My young clients (35 years older and younger) all tell a common story: They worry about being able to pay their student loans. For the past five years or so, the common struggle of getting a good early career job has been compounded by low wages. The worried refrain I hear from new and recent college graduates made me pay attention to an article posted on Bloomberg: “Why Most Popular Cities Are Out of Reach for Young Professionals.” In most of America’s sexiest cities new and affordable housing is not being built at a pace that will let young people live in cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston.
The article did point to an interesting exception to this rule: Chicago. The Windy City is building new housing at double the rate of other popular cities. While not the most affordable on the list, Chicago remains a decent option for both buyers and renters based on a survey by Zillow.
This article is odd and encouraging to anyone watching Chicago’s current mayoral campaign. The conventional wisdom is that the city is broke, that jobs will disappear if the current mayor is not re-elected. The charts in this article paint a much brighter future. Chicago seems like a great place for young people to build their careers without getting gouged on their mortgage or rent. As someone who has lived in the city for more than 25 years, I hope this is true.
Since 2008, young workers, including college graduates, have struggled to get a good job. Writing in Huffington Post, Jillian Berman examines this problem with a focus on college graduates getting jobs that do not require a degree, which usually means that they pay lower wages. Young workers are earning less and building wealth much more slowly than the previous generation. Then Berman adds the real problem: debt. College graduate now hold student loans that are more than twice what a graduate would have had in the early 1980s.
Berman questions whether young college grads will ever dig out of this hole. I’m a little less pessimistic. I think the current generation on average will not enjoy the opportunities my generation did. However, many will succeed on the individual level because they will practice good career management. It’s easy to give into despair and say that things will never get better. Several of my younger clients have had to take first jobs that were less than they expected. But they kept looking for something better. They targeted and improved the skills they want to use on the job, and they were able to get better jobs. Looking for work is never easy, but in a job market like this one, the only way to get ahead is to keep looking for a better opportunity.
Today’s Huffington Post offers a fascinating and frightening analysis of youth unemployment. The overall loss to the nation is estimated at $18 billion, but behind that big number are millions of young people who will struggle to survive. Beyond the unemployed most of the new jobs created over the past few years have been low wage, which means that many other young people are starting their careers with little opportunity to save money.
While we need to pay attention to unemployment, we should also look to other factors that impact young people, such as student debt. Young people who attend college are less likely to be unemployed, but they are often leaving school with a debt equal to a small mortgage. If Congress does nothing (which is what it has done best over the last few years), interest on student loans will double later this summer.
Our political leaders need to start focusing on this problem. However, given their general failure to care about working people and the unemployed, it’s most likely that the problems described above will only get worse, and young people will suffer because their elders are acting like children.