Why Gen Y Can't Get a Job: No Gumption, No Get Up and Go

Is our younger generation sitting out on jobs?
Is our younger generation sitting out on jobs?

Why can't young people seem to find jobs today? A recent column in The New York Times places the blame squarely on America's youth -- and Generation Y in particular.

As the Times laments, despite 8.3% nationwide unemployment, members of America's latest alphanumeric generation exhibit little of the gumption that helped prior generations survive their own economic troubles:

  • When the Great Depression hit America, for example, like Steinbeck's fictional Tom Joad, a generation loaded up their jalopies and headed off to seek their fortunes in "sun-kissed California," among other places.

  • Post-WWII, the greatest generation returned from battle-torn Europe and Asia to build the world's first global superpower.

  • Even Generation X, mired in the recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s, managed to shake off its famously jaded attitude, and trekked off to Redmond, Seattle, and Silicon Valley to invent the Internet economy.

In comparison, "kids these days" just don't measure up.

'Risk-Averse and Sedentary'

That's how the Times describes the current generation. According to research done by Yale economist Lisa B. Kahn, young people who graduate from school during recessions don't just suffer during the recession. Over time, they earn less than their peers who enter the job market in sunnier economic climes -- and it's a wage gap that persists for decades even after the economy improves.

Knowing this, you'd think Gen-Y might work even harder to even the odds grab any job available. To perhaps -- literally -- go the extra mile to find a job. But they don't.

Unemployment rates vary greatly across the country. Maybe there's no work close to home, but if you venture far enough, chances are you can land a job. And yet, research shows that Gen-Y job seekers just aren't interested in moving.

Discouraged by a miserable job market, they're returning to (or never even leaving) their parents' houses in record numbers, hanging out in the basement and spending their time on Facebook.

Generation Why Bother?

Amazingly, other research finds that Gen-Y is so lacking in job-seeking gumption that they can't even be bothered to get the prerequisite of almost any job these days: A driver's license. University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute reports that the number of 18-year-olds who possess driver's licenses has dropped 15 percentage points over the past 20 years, falling from 80% to 65%.

That's crucial because, without a car, not only can you not get to many jobs available in your area (assuming there are any). You also lose the ability to go farther afield in search of better opportunities.

According to the Census Bureau, 20-somethings today are 40% less likely to relocate to a new state in search of work than they were in the 1980s.

Point Your GPS to Where Jobs Are More Plentiful

And yet, being willing to move to another state in search of work just might be the one factor that most improves a young person's chances of landing a job. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for just about any state reporting lousy unemployment numbers that you can name, there is an equal and opposite state that's clamoring for more warm bodies to fill open positions -- if, that is, you're willing to pull up stakes and travel a few hundred miles to get there.

For example, if you're down and out in Rhode Island (unemployment rate: 10.9%), a short car drive will take you up to New Hampshire, where the unemployment rate is less than half as bad -- 5.2%.

Nor is this unusual:

  • No luck finding a job in Nevada (unemployment rate 12.7%)? Head on up to Minnesota, where unemployment is a modest 5.6%.

  • Sick of the smog, wildfires and 10.9% unemployment rate in California? Welcome to Iowa. Unemployment: 5.4%.

  • Got North Carolina's 10.2% unemployment rate on your mind? Visit Vermont, where it's 5%.

  • Hoosiers disappoint you in your NCAA bracket? Guess there's no more reason to stick around and suffer Indiana's 8.7% unemployment rate. Give South Dakota a try: 4.2%.

  • Stuck in Connecticut (unemployment: 8%)? Good news -- Nebraska needs you! Unemployment: 4%.

  • Want to triple your chance of landing a good job? Leave Florida's 9.6% unemployment rate for North Dakota's 3.2%.

What Are You Waiting For?

Are some of these locales cold? Distant? The opposite of cosmopolitan? Perhaps. Yet on the plus side, each of these moves offers the chance to more than double your odds of landing a job

So what are you waiting for? Move on, already!

In the course of his career, Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith has crossed several state lines, multiple time zones, and at least one ocean in search of better jobs. He's even gotten a few of them. Click here to see his stock holdings and a short bio.


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