A Silent Majority Of Undereducated And Underemployed Millennials

Oct 7, 2014
Originally published on December 14, 2015 5:01 pm

This story is part of the New Boom series on millennials in America.

Millennials are often mocked as Starbucks baristas with Ivy League educations.

And while they are the best-educated generation to date, data from the Pew Research Center show about two-thirds of millennials between ages 25 and 32 lack a bachelor's degree.

That majority is often ignored in conversations about millennials.

This narrative is alive and well in Boston's Harvard Square, where church bells chime as millennials sip lattes and drift out of bookstores. But take a walk down the road, and the story changes.

A few blocks away, Fabianie Andre rings up groceries at a supermarket that caters to these college students. She's 31 — part of the same millennial generation — but she lives in a harshly different economic world than the elite students she serves.

"I needed the extra money," Andre says. "Like, I was just struggling too much, so I felt like I needed something to supplement my income."

She works at the store on the weekends for minimum wage in addition to her job Monday through Friday, where she processes authorizations for an insurance company.

In some ways, Andre is very much a typical millennial — she's not married and admits she doesn't go to church as often as she did growing up.

But where Andre's story veers from the stereotype is that she doesn't have a college degree. She immigrated to the U.S. from Haiti when she was 5.

"I didn't have any help from my parents or anyone else to support me," she says. "So I felt like I needed to work full time, as opposed to going to school full time."

Andre had wanted to become an elementary school teacher but dropped out of college before senior year. She had an academic scholarship, but she still needed money for rent and other basic living expenses.

Not having a college degree is true for a majority of millennials, according to the Pew Research Center. In other words, Andre's story is the norm even though it doesn't match the popular myth.

"There's been a lot of attention paid to the adversities facing college-educated millennials, but generally the college-educated young adults, they're doing better than earlier generations of college-educated young adults," says Richard Fry, the lead researcher on a Pew report about the rising cost of not going to college.

His study finds that millennials with only a high school diploma make roughly $17,500 less per year than a millennial with a four-year college degree.

"Among the less educated, it's not simply that they're trailing behind their college-educated counterparts; it's that they're doing worse off than earlier generations of less educated adults," he says.

Andre lives in a one-bedroom apartment in an immigrant enclave of suburban Boston.

She is a single mom to her 3-year-old daughter, Leilah. Most days, she leaves her place at 7 a.m., drops Leilah off at preschool and drives another half-hour to her weekday job where she makes about $38,000 a year.

"I definitely find myself stressing a lot about money," Andre says. "I struggle in making ends meet at the end of the month. I usually make it by the skin of my teeth."

But a few times she hasn't made it, and she had to borrow money from a friend to pay rent.

She says she would probably be making more money if she had a degree.

"I'd probably be teaching. I'd probably be doing something that I love as opposed to doing something that I have to do to sustain myself and a life for my daughter and I," she says.

Like many of her peers, Andre wants more than a job. She wants a career.

But that's not easy when you're caring for a child and working seven days a week. Still, she's upbeat about her financial future. And that's true for the 85 percent of millennials who say they either have enough money to live the lives they want, or they expect to in the future.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We're kicking off a new series about the generation born between 1980 and 2000.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I didn't know if I was a millennial. But, apparently, I am.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I've heard of X generation and Y generation but I haven't heard millenial.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I think that the picture that I have of millennial was created by non-millennials, to be honest.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Yeah.

SIEGEL: Yes, millennials. We're calling our series new boom because right now there are more millennials in the U.S. than baby boomers.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

For the next few weeks, we'll explore how this generation - the most diverse ever - is changing America, from politics...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: We have such potential, as a generation, to just change everything that we don't like into something that positive and something that is impactful.

BLOCK: To the workplace.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: The younger folks here don't have their roots set in the old ways.

BLOCK: We'll also examine how this generation is dating, what it's buying and what it's not spending its money on.

SIEGEL: Even though this group is the best educated generation to date, here's an interesting note. Data from the Pew Research Center shows about two-thirds of people between the ages of 25 and 32 do not have a bachelor's degree. That majority is often overlooked in conversations about millennial. From member station WBUR in Boston, Asma Khalid reports on the economic impact of bypassing college.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: In Harvard Square, church bells chime as millennials sip lattes and drift out of bookstores. Just down the road...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECODING)

FABIANIE ANDRE: I can help the next person over here.

KHALID: Fabianie Andre rings up groceries at a supermarket that caters to these college students. She's 31, part of the same millennial generation. But she lives in a harshly different economic world than many of the elite students she serves.

ANDRE: I needed the extra money. Like, I was just struggling too much so I felt like I needed something, you know, to supplement my income.

KHALID: Andre works weekends here for minimum wage. That's in addition to her job Monday through Friday, where she processes authorizations for an insurance company. In some ways, Andre is very much a typical millennial. She's not married and admits she doesn't go to church as often as she did growing up. And, like most millennials, she lacks a college degree.

ANDRE: I didn't have any help from my parents or anyone else helping to support me.

KHALID: Andre emigrated from Haiti when she was five.

ANDRE: So I felt like I needed to work full-time as opposed to going to school full-time.

KHALID: Andre had wanted to become an elementary school teacher but dropped out of college before senior year. She had an academic scholarship but she still needed money for rent and other basic living expenses. Not having a college degree is true for a majority of millennials, according to the Pew Research Center. In other words, Andre's story is the norm, even though it doesn't match the popular myth.

RICHARD FRY: There's been a lot of attention paid to the adversities facing college-educated millennials but generally the college-educated young adults, they're doing better than earlier generations of college-educated young adults.

KHALID: Richard Fry is the lead researcher on a Pew report about the rising cost of not going to college. His study finds millennials with a four year college degree make roughly $17,500 more per year than millennials with only a high school diploma.

FRY: Among the less educated, it's not simply that they're trailing behind their college-educated counterparts. It's that they're doing worse off than earlier generations of less educated young adults.

ANDRE: I've been super busy lately with work and life (laughter).

KHALID: Andre lives in a one-bedroom apartment in an immigrant enclave of suburban Boston.

ANDRE: I picked up some shifts and stuff at my job. OK. I'll go upstairs. Leilah, say hi.

LEILAH: Hi.

KHALID: Andre is a single mom to her 3-year-old daughter, Leilah. Most days, she leaves her place at seven a.m., drops her daughter off at preschool and drives another half hour to her weekday job, where she makes about $38,000 a year.

ANDRE: I definitely find myself stressing a lot about money. I struggle in making ends meet at the end of the month. And I usually make it by the skin of my teeth (laughter).

KHALID: But a few times, she hasn't made it. And she had to borrow money from a friend to pay rent. She says she would probably be making more money if she had a degree.

ANDRE: I'd probably be teaching. I'd probably be doing something that I love, as opposed to doing something that I have to do to sustain myself, and a life for my daughter and I.

KHALID: Like many of her peers, Andre wants more than a job. She wants a career. But that's not easy when you are caring for a child and working seven days a week. Still she's upbeat about her financial future. And that's true for the 85 percent of millennials who say they either have enough money to live the lives they want or they expect to in the future. For NPR News, I'm Asma Khalid, in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.