Why Are Millennials the Most Stressed Generation?

A recent study by the American Psychological Association revealed that Millennials are the most stressed-out age group in the country. In fact, more than half of the Millennials that took part in the study admitted to letting their issues keep them awake at night. Sadly, those who do lose sleep aren’t just anxious worriers or drama queens—our generation really does face problems so heinous that they warrant sleepless nights.

Twenty-somethings are a star-crossed generation that’s facing the re-evaluation and/or outright collapse of institutions once deemed unshakeable and sacred. One of these institutions is the job market.

Since the start of “The Great Recession,” the economy has been a ubiquitous scapegoat for all kinds of problems. While blaming society’s ills on “corporate fat cats” has become a terrible cliché, it can’t be denied that economic woes have irrevocably shifted the job market in a way that dims the outlooks for recent graduates.

When we were children, we were told how our lives were expected to play out: Go to grade school, go to college, use your degree to get a job that pays well, move out and start your life. In 2013, it’s rare that any graduate’s life plays out like that.  Instead, it’s something more like: Go to grade school, go to college, intern, switch your major after not liking that field, stay in college for an extra year to meet requirements for your new major, intern, graduate, move back in with your parents, drink alcohol and cry while watching Girls or Workaholics, and keep interning until you finally get a job somewhere.

We can credit the economy with creating this circumstance by means of killing the entry level job. Sure, entry level jobs still exist in a sense, but they’re entry level in name only. Like most other Millennials, I’ve read my share of job listings, only to be in a state of horrified awe when I saw that every single “entry level” position required 2-4 years of experience in that field. The only way to get the experience is to intern as much as possible, but interning doesn’t always lead to full-time employment.

Teddy Wayne of The New York Times recently published a stark piece about the realities of this nightmare. What was particularly upsetting was the realization that companies know the struggles of job-seeking 20-somethings all too well—and they’re masters at exploiting them. Wayne said that companies were on the hunt for, what one manager called, “a 22-22-22”—a 22-year-old who’d work 22-hour days for $22,000 a year. Of course, the center figure is an exaggeration, but the other two aren’t.

This occupational malaise is a major cause for stress among Millennials. We can’t get jobs, and even if we do, we’re seen as exploitable wage-slaves. We’re offered low pay because companies know we’ll take it, no matter how poor the conditions. Why? Because both we and the companies know that there’s an army of millions of other just-as-desperate people waiting and willing to sacrifice 60 hours a week for scraps.

But career-oriented woes are only part of the reason why Millennials have such a stress problem. Getting paid a small amount of money sucks, but it sucks even worse when your yearly salary is less than the amount of student loans you have. Let’s take the above salary of $22,000 per year and subtract that from the average student loan debt of approximately $27,000. At first glance, this doesn’t seem that bad. You could reduce your debt to $5,000 in a year…but only if you didn’t spend a single cent on anything else (like food, fun, rent, bills, et cetera). Alas, very few people are in a situation where they have zero expenses, so a salary of $22,000 per year won’t wipe out a $27,000 student loan very quickly.

Being in debt while having a job that pays peanuts is a terrifying thing to live through. The study about stressed Millennials reported that 52% of them are kept awake by their issues. If you’ve ever been in a situation where you aren’t making enough money to meet your monthly student loan payments, you’d understand why. It’s a massive stressor—one that’s present in the lives of the majority of graduates, seeing as more than half of student loans are now in deferral or delinquent.

There’s more to the story though. Part of the stress comes from the fact that, according to a report from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, roughly 48% of college grads lucky enough to be employed are in jobs that require less than a four-year degree. Some of those occupations require no more than graduating high school.

48% of us became the retail clerks that we went to college to not become.

Even worse, now there’s serious discussion over whether students actually learned/are learning stuff in college. So not only is the next batch of graduates wasting tons of money to wind up in shitty jobs, they’re not learning damn thing while doing it.

The Job market and college debt are the two primary reasons Millennials have so much anxiety, but there is still a third, more nebulous reason that contributes to 20-something angst. Millennials are constantly “connected” to every facet of life. Twitter connects us to the happenings in the world and everyone’s 140-character thoughts about them. Facebook connects us to now-wildly successful high school enemies and to the present activities of so-called friends. There’s nowhere a young person can go to escape these things.

I discussed this phenomenon in a piece for Thought Catalog where I wrote the following:

In previous eras, man wasn’t confronted with the enormity of his generation’s works and deeds. Now modern man is faced with this on a minute-by-minute basis as his smartphone or tablet updates itself. Lady Gaga won another Grammy, Slate wrote a 500th article about how amazing Lena Dunham is, Astrophysicists proved theories about the early universe with never-ending math equations, all while you hit level 90 in the latest World of Warcraft expansion, bought a six pack, smoked a joint, and wrote a pathetic little blog update that five people read.

I now see the internet and think know that I am nothing, and maybe I never will be.

Just so, legions of 20-somethings believe that they, too, will be nothing. They are buried by debt and crushed by a lack of career opportunities. They look at the bleak future and know that their aspirations will likely end in abject failure through no fault of their own. Their toils, their stresses, and their dreams will all amount to naught.

[image credit: www.hypnokeys.com]

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