Jobs & housing are necessities for being able to survive and advance in today’s society, yet my Black millennial peers and I are having an increasingly difficult time finding quality jobs and affordable housing. According to Bloomberg, as of April, Black unemployment was 6.6 percent; and, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that 6.1 percent for Black millennials between the ages 25 and 34. I know because I speak from experience — I have been unemployed since April and I live at home with my parents. Like many of you this is not exactly what I imagined my late 20s and early 30 being; but, here we are nonetheless.
Also, like many of you, I have heard it all from other people — from support (“You’re too qualified to be unemployed.”) to the snide ( “You sure you aren’t being too picky?”), to the grateful/desperate for anything (“When I was your age I was just grateful to have a roof and a job.”) to the rude (“You just gonna stay at your mama’s house forever, huh”) and everything else in between. However, nothing annoys me more than the oft-used, smart-alecky, “Welcome to the real world” phrase. By far, this is the most discouraging thing someone can say to a young person or someone unemployed or looking for their own place. If this were a math problem it would like something like:
(condescension + asshole)(disingenuous + inconsiderate)/ (no resources to help — f**ks to give)
However, those who say that are often the most removed from what current employment and housing situations are currently, particularly for Black millennials.
My unemployed status since April is not from a lack of trying. Shortly after resigning from my last job, I had some conferences, my birthday, and a trip budgeted for in advance, so I began my job search in earnest in August. Since then, I have come to realize that the job search process has been both streamlined and profiled as a result of technology. By that, I mean technology has simplified the application process, allowed for additional documentation, and helped low-income applicants avoid transportations costs and inconveniences; yet, because of that simplification, employers are becoming more apt to funneling the wrong candidates by going solely on resume, becoming more subject to biases (racial, age, experiential, etc.), and profiling candidates into certain sectors based on those biases.
Personally, I have experienced this because my resume only lists 4 years of full-time professional experience out of graduate school, but I have experiences and work product of someone more senior that cannot be easily conveyed in a resume. This is similar to many of my peers, especially those who have graduate degrees. Secondly, applicants are boxed into applying for positions that are too junior due to experience on their resume alone. Oftentimes, we are chosen for the junior position (ageism) which leads to complexities such as title, responsibilities, reporting structure, and compensation — the last being most important because we all have bills to pay, but will that salary cover these student loans too? These junior positions often lead to overeducated and/or overqualified candidates in frustrating positions with limited growth opportunity; because, of course, there are some baby boomers who refuse to retire in the next 3 levels above them.
Lastly, and quite frankly, employers are confused about what they want when hiring to fill a position. Many times, they think that they know what they want, but by the way the job description is written (entry level position requiring 3–5 years’ experience) or by the way the title and responsibilities diverge is telling of a lack of clear vision for the role. Even further, many employers expect to hire someone just like the person that just left, forgetting or ignoring the fact that person took years to establish their level regimen and output. This places the applicant or new employee at a disadvantage because the employer is also likely not to pay for training and other resources to help that person catch up quickly.
We see today that these factors, and many more, are part of the reason jobs are seemingly hard to come by for recent graduates and Black millennials. This has led to high discouraged worker and underemployment rates which are not included in standard unemployment rates. Discouraged workers are those dejected by the job market and choose not to even actively pursue employment. Underemployment is defined by the African American Policy Forum as the condition in which people in a labor force are employed at less than full-time or regular jobs or at jobs inadequate with respect to their training or economic needs. Together, more needs to be done to help improve black millennials find the right jobs at the right wage at the right level with growth opportunities.
Housing is the other elusive area for Black millennial success. I have lived at my parent’s house since returning from Chicago for graduate school in 2014. It started as being practical as I would stay at home until I found and a job and saved for my own place. Then, I found a job and started paying all of my bills plus the credit card and student loan debts, I quickly realized that this would be very difficult. I began saving money and building towards investing, then I saw that the quality of rental property was not very good or what I was accustomed to in Columbus and Chicago (we need more washer/dryer hookups because paying for laundry is old). Furthermore, the cost for rentals were more than what they were worth and buying a house in many cases is cheaper in Cleveland. However, after fixing it up, you will pay what you would or more to rent, and that is without considering the cost of maintenance. Also, the housing stock in metro Cleveland is very old. Suffice to say, I was not ready and staying at home was my best option — my parents gave me freedom and they received a clean house weekly thanks to my OCD. This follows national trends which show, according to a Zillow Group, Inc. survey that nearly a quarter of millennial adults between the ages of 24 and 36 live at home with their parents
However, the historical effects of redlining by the FHA, HUD, and others are still felt today in Cleveland with the way many neighborhoods and east side inner ring suburbs (which are largely black) are treated in terms of development, housing stock, rental stocks, and property tax values (the latter which affects quality of school districts directly which many folks still use to determine where to settle and have families). Rates for millennials staying at home with parents are high, not because they are lazy but, because we cannot afford it. Sadly, housing is viewed as a long-term financial risk for people my age as opposed to an opportunity to add equity and capital because the costs of education and living are so high. Even the myth of low cost of living in Cleveland is becoming apparent because wages have stagnated for decades, costs have increased, education has increased, and debt is high. This affects marriage, family planning, investing, and retail; but, jobs and housing remain the constant anchors.
So, “welcome to the real world” folks this is what employment and housing for millennials — Black, white, Latinx, Asian, etc. — is like today in the year of our Lord 2018. It is not easy, but we are open to resources and personal lessons and experiences on how to make it through or remedy the situation. Or, giving us lots of money helps too. In all seriousness, we did not create this mess, but we inherited it and it will take millennials, baby boomers, and everybody else in between to fix it (plus some). Rather than saying, “welcome to the real world” when you hear some is finding a job or looking for a place to live, how about saying, “I hear you, these options may be of help.”
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