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Millennials keep their chins up despite high unemployment in economic downturn

Facing high unemployment, millennials draw resilience from flexible goals, tech savvy, and parental cushions. Will these supports help them emerge strong from the economic downturn?

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Though jobs are still scarce, un-employed young adults tend to see possibilities rather than liabilities, says Mr. Winograd, citing coping strategies for the 18-to-29 set.

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Hey, it's a great time to go to grad school. Last year, more than 675,000 people registered for the GRE tests, a whopping 9 percent increase from 2008, the Educational Testing Service reported.

Another internship? Why not. Half the class of 2008 had been an intern at some time in their college careers, and the share had ticked up to 52 percent by 2009, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

With these Web skills, how can we lose? Some Millennials are branching out to become online entrepreneurs, in effect creating their own jobs using their tech savvy.

Volunteering will help others and pay off in the long run. About 8.24 million young people ages 16 to 24 volunteered in 2008, at least 441,000 more than in 2007, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. The Peace Corps got 15,386 applicants in fiscal year 2009, an 18 percent jump. Applications for Americorps, the teaching program that generally attracts students just out of high school and college, tripled from 2008 to 2009, says Ashley Etienne of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Members of this generation are less likely to take just any job than are others out of work, says Neil Howe, author of a series of books on Millennials. "They're more likely to take an unpaid internship, classes, or do free consulting – something that advances their goals," he says.

That's true for Henneberger, who has been doing freelance website work free of charge to boost his résumé while he searches for work. He looks at this as more opportunity for self-improvement, he says, and has used his time to learn how to use new software.

It's true, too, for Tim Malcolm of Hampstead, N.H. With his degree in architecture, Mr. Malcolm worked as a project manager at a construction firm in New England. But by last summer, things were so slow he was laid off.

After volunteering locally, Malcolm and his girlfriend, also a 20-something, combined their desire to make a difference and their love of travel by donating their time in 50 states in 50 days, blogging about it along the way. They say they wanted to inspire people to volunteer more, even in a down economy. He calls this period in his life a "gift of time and the freedom to do whatever I was passionate about" and to "act as a productive member of society.

Malcolm recently finished the trip, living off savings and donations, and returned to New England. He's at his dad's house while he gears up for a job search. But Malcolm is fairly hopeful. He's received positive feedback about his volunteer journey.

"If you present it in the right way, the experience can open a lot of doors," he says. "I know job offers are not going to pop up tomorrow. But I see a lot of opportunity."