Getting off the sofa and into the workforce

Sunday, July 1, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Why has Generation Y turned into the "Boomerang Generation" — or "Generation Y Bother"?

That's what commentator Todd Buccholz asked on American Public Media's March 28 show, the same question he put forth in a New York Times editorial a few weeks ago titled "The Go-Nowhere Generation." As in the Times piece, Buccholz wondered why so many young adults are ending up on their parents' couches after being handed their diplomas — and why that's bad for the economy.

Buccholz pushed for recent college graduates to get away from home and enter markets where hiring is happening. He used Fargo, N.D., as an example in both pieces — the city's unemployment rate sits at just 3.9 percent, he noted.

Buccholz wondered about possible causes: Is this a result of overprotective parenting? Is it the consequence of setting the bar for job qualifications too high?

Based on some of the interviews I've done, I wonder if the hesitance to travel might also be linked to students defining themselves as less hardworking and more entitled than previous generations.

That's the overwhelming sentiment that came out of several classes at St. Charles West High School, which I visited a few weeks ago. While most said they wanted to leave their hometown for college — the vast majority said they were unquestionably headed for higher education — will they find St. Charles more appealing once they're done? Some of these students told me they were looking to "work smarter, not harder" and find the easiest way to accomplish what they want. Does that mean moving home if it's in line with what they want out of their lives?

Young parents I've spoken to have said they want their children — who are now only toddlers — to live nearby once they graduate from college and get their first jobs. Perhaps that will be an option when those 2-year-olds are in their 20s; maybe job opportunities will be more widespread than they are now. But how do we help the young adults facing a tough economy right now?

This post is part of the American Next, a special project exploring the hopes, fears and changing expectations of Missouri's next generation in challenging times.

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