I started college in 2006 when student loans were easy to get and a college degree was encouraged, if not forced, upon every moderately academically successful student. I can remember my high school counselors telling us in assemblies that the best path to a career was a college degree, that loans were easy to pay back because you would find work with that degree, and that it was really the only way to be successful outside of unskilled labor.
I, like a lot of other millennials, took out student loans to pay for college. My parents are working class and between feeding and clothing three children, didn’t really have time to save money for education. My older sister graduated college in 2001 and even with her first job at Starbucks was able to make reasonable loan payments. College was cheaper, scholarships were more plentiful and interest rates were relatively reasonable. My parents and I had no reason to believe that I wouldn’t be able to get a job post grad and pay them off.
In fact, schools often encouraged students to take more money out than necessary in order to have money to, “live on.” My parents were unable to give me money for food, laundry and textbooks, so until I found my first job my freshman year, I lived off of a little extra student loan money. Of course, over four years, this added up to a lot of money. But unfortunately, no one warned me otherwise.
To help me survive, I got a job at the local mall which I worked for two school years, and at an office for the last two years of my schooling. It wasn’t much, but I was able to at least afford to eat and pay for my textbooks and eventually, a car. I was proud of the hard work I was doing, but had hoped that my degree would help me get more rewarding jobs post graduation.
Then 2008 happened.
I remember being midway through my junior year of college when the economy began tanking. At that point, it was still unclear exactly what was going to happen to jobs in the country, and with just a year and a half left of school, it didn’t make sense to drop out and start working. My classmates and I did begin to worry as we heard of people’s parents losing their jobs. My father was one of them, and went from making a good living to barely scraping by at a new job. Suddenly my bright future was turning bleak.
I graduated in 2010 with my degree and a mountain of debt on my shoulders. Before graduating, I applied to many jobs in my field, attended career fairs and even took my resume to a career center to bulk it up. When I got home, I worked at a grocery store during the summer and took a job as a teaching assistant to make sure I could pay my bills. But it quickly became almost impossible to pay them, even with working five days a week.
Long story short, my first post graduate job ended very quickly as it was a temporary job for a year. I struggled to find work that was permanent, working in retail shops off and on, and eventually having to live with my parents. I now work in retail, still, but can’t pay my loans. I could work three jobs, and be unable to reasonably pay them off and cover basic living expenses. And all the while, I have been struggling to find any sort of work in my career field or any field with actual growth.
In talking to my friends, we’ve all come to the consensus: We were lied to.
We were lied to when we were told we could all get a job when we graduated. I have friends with a variety of degrees, levels of experience, and goals. None of us have been able to find careers that are fulfilling or pay well-from computer program degree holders, accounting degree holders, non-profit management degree holders. We are all struggling to pay off our bills, and we truly want to.
People tend to characterize millennials as lazy, entitled or just not hard working. This is simply not true. We are unable to show that we are hard working. One study recently showed that millennials are the most educated generation, but have the highest rates of unemployment. We no longer dream about owning a home or car, because we know those are impossible dreams for most of us.
We want to use our education. We want to pay off our debt.
We want to work.