and find out no one wants to hand you a job cuz you don’t know how to do dick!!
    I did respect the young man that had the intestinal fortitude to go into the service!
    kudos to him!!

    the rest of the pristine little collage educated puppets.. well I think McDownalds is hiring
    I’ll have fries with that

  • Worker

    I don’t have a college degree either, but I do know how to spell college (and there may be some truth to what im2501 has to say however…

    What is it about this new economy that is so new? I remember hearing the same talk about flexibility and such in the early nineties. What has happened since the early seventies that has hit the middle class so hard?
    Well, for one thing we stopped enforcing our anti-trust laws. This has allowed large corporations to become more and more powerful. Everytime there has been a merger (financed by Wall Street), it has resulted in downsizing, which means job cuts, wage cuts, pension cuts, etc. in order to among other things, pay back the institutions who financed the deal. It has also had a devastating effect on organized labor.
    Then there is globalization. Why is this a “good thing”? the way it has been carried out has certainly not been benificial for anyone but a small number of elite, very rich people. When we ship our jobs out of the country to avoid labor laws and environmental regulations who does it help? We need to reform our trade policy.

    Well that is a key part, I believe, of any serious “vision” for rebuilding the economy and the middle class that is rarely addressed.

  • Worker

    For some reason I thought when im2501 wrote “service”, he or she meant service industry. Don’t join the military if you don’t have to kids! They’ll use you up and spit you out with PTS & traumatic brain injury, then claim it was a pre-existing condition, and for what? No offense to the folks who are serving, I know you probably mean well.

  • PappaBob

    I am a retired union tradesman. The only college credits I posses are those earned through serving a four year apprenticeship in my trade. I have children currently in the work force and grandchildren ages 5-13 who will ultimately need to find employment in a future labor market so I am intently interested in the “American Jobs” topic.

    I would point out a few contradictions in this evenings program;

    1- In one segment, it was said “In this current economy, you can become homeless in 30 days”. In
    another segment, you show college freshmen who are attempting to determine their career path
    four years in advance. Sure seems illogical, and a bit of a contradiction. Some of us decide early
    on that we are better suited to actually create physical objects. Hard to understand why it has
    become the norm for that decision to result in wage and lifestyle punishment fur us and our
    families. This sure seems like an area where government can create some stability through
    legislation or regulation that would make it much less attractive to operate on such short
    term (quarter by quarter) goal structures. That would hopefully keep things from changing so

    2- In a segment it was stated and shown how a large percentage of college graduates are finding
    a job market that is offering no new jobs. In the next segment the advice was “you must get a
    college education to get a job”. Isn’t this another contradiction?? Two problems here:
    A- Once everyone succeeds in having a college degree, isn’t there still going to be 15 million or
    ?? more people than there are jobs??
    B- Everyone is not made to sit behind a desk as do most/all of your guest speakers. Why should
    those of us who are better suited at turning those “brilliant college ideas” into reality be
    relegated to second class/underpaid/ignorant status. It takes both types to produce a viable,
    sustainable, society as evidenced in the time period that was referenced during your program.
    In fact, the “flexible” worker that was described by one of your guest speakers as what the
    future successful American might look like perfectly describes a Construction General
    Contractor. He sources his own jobs, hires help as needed, provides for his own retirement,
    medical, keeps up with the latest regulations and codes, etc. Is he college educated?? Not
    3- I fundamentally agree with Mr. Reich and have always been thankful and supportive of his public
    logic and recommendations. Heard him speaking on NPR earlier this evening on the same
    subject. His statement regarding the development of “green” technology and products currently
    happening in China is one place I would take exception with him. I believe this is the primary
    reason corporate America can create indications that the economy is growing while MORE
    Americans are becoming “permanently” unemployed. Because our government allows these
    corporations to go to “exploitive” labor markets instead of employing American workers. Let’s
    be honest; “there is no way for any American worker to compete with foreign workers who are
    working for $1.00 per day in modern, highly mechanized, manufacturing facilities. As was
    stated, working two jobs, more hours, using copious credit, and borrowing from your house,
    allowed corporate America to shed most of their domestic manufacturing and service jobs while
    maintaining a domestic market. It was only a matter of time before a “domestic consumer
    without funds” was going to equal “no market”. That time appears to have come. It sure seems
    like it’s time for our government to do what governments are supposed to do; “protect its
    citizens” as the other 19 nations of the G20 have already done.

  • Buggylama

    Thanks pops!!!

  • Eugene Schreiber

    For the economic system to work, money has to be kept in circulation, and the workers have to be paid enough so that they can purchase the products of the factory. If the workers do not have the income to purchase the products, then inventories will build and workers will be laid off. Between 1970 and 2005, productivity doubled, but wages stayed flat.

    Again, how is that millions of jobs are being shipped abroad, mainly to China, the workers get laid off, but for the CEO’s and owners they become very profitable. The added income is not distributed to U.S. workers who alas now have no income. Isn’t it obvious that something is wrong here!

    What we’re describing here is the result of GREED, yes, GREED. Recently I heard of the CEO of a company who was paid 32,000 times that of the least paid worker. These people think they deserve it because their brains are better, 32,000 times better, I doubt it.

    The Republicans recently filibustered a bill that would have severely penalized industries that take jobs offshore and as a result the bill was defeated. They should have been severely chastised for doing this, because it was a great disservice to our country.

    There is current thinking on the part of some that more money in the hands of the rich will lead to creating more jobs. That’s a myth, a fallacy, pure and simple. Let’s not be bamboozled. The rich already have things going their way. Are we to believe that they are so altruistic that they will now exert themselves to hire others for our sake? I sincerely doubt that.

    The present economic order is defective. Greed is pervasive. Unless the human heart can be educated to be less selfish, the suffering of so many will I fear continue. Each political Party blames the other, but neither has the answer and therefore, is fundamentally unable to deal with this problem because as you might gather from this, in reality, it’s a spiritual problem.

  • Anonymous

    I like your comment but I believe that it is less of a spiritual problem then perhaps cutting through the PR, lies, and misinformation (not to be to redundant),enlightening folks a bit as to what the real issues are and organizing. Then we can reform the system. In reality, such an insurmountable task takes an incredible amount of dedication and effort, which I suppose may require a kind spiritual strength, but its not going to happen by just meditating on compassion if you know what I mean.

  • Eugene Schreiber

    Appreciated your nice reply. You’re right. Just “meditating and compassion” will never solve the problem. It’s much deeper than that. That it is a spiritual problem is because it has to do with the spirit of man. Primarily it’s a matter of education of the heart. You can’t legislate human beings to be unselfish. You can’t make a law that will outlaw greed. The inner eye of the heart has to be educated. For example, how can anyone in the human family enjoy his bread when the person next to him is starving. The heart needs to be so educated. And you’re right, we need to be seekers of truth so that we can distinguish the truth in all matters and as you say, see through the PR, lies and misinformation and network with others of like mind. We should realize that our greatest attainment in life is to be of benefit to others. Then will this world be transformed. This is the benefit conferred by a spiritual education.

  • Anonymous

    Well, you seem like a swell guy, but I am for legislation and laws all the same. May this divine comment benefit all sentient beings.

  • F8lee

    It seems to me there is a more fundamental issue when it comes to the current and future job market – namely, that thanks to technology we are seeing more workers displaced with no place to go.

    I’m no Luddite, in fact, I sell ERP systems, but I also see that the effects of technology is hitting what I believe is an inflection point. Technological advances have always made people more efficient – another way of saying that it takes fewer people to do the same work (or the same number of workers to accomplish more output). Whether we’re talking about tractors and fertilizer on farms, robots in factories, or computers in offices, the net result is the same.

    Now, over the centuries, the common response to this “complaint” has been “don’t worry! In 10 years there will be jobs that we cannot imagine today to be had!” – and while I believe that’s true the difference today is that those jobs available in ten years will require much higher levels of education and intelligence than previous iterations. Let’s look at farming – in the 1900 census something like 30% of the US population worked on farms, and in 2000 the number was about 3%. Where did all those displaced farmworkers go? To the cities, where they could work at factories and learn the trade in an apprenticeship type of relationship. In other words, it didn’t require a lot of formal education to transfer from one arena to the other.

    Contrast that with our present situation – again, I have no doubt that in 10 years there will be jobs that we cannot imagine today, but I also believe that the “photonic transmogrification engineer” or “genetic dislocation designer” will not be careers that one can achieve without PhD level training. Meanwhile, as the science of haptics (touch sensitivity) improves in the area of robotics, no doubt iRobot will come out with the Roomba version of a strawberry picker. In other words, the no-training-required class of brutally hard manual labor will also be displaced. And then what?

    Even the oft-cited “let’s make government more efficient” bleating coming from virtually all of the political campaigns implies that by making government more efficient, that many more workers will be made obsolete. What if the 40 people at the DMV office could be replaced with just 10 workers using more efficient processes and systems – where do those 30 workers go? Frankly, it seems to me that could have been done long ago in many cases, but the government (at all levels, no doubt) has tacitly allowed this inefficiency to persist as a kind of “make work” program.

    I don’t know how to “fix” this short of a complete rethinking of how society should work, but I do not think that anybody has given these notions so much as a thought in public – which would seem to be the first step in finding a solution.

  • Fred

    I liked this documentary, and Caroline is definitely a sweet, intelligent seeming young lady.

    Jason, THANK YOU for your service to The USA.

    I think the younguns today rely way too much on PC networking. The best way to get a job is to get off your Butt, and look in the real world. Meet people, be open and flexible to starting opportunities. I am 53 and have worked since I was 13.

    There is no law that says one will be hired for what one studied in College. I studied Computers in the 70′s and 80′s but wound up working as a Financial Analyst. I now work as an Assistant Mgr. in Mail Processing, and I have done this four 4 years now.

    I do think the job market is really bad, but opportunity comes to those who seek it out, not those waiting for an email, online. The difference is making an effort, – or sitting on your Butt at a computer.

    I have had 4 careers in my life, each one different, each one starting at the bottom. Good luck Caroline, and Jason.

  • Djacks24

    Things are different today as there is no way to work your way up. Especially as pointed out in this episode as the of the top five highest in demand positions from the BLS, four of them are traditionally low wage jobs (customer service, home health aid, food service, long term care aid). Also, with the flux of college grads, employers pretty much can get someone with a degree and provide little in terms of training. If you found yourself pinkslipped, you’d have an even harder time than these folks finding a job facing age discrimination. So maybe be thankful for what you have, instead of telling these “younguns” they are not doing things right and accusing them of “sitting on their butts”>

  • Djacks24

    I have a college education and a work ethic. Also I am in Information Technology. The only reason you were able to learn in those positions is because an employer took a chance on you. Now there are very few employers taking chances on anyone. You can scream about work ethic until you are blue in the face, but when your resume’ is one of 150 for one open position, the employer can pick the one with the best education and most experience. It’s a buyers market out there and the hiring managers are the buyers. You can blow your horn about how good you’ve done without an education, just think of where you could have been if you had an education on top of that. Getting a halfway decent job today is who you know or else it’s like playing the lottery with the odds being about the same.

  • Jude

    I am a bit off topic but what coverage do our Fed Senators get? I have wondered about this. They get paid for their entire life and do not need to worry about Social Security. They will get their pay as long as they are not considered dead. So, do they have any idea of what middle america is going through. I buy frozen fruit because I cannot afford fresh fruit. I have pawned my belongings and do not go out to eat. I have a job. My child is in college and she is going to be taking up a career that will land her a job. I remember the 1970′s and the hard time getting a job. Now, it is worse. I forced my child to get a job when she was a teenager. She was able to land a part time job because of her maturity and prior work experience. None of her friends have been able to land a job. They have no work experience. My child now sees what I was preaching years ago. I told her that when the job market is lean… you will be able to secure a job… maybe not a great one but a job. Your friends will have a harder time because they did not work in high school. Imagine that. The woman in the story did work two jobs in college. She was able to land a job in her profession. Not sure what she is making… but you need to start young. We are in a crisis… this is just not getting better.

  • Anonymous

    I think if you really look into it you will find we have lost far, FAR more jobs from outsourcing than from advances in technology. Also, the only people a robot strawberry picker is likely to put out of work are the undocumented foreign workers everyone is so hysterical about.
    The people at my local DMV seem to be pretty efficient and are using modern computerized systems. If anything there could be more of them. A couple areas I would like to see the goverment “make work” which would provide untold benefits for our society are an efficient single-payer health care system and an efficient public transportation system. Neither idea is especially new, but they seem to work pretty well in Europe.

  • entrepreneur indiana

    I would like to add that it costs money to travel looking for jobs. There is fuel, cost to maintain a car and eating out while your on the road. People who have given up have likely done so because they feel they cannot afford to travel when HR managers won’t even interview them…often a total waste. Frustration/desperation is shared between college educated and non-college educated alike.

  • entrepreneur indiana

    Personally I think our problems are not “spiritual”. George Bush thought his war was OK and he claimed to be spiritual. The attorney that defamed my character for his client to win in court is a deacon in the First Christian Church. The judge who gave my stolen property to the thief, allowed open defense fraud and intentionally cut me off from a legal remedy is likewise an officer of the FCC. These people claim to be “spiritual”, just ask them.

    Sorry but this is a monetary system flaw that has been in the making since 1913. All along the years, money has become the driving factor. Total us debt, public and private is the killer. Everone, including corporations have been forced to seek low cost manufacturing alternatives just to stay in business.

    The FED is in control of the money supply…they are the banks. For this to change we need people with the publics best interest making decisions, not bankers. We need a US Treasury Dollar…not more FED money.

  • entrepreneur indiana

    Interesting im2501 that your work experience goes from total labor to using your brain more. I’ll bet you even sit on your a(butt) more as a network specialist, kind of like the “pristine little college educated puppets”. Your not so different from persons who go after education first that you are insulting, just went about it differently. Learning comes differently for everyone. Your prejudice is misplaced.

    If you want to really help this economy, start a business and don’t be one of the 95% that fail in the first five years…or better yet, survive 10-20 years while employing others. If you can do that without some upper level education, then and only then will I have respect for you. Your income maintaining job benefits you…employing others, benefits others.

    Just having a job in todays world is not a sign that your more intelligent, but happened to be in the right place and at the right time to take advantage of the fact that someone, at some time, took risk and started a business in the beginning. In todays world survival requires that everything is done correctly and there is little room for error. Education hopefully helps one to recognize an error before, rather than after making it.

  • Elam

    Thank you for this story. I think something that was missed was that the young hard working woman who was just out of college had what looked to be a middle class foundation. Parents with more money and a more concrete idea of what it is to succeed. A drive was instilled, but also it appeared her parents could easily afford to go on supporting her. What about poor parents and poor children? You think someone who’s parents are poor are as likely to get a nice job in NY? Doubt it.

  • Anonymous

    The reason I am where I am is because I worked for it..
    no one took a “chance” on me ..
    I proved myself
    over and over again!
    getting a job is getting a job..
    what you do after that is ALL up to you!!

  • Anonymous

    a) you got a job?
    b) what company you planning on starting??
    I don’t sit on my a$$
    I code
    I run cable
    I move equipment..

  • Anonymous

    100% agree!!
    great point..
    and I think on topic
    most of them are all spoon feed lawyers!

  • Anonymous

    you don’t have a job.
    but you eat out!

  • Anonymous

    yeah I can’t spell.

  • Anonymous

    an thanks for not stomping on me for the college

  • Anonymous

    again no one took a “chance” on me..
    I proved myself.
    they didn’t send me to training.
    I got training after work
    I took it upon myself to work at moving up..
    I went to college.. giver me a $50k job!!
    just go get a job!

  • Anonymous

    when are you running for office ??
    so I can vote for you???

  • Anonymous

    That was me that liked THIS particular comment (I accidentally liked it twice, but then again I accidentally commented under two different names, well three actually, but it wound up as two in the end).

    Pops for president!!!

    …you are quite a character aren’t you im2501 …???????
    P.S. I counsel you NOT to improve your spelling or grammar, it adds to the general effect of your bold, controversial anti-college kind of statements.

  • Anonymous

    I think you made an excellent point. Why did one person manage to have a “happy ending” and the other get sent to, where was it? Iraq? in a desperate attempt to further (or start) his career which he had obviously worked very hard for.
    At the same time, is seeking (and gaining) work in the PR industry really a concrete ideal of success???
    These (PR) folks are the ones making commercials telling you how BP is not going to quit until they have made things right in the Gulf Of Mexico. They want you to think big oil companies really care about the environment. This is just one example, but they are LIARS. They will tell you that smoking is good for you. They will tell you that fast food is healthy. It is bad, evil stuff!!! I hope the young lady manages to steer clear of a career in this, perhaps the most immoral of all industries.

  • Anonymous

    P.S. For more on the PR (public relations) industry I highly recommend “Toxic Sludge Is Good For You” by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton. It was originally published in 1995, but nothing much has changed since then. They also have an excellent website at

  • Anonymous

    thanks.. an I’m not anti college, I just don’t think you HAVE to go to college to get a decent job..
    and just because you went to college don’t expect one..

  • Jim

    Thank you for your article about unemplyment and older persons. Check out this original song on You Tube about older people during hard times.

    Jim Burns