Generation X and Jobs

IN July, the caps and gowns of June are stowed away, and new college grads get even more serious about finding work. For many, the task feels colossally daunting. From all sides our talented, often thoughtful young grad is barraged with negativity. ``Painfully Tight Job Market,'' ``Dreams on Hold,'' ``Prospects Worst in Decades,'' declare the headlines. Taken objectively, the recent corporate downsizing in America and the recession could make the search for what to do, now that one presumably knows somet hing, an existential crisis as bleak and Byzantine as found in those novels of Kafka in 20th-Century Lit. Consider that the drying up of defense spending has, for the first time in recent memory, scaled back even science and engineering jobs.

Certainly the social context and the expectations and assumptions for these grads seems less generous than in earlier periods. The post-baby boomers have been labeled ``Generation X.'' They get the scraps from the table of the baby boomers. They have student loans and high rents. They are ``uniquely thirsty in a sea of affluence,'' as columnist Robert Kuttner put it. They often must take temporary work. And many are angry about this. As a recent grad told us, ``We understand but resent that we can't expe ct anything when we graduate ... that a diploma doesn't mean very much.''

Sadly, part of the social psychology being imposed on Generation X is that their anger and resentment themselves are perfectly acceptable and that nothing can be done about one's imposed predicament.

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Time out. Perhaps what recent grads most need to challenge, especially those who feel creeping paralysis about finding work, is the argument that they can be defined by social conditions, by the impersonal tyranny of statistics or labels. An important aspect of a liberal education is the value of independent thought and action. In this sense, what ``everyone else'' does or feels doesn't matter. One has a right to one's own freedom.

Each graduate has the capacity to bring original talent to bear. Rather than sit and wait out the recession, it may be the best thing to get out and find employment, however humble, and learn the ropes for a couple of years. Or, it may also be that searching for a tailor-made job is the answer.

Regardless, as one recent letter writer to this paper put it, ``The solution is not to wait for things in Washington to improve ... while denying your own power to take charge of your career.''

Carpe diem.

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