In perhaps one of the most famous commencement speeches in recent history, Steve Jobs addressed Stanford University graduates in 2005, telling them his inspirational life story that lead him to shape and forever impact digital technology. In his final words, he asked the graduating class to "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." inspiring them to dream big and pursue their ambitions.
While moving and legacy fortifying, his words were spoken in a different time. 2005 was one year before the market came crashing down, thus causing recent graduates to struggle to find full-time and meaningful employment. Without a doubt, one of the groups hit hardest by this great recession are recent college graduates. Those who have graduated since 2006 have found it difficult to locate and maintain jobs, the same jobs that would have been assured in past economies.
These struggles are no surprise to the parents of recent graduates, who no longer find themselves empty-nesters. Identified in a recent Pew Research on Social and Demographic Trends study, the millennial generation (defined as 18-31 in this research) has returned to live at home in high volumes. Approximately 45 percent of millennials with bachelor's degrees return home due to unemployment or financial difficulties. This percentage has been on the rise since 1968, but has seen the most growth since the 2006 economic downturn.
With the swell of hope and inspiration that comes at the end of each academic year, the migration back home becomes a hot topic and a feature of our national discourse, if only for a few weeks. However, it seems like a more appropriate time to have this conversation would be in early September, when it becomes obvious that those graduates who moved back really have moved back home and will not be leaving for the foreseeable future.
This great migration back home has become a regular feature of television sitcoms and films. Popular shows and movies such as 1600 Penn, Adventureland, and Tiny Furniture depict millennials who move back in with their parents after graduating. However, the problem with these shows are the stereotypes reinforced and over-simplification of a very real issue. What is also absent on many of these shows is the emotional burden placed on millennials once they return back home. This emotional response becomes all too real after the first September rolls around, and recent graduates realize there really isn't another year of school out there.
This emotional side to returning home after college rarely gets public attention or recognition, but is known well by the millennial generation. While the mediated image of the millennial is a slacker who lives on mom and dad's couch to leach off of them and postpone the real world, the real millennial who finds themselves back in their childhood bedroom is faced with challenges coming from every angle. They must both explain and rationalize the return home to themselves and others. Not an easy feat considering the stereotyped image of the millennial they must combat.
Perhaps one of biggest reasons why the return home is so difficult is the unspoken societal promise millennials are made. They are told if they take the right classes, get the right grades, take on unpaid internships, volunteer, and network, the perfect job will be waiting. But as any millennial knows, this promise is often an illusion. This societal promise is just one of the discourses left over from the 1990s and early 2000s that plagues Americans.
Because of this many at home millennials find themselves trying to figure out what it is about their resume, their skill sets, their ambition that has landed them back where they started. This constant questioning creates an emotional burden that is not made easier by scrutiny and stereotyping. So rather than questioning what is it about this generation that seems to struggle to find long-term employment, perhaps we should be asking what long-term effect this will have on the generation?
It's not an easy question to answer, and many people have already approached it, yet only to find inconclusive results. Sally Kaslow writes in her 2012 book Slouching Toward Adulthood, that this trend of college-graduates moving back home has ominous and serious consequences, such as millennials waiting to start families, save for retirement, buy houses, and assert economic independence.
However, not everyone sees this trend as entirely bad. Popular employment website Monster.com suggests that living at home after graduating is one responsible way to save money, look for a job, and pay off financial debt. Monster also reminds readers that not all millennials who live at home are unemployed or employed in low-paying jobs. Many recent graduates who do find employment move home to pay off their high-priced student loans.
Once again, it seems that the outcome of the millennial generation is uncertain. But what is clear, millennials returning home after graduation is a trend on the rise, one that does not escape our national attention each June. But this September, as colleges and universities everywhere head back to school, think about all the millennials who are not and those who wish they still lived in a time where they could "Stay Hungry; Stay Foolish."