Graduate in a Downturn, End Up Poor and Depressed?

Last Updated Oct 2, 2009 8:22 AM EDT

The recession may be easing slightly, but with the unemployment rate for adults aged 20 to 24 nearly twice the national average, a whole lot of recent grads have spent 2009 doing not much at all. Sure, some have taken on volunteer assignments or internships, but the fact remains that the bleak employment prospects have had a huge impact. But will the effects of this period of enforced joblessness outlast the recession?
This week on the blog Millennial Marketing marketing professor Carol Phillips rounds up research findings to argue that, unfortunately, the damage will linger. So what's the impact of all the discouragement? First off, it can't be great for your mental or financial health. A national longitudinal study of young people concluded that:
Periods of unemployment during the 15 year transition from youth to young adulthood is related to depressive symptoms later in life (age 29-37). The same data has yielded evidence (analysis by Yale School of Management) that early unemployment can damage earnings for decades.
The Yale analysis found that those who enter the workforce during a downturn accumulate a $100,000 difference in earnings compared to peers who graduate in happier economic times 17 years after college. If recession grads start lower in the office food chain, it also seems they are likely to move up less quickly. Despite young people's reputation for job hopping "in reality it is Gen X that is more likely to leave," often to secure a higher level position, according to a report from Deloitte. Many Gen Yers are stuck where they are.

Still, Phillips does offer some hope, noting that many of the 23 Gen Y job seekers recently profiled in BusinessWeek had found plucky and innovative ways to make lemonade with the economic lemons they were served, including "helping coffee growers in Nicaragua," writing and directing a play, and becoming a "rapper/novelist." Still one doesn't have to be too much of a cynic to think these individuals are, by necessity, more postponing their careers than pursuing them, and most likely they're lucky enough to have financial support while they do it.

What do you think, does graduating into a brutal economic climate make you more likely to end up depressed and (relatively) poor, or is it more likely to encourage flexibility and determination in the long run?

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  • Jessica Stillman On Twitter»

    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.

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