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

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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Edmond S. Abrain

Whyt get a job? If you play your cards right the government will provide you with "benefit" that equal about $70k a year.

December 12 2012 at 10:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hey, person who wrote this article, go **** yourself. You saying we generation Y'ers have no "gumption" and "no get up and go?" I bet you we'll get up and beat your fuckin' ass.

November 20 2012 at 7:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It might have been a good thing is Gen X were a bit more risk averse to starting expensive wars, making foolish economic decisons, and handing out gigantic bonuses to bankers after they completely fail at their jobs.

But their certainly not averse to passing along the blame for their mistakes.

November 20 2012 at 12:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Theresa May

This article is entirely based on someone's chipped shoulder and lack of research. I'm part of this so-called failed generation, yet I am doing something everyday that gets me closer to gaining employment. I have a Bachelor's degree, and I'm not going to borrow another $100K to do a Master's that will put me in the same situation as I am in now: unemployed and desperately applying to every place I can. I've even humbled myself and applied to Target where it pays $8/hr, just so I can get paid SOMETHING. All my internships are unpaid, and it's hard to even find those! It's highly competitive to find volunteer work, let alone something paid!

It takes MONEY to move! Most people are maxed out on their student loans and can't find a job at Taco Bell. Where are they expected to get money? Take out more loans? Yeah, right. That'll fly. Is a lender really going to give someone with $100K in student loan debt more money and hope they pay it back?

Plus, on paper it sounds good - moving to find unemployment in lower numbers. But the statistics have outliers that don't guarantee that low number is accurate. On paper being an RN is a great opportunity and you'll find a job easily! In reality, most RN newgrads can't find jobs. Likewise, half of engineers get outsourced by engineers in India. Thus, likewise, on paper a certain state may have lower unemployment, but that does not guarantee you'll find anything.

Did I mention we're in a recession? Parents have no savings left, and the last thing they can do is lend money to their kids to HOPEFULLY find something in another state.

Hey author - do us all a favor and check your facts before you make rash and loaded-language generalizations. Maybe you should go to college too and stop whining about how things have changed since you were 22. God bless.

October 11 2012 at 4:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Yibble Naught

The whining about moving out of state makes me want to vomit, it's repulsive. I wanted to move to the other side of the planet to work on a two-year masters program and I wasn't crying. Where is your sense of adventure and personal growth? Survival of the fittest is indeed cruel and unpalatable, but there's truth to it and there are far too many fools who would rather bury their heads in the sand than come to grips with that.

August 21 2012 at 7:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
joe smith

Last time I checked it was the liberal, baby boomer generation that racked up a cool $60 trillion in unfunded liabilities. Rich Smith should do everyone a favor and exercise his second amendment right- blow your head off.

July 31 2012 at 5:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Stephen Ray Luce

wow what a way to put down our so called Y generation. I'm 22 and have a full time job and go to medical school to become a neurologist. So you call our generation lazy, spoiled, and ignorant is incorrect. I don't have the money to move out of my parents house due to being payed minimum wage and trying to save every dime for college. I don't have my pants hanging below my knees nor asking my mother for money. I support my self as much as possible. I cant just up and move to another state, that's f'n ridiculous.

June 01 2012 at 1:31 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply


May 27 2012 at 10:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jennifer Bunte

How does this explain youth unemployment in other countries? Are they all just stupid and lazy? Somehow I doubt this is the case.

April 11 2012 at 3:31 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Randy Moser

I think the poster who said that every generation after the Boomers has been painted with the same brush is dead on and agree with Caron that we Gen Xers should know better. This is bait set by a generation of smug jerks who benefitted from rising home prices, cheap oil and the booming economy of the 1990s.

Baby Boomers created this crisis and now they put it at younger generations’ feet. Why don’t you all step down from your overpaid office jobs, give up your golden parachutes and try to compete on the open market again and tell us how that works out for you when you can’t even set up your Outlook account. Disgusting.

April 09 2012 at 1:04 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Randy Moser's comment

Well said.

July 28 2012 at 10:31 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply