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Don’t Forget the Fine Print: The Economy Isn’t Recovering for Everyone

By KellyAnn Kirkpatrick (Boston University, 2015)

The economy may be in a strong upturn, but people often forget to read the fine print. The fine print beneath the headlines reads something like “with the exception of Millennials, in particular African American, Millennials.”

According to a report by Young Invincibles in June, the unemployment rate for Millennials is 2.4% higher than for adults overall. Even more discouraging for me is that as a 22 year-old, African American woman, the unemployment rate for my racial group is more than three times as high as the national average, coming in at a staggering 15.4%, compared to an average unemployment rate of 5.3% for adults overall. The 15.4% figure is the fine print.

june 2015 jobs numbers

As a recent graduate from Boston University, I entered the workforce fairly optimistic about my job prospects. But I quickly realized that I could have my work cut out for me because, well let’s face it, I hit the unlucky statistical lottery: I’m young and a minority.

Unemployment has been disproportionately higher for Millennials than the rest of the workforce since the Great Recession. And it’s costing everyone. Every year, young adult unemployment costs taxpayers $25 billion.

It seems like a misnomer to say the economy has recovered; we’re conditioned to believe that the news we hear is true, and it is, but it’s not everyone’s truth.

My truth is that as a liberal arts degree holder, I have an added layer of difficulty in my career journey that was already complicated by my age and race. According to a recent Young Invincibles study examining Millennial wages by job sector, wages across the top five sectors for Millennials —  with the exception of the healthcare industry — have stagnated or even decreased, in the last ten years.

This means that, for someone like me, who certainly has no medical or professional health background, I’m bound to enter a field where wages are declining. According to U.S Census Data, the average white Millennial’s median income is 34% higher than that of a Black Millennial.

Fortunately, I’m aware of these statistics and always read the fine print, but how many Millennials are taking on pounds and pounds of student debt, and reading hopeful headlines of a booming tomorrow, only to find out that the headlines we read aren’t ours?

Being a Millennial in 2015 means having to be ingenious in our approach to landing work. As I navigate this labyrinth we know as the job market, with the societal boulders of race and gender, I have to carry the anvils of my degree type, and age as well.

The question is, now that we know that the economy isn’t looking up for everyone, what do we do to fix it? It begins with helping Millennials stop starting out at a deficit. According to Young Invincibles’ Future of Millennial Jobs report, 65% of job openings by 2020 will require at least some post secondary education, and that includes postsecondary certificates and vocational degrees.

The solution is buried in that statistic. We must stop allowing costs of education through tuition and fees to be astronomical and start understanding that making the “American Dream” be out of reach doesn’t keep in the best and the brightest, but instead keeps Millennials out.

So to anyone still calling us lazy, the research says otherwise. We are in fact fighting incredible barriers just to make it. Being a Millennial is far more than just selfies and hashtags; it’s difficult and the stereotypes claiming otherwise aren’t helping anyone.