Surviving The Economy, Pensacola and The Free World As A 20-Something
by Sean Boone
Through the thick smoke and dim lights of Sir Richard’s pub you’ll spot the usual suspects.
Around 9 p.m., the Tuesday night crowd sets in—positioned in their typical corners and listening to their typical favorites on the jukebox. While the pool room is empty, the bar echoes of banter between cliques of friends.
It’s a low-key night labeled by 20-something, educated dwellers. While some have just gotten off work, others just have nothing better to do—or any real reason to vacate before they are forced to do so.
Many have college degrees or even master’s degrees in a field that they currently are not employed. Some work in the service industry to pay the bills, others have moved back home with their parents while they complete school or until they figure out their next move.
Welcome to 2010. Welcome to the “Generation Y” dilemma—err, life.
It could be called a pool of “wasted talent,” but it’s a reality for many Pensacola young adults. Some are overqualified for the jobs they hold but stay in the area because of job security, while others just don’t know where and what they want to do next.
“I think it’s always going to be about half and half in terms of who are driven and want to move forward,” says Jessica Cormier, 25, as she takes a sip of her drink. “I think there are others that are comfortable and set and life is routine and they are ok with (not finding work in their degree field)…or they aren’t happy and complain but do nothing about it.”
According to U.S. Census, today’s 20-somethings in America are much more apt to wait on finishing school, marriage (average age 28 for males and 26 for females), starting a career or becoming financially independent.
Jessica, a waitress at The Angus, recently decided to return to the University of West Florida to study Anthropology. She moved out of her parents’ house last year, but says she hasn’t completely decided what to do once she graduates.
“I went back to school because I thought my life was becoming very stagnant and if I didn’t make a change, nothing would change,” she says. “But am I okay where I am at in my life? I think I am. I think for a long time I wasn’t. “I’m slowly working my way through school and I’m not necessarily sure I’m going to do (Anthropology work). But I feel like I’m doing something and working towards something. Yes, I’m still working restaurant jobs, but I’m doing it to pay for tuition instead of buying clothes.”
WAITING AND LEARNING
Although today’s young adults have inherited a stigma of not accomplishing as much as the “Baby Boomer” generation did during their 20s, some experts who have studied the transition believe the late start is actually a long-term benefit for society.
Roz Fisher, a sociology instructor at UWF, says the generational pull of not getting married early and starting careers late has made people more ambitious.
“I think that is part of the result of so many divorces,” she says. “Also, we encourage people to experience life. Young people in their 20s want to actually live in and have their own experiences before settling down. The types of careers they are choosing have a lot more flexibility in them. People know they are going to change jobs in their lives, so they are going to find something they want to do to start off with.”
In 2004, the American Sociological Association published findings that showed that 46 percent of women and 31 percent of men had finished school, left home, gotten married, had a child and reached financial independence by age 30, compared to 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men in 1960.
The New York Times Magazine last month reported that 20-somethings now go through an average of seven jobs during the decade and two-thirds of them spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without getting married.
Fisher says she believes that because today’s youth have been raised to question more things and see things from an individual interest instead of a worldly view; changing their outlook on fulfilling their parents’ goals.
“There is not as much question about coloring outside of the lines. People think you are different but they think you are interesting. It’s not the same kind of judgment anymore. I think the whole value system that we have about following the norm is, ‘now the norm is your own norm.’ For the most part, the rules are being rewritten every day.”
MOVING ON UP…AND OUT
The 2010 Mason-Dixon Quality of Life Survey of Escambia County released in August showed that 42 percent of single young people and 54 percent of recent grads polled found the county to be a poor place to live. It also showed that 51 percent of people who made less than $40,000 a year were “very” concerned with job security in the current economic market.
But despite an unemployment rate flirting with 12 percent mark, many 20-somethings that talked with the IN weren’t as concerned with finding a job in Pensacola as much as they were finding one here that they actually wanted to do.
Many who aspire to progress in their field are finding the need to move outside the area to gain experience to offset the competition for the better jobs here.
“I feel like I have to make myself kind of a rock star to be enough of a commodity,” says Anna Carroll, 26.
Anna was recently accepted into the English Literature PhD program at the University of Oregon, where she hopes she can obtain an elite education that allows her to teach back home at UWF.
“I’m really quite fond of this place, and I’ve made a lot of relationships here,” she says. “You can have a really simple life here. But do I think I need to go away for a while? For sure.”
Grant Hutchinson, 25, says moving away after college was just a step towards coming back to Pensacola for the long haul. For three years he worked for a large advertising firm in San Francisco before recently coming home to be near family.
Grant isn’t upset with the move, but even with a padded resume, his options for jobs here—particularly in a down economy—have been dismal.
“It’s hard to imagine ever leaving (the area) completely. That said, I’m disappointed by the current job market, but still hopeful for the future.”
Not surprisingly, the Quality of Life Survey found that 51 percent of families in the county had a member between the ages of 18-25 who would likely leave in the next year.
Despite efforts from groups such as the Pensacola Young Professionals and the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce to curb that exodus, Grant believes the ticket to creating a better job market for his age group is to not to focus on who is here, but who is not here.
“Pensacola needs to concentrate on attracting new talent from other areas, not just on keeping local talent in the area.”
It may also take a change in reputation for that to happen. This summer, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology completed an evaluation of medium-sized cities in the U.S. and placed Pensacola on its list of “Forgotten Cities” based on such problems as poverty. It was the only city in Florida to be added to the list.
BREAKING THE BOX
For Jessica’s sister Melissa, 29, who moved to Washington D.C. for law school, the problem of finding a decent paying job will be even tougher once she obtains her degree. But she says she’s okay with that, as she’s decided on making a home in North Carolina, a place she met her long-term boyfriend and where she hopes to raise a family in her 30s.
“The plan right now is to find a job as an attorney somewhere in or near Raleigh,” she says, “but jobs, even for people at high ranking law schools, are still pretty scarce. I think I’m a little different from most of my classmates, also, because I’m only looking in North Carolina, whereas most of my classmates don’t have a definite idea of where they want to settle, so they’re looking all over the U.S.”
Melissa took a few years off after completing her undergrad while living in Wilmington. She says she was lucky to have that time off because it “cemented” her desire to practice law.
“Many of my classmates came to law school as a default after undergrad and are realizing that they still don’t really know what they want to do,” she says. “I think that a lot of kids from my generation just didn’t know what to do after undergrad, so they just kept going to school. Even though I’m happy to be where I am, doing what I’m doing right now, I have to admit that sometimes I envy people my age who have already started families. I know my dad often comments that he expected to be a grandfather by now. When my parents were my age, they already had three kids, but neither of them attended college.”
Fisher says breaking the “box” of the older generations has allowed 20-somethings such as Melissa to keep their head above water during the current economic crisis.
“I think the biggest thing about people in their 20s now is they see the sky is the limit,” she says. “Even though we have a recession, people are thinking more about what they can do. I don’t think they are quite discouraged and the limitations of society as people did in the 50s or in the 20s when we went through economic slumps because I think there is kind of a whole creative, entrepreneurial sense that didn’t exist when I came out of college.”
THE EDUCATION ECHO
Jessica’s friends at her table are in the same pickle. One has a bachelor’s in biology and the other working on one in English—both are undecided on what to do next.
In an age where a bachelor’s degree doesn’t get one far without experience and in a town where law firms and medical practices round out the majority of high-paying jobs, the decision to stay in school for the 20-something Pensacolians seems like a reasonable option.
“Now that I’ve graduated, I don’t really know what to do (with my Psychology degree),” says Lucia Garcia-Romeu, 26, who is also a waitress at The Angus. “I’d be really happy working for a non profit but there’s no job market. I feel like a wasted talent just floating around waiting on something.”
Lucia says she is looking into grad schools that offer Art Therapy, a degree that she’ll have to leave Pensacola to obtain. But right now she says she’s just focused on what is in front of her—getting by financially.
“I’ve gone on Craigslist and others to look for work…I’ve been on and looked and there’s nothing I can do. I make more money holding two jobs as a waitress than anywhere else, unfortunately.”
And in many cases, Lucia is right on (or off) the money. A weekly report from the U.S. Census noted that, since Oct. 30, 1998, one in six college graduates earned less than high school graduates. Despite reports over the past decade that college grads made more than $1 million more than the high school educated workforce during a 30-year span, the Bloomberg Business Review released a report this year that stated that the value of a college degree may only be $400,000 over 30 years (or $13,333 per year).
But Jessica says she doesn’t believe that money is the culprit for those not in their post-degree field but blames narrow-sightedness.
“I do know a lot of people who have graduated and have their degree but they are still working in restaurants. Whether they need to go back for more school or waiting to go elsewhere, it’s easy to get stuck because it’s comfortable.”