Overeducated, Underemployed and in Debt: What Now?

“The present generation is the richest generation.” At least in broad strokes, that statement has been more or less continuously true throughout history.

You may ask why I give the qualification “broad strokes.”

Well, though there has been a general trend upwards in standard of living — albeit with plenty of dips now and again — this trend only affects the average person, and sometimes the average person doesn’t resemble anyone you know. In fact, not only are there huge class disparities in Western nations today, there are also generational disparities. Middle-class individuals in their 20s and 30s are facing a perfect storm of a tough job market, higher student debt and brutal housing prices.

The Generation Squeeze campaign, led by UBC professor Paul Kershaw, is intended to shine a light on this inequity and, ultimately, help to mitigate it.

This isn’t a war of the generations, and I hope nobody sees it that way. I’m very pleased that members of my family who have worked hard all their lives are reaching pension age, seeing an increase in their home values and generally feeling secure. It makes me happy to worry less about my extended family financially. Likewise, I know how glad they would be to reduce my mortgage to something more manageable.

However, there is a disparity and it’s far from abstract. So many individuals my age are underemployed; I worry that the word will lose meaning and simply become the new normal for young workers.

When my cohort completed teacher training a scant six years ago, my fellow new educators and I had in mind a fairly predictable and safe career path. Some of us would be employed immediately, while some of us might have to work as substitute teachers for the first year, or, at most, two. By 2013, we thought we should all be well established with full-time work, the security of a permanent contract (a.k.a. tenure) and our preferred assignments.

Instead, one friend of mine has become a professional substitute, coaching for the schools he works at regularly and working a second job at night since his daily pay is less than half of what a salaried teacher would make. Another is forced to leave his wife and son for months at a time, taking termjobs at remote northern towns for months ata time — an information age equivalent of the migrant farm worker. Another left teaching to work at a dairy, and she has been the most successful of all. Each of us has multiple degrees, but that doesn’t mean as much as it used to.

Of course, unemployment and underemployment are aconcern in most any field you care to mention. I know an experienced accountant who has been forced to take work as a payroll clerk, an apprentice electrician who works in the wash bay of an automotive garage and an MBA grad who works as a receptionist. The list goes on.

Most of us entering the work force in the last decade have sinceseverely altered our salary and work environment expectations. We’ve written before about the exploitive unpaid internships desperate candidates sign up for.

Meanwhile, there’s stillall that student debt, soaring housing costs and rent is climbing to match. Many individuals are putting off having children, waiting for a financial stability that may not even be achievable. It’s true that some things are cheaper than they used to be. Our parents never had iPhones, and if they were around, they would have been exorbitantly expensive. However, Gen Squeeze’s Kerhsaw also makes the point that time is money, and staying afloat costs us the time we need to raise a family as well.

Are there any silver linings to all this? Perhaps a few. People are hurting and perhaps that means they’ll be more politically involved, which tends to make elected representatives more accountable. An educated and aware populace is necessary for effective democracy, and getting engaged is a first step in that.

It’s harder to raise a family,butoverpopulation islinked to many ofour economic, political and environmental problems.There are a myriad of other issues at play here, butto some extent, at least, delaying and therefore having smaller families is a good thing.

Gen X and Y are fast becoming the most capable, creative, entrepreneurial group of people in generations. If the job market weren’t so tough, my CV probably wouldn’t be nearly so impressive. A diverse array of skills in a population that has learned to be fearless in their career adventures might well benefit those fields, and society in general.

The only constant in life is change. To some degree, there’s a privilege in living through a period of uncertainty. We know this is a time that will one day be in history textbooks, and we have the chance to get a little stronger.

There are limits though. We still need to make a living.

Related stories:

Lean In To Offer Paid Internships After Criticism

If You Pay It Forward, You Could Go to CollegeTuition-Free

Enough is Enough Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources

Photo credit: Thinkstock


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Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown1 years ago

Everyone please flag that "payday loan" spammer!

Hell, it is bad enough to have someone posting spam, but to post spam trying to entice people into those horrible payday loans is just disgusting (on Care2 no less!!)

Eric Lees
Eric Lees3 years ago

"Ripping Off Young America: The College-Loan Scandal
The federal government has made it easier than ever to borrow money for higher education - saddling a generation with crushing debts and inflating a bubble that could bring down the economy"
"Student-loan debt collectors have power that would make a mobster envious" is how Sen. Elizabeth Warren put it.
"Turning down the credit spigot would force schools to compete by bringing prices down. It would help to weed out crappy schools that hawked worthless "degrees in bullshit." It would also force prospective students to meet higher standards – not just anyone would get student loans, which is maybe the way it should be."


Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown3 years ago

One can hardly compare the rigors of a college education to "learnin' stuff" on the internet.

Additionally, the problems faced by the American worker is not the tax code (except for the fact that the tax code favors the rich). The problems facing the U.S. worker are caused by rampant corporate greed.

The American worker consistantly increases productivity, unfortunately the corporate world and the ultra-rich are unwiling to share that increased productivity. That and the fact that they would rather pay slave-style wages to third world workers just to increase their already huge profits (they could make outstanding profits paying fair wages to U.S. workers but outstanding profits are not enough, they most squeeze out every dollar in immediate profit, no matter who it hurts or destroys in the long run.

In 2012, corporate profits as a share of the economy hit the highest level since World War Two, but the overall compensation of workers fell to a 57-year low.


Oh, and the only people to benefit from your so-called "fair tax" is the rich, which is why they are behind it.

Eric Lees
Eric Lees3 years ago

"A person's choice in education is just that, a personal choice. People should be able to study what they want, not just what the market needs. A college education is a wonderful thing and, I submit, helps to make one a better citizen and human being. Everything in life is not necessarily about making a lousy buck."

I agree that education should be a personal choice and that it is up to the individual to educate themselves whether through college or on their own. With the internet we no longer have to rely on the system to educate ourselves as there are many things they do not teach especially in American Universities.

Should one individual be forced to pay for another individual's education choice? Is that not what government backed student loans do?

Eric Lees
Eric Lees3 years ago

Our current tax code is one of the main causes of unemployment by making American workers uncompetitive in the global market. American workers have the corporate tax rate, income tax, SS tax among others to overcome. Abolishing the current tax code and replacing it with the "Fair Tax" would eliminate the tax barrier holding America workers back. What is more regressive than that? So do we reform or tax code or lower wages to become competitive?

Any way you look at it our current path is unsustainable, one way or another the government burden has to shrink.