Four years after receiving my bachelor’s degree in writing, I was finally hired for my first, full time, professional job—a job in my field no less. I had been working part time at the public relations firm that would eventually offer me a full time position for eight months, paying my dues, proving myself, and showing my loyalty. While working there part time, I was supplementing my income working as a barista.
During my last few weeks working at the coffee shop, I was training a new girl who had another job as an accountant. I asked her how often she worked there and she said 40 hours a week. I was baffled.
“I didn’t realize you worked there full time,” I said. “Why did you decide to work here?”
“They only pay me $12.70 an hour!” A strange statement considering at this coffee shop, she would only be making $7.75 an hour.
“That’s not bad though,” I said.
“It only works out to $23,000 a year!”
I was floored. I even felt a little defensive. I couldn’t help thinking about all the twenty-somethings I know that are scraping by with $16,000 a year or less. That since graduating college, I had gotten by on that much. That once I began my full time position, I wouldn’t be making much more than her $23,000 a year after taxes. Where did this girl get off? She’s 23. She has never once had to move back in with her parents since graduating high school, she secured a full time position, and is above the poverty line—from what I’ve witnessed, she’s far ahead of a great deal of millennials.
I’ve encountered a handful of millennials who have found relative success rather quickly. A few of my friends, for example, seem to have avoided the struggles so many millennials face or have faced. They all landed decent, well-paying jobs right out of college. None of them had to toil away at low-skilled, minimum-wage paying jobs that diminish your self-worth; they didn’t have to desperately beg for more hours at said jobs; and they didn’t have to scrap together multiple part time positions to afford rent, car insurance, gas, utilities, internet, student loans, groceries, etc. And they weren’t forced to temporarily move back in with their parents. They can’t fully appreciate the shittiness of living paycheck to paycheck. Of having to ignore much-need doctors’ appointments or car repairs, or crying to your parents because you have bed bugs and can’t afford an exterminator and your landlord and roommate are giving you hell like you spawned the damn things yourself.
I’m glad for all of them. It’s wonderful that they were able to experience such early success. What I have issue with is that they, like the girl at the coffee shop, seem to take their success for granted. They complain about being broke, which is insulting to everyone who has struggled to get by, to find a job, or has had to live with their parents. If so many of their peers are able to scrape by on $12-16,000 a year, shouldn’t $23-40,000 offer some cushion? If you only have to care for yourself and you don’t have serious medical issues, it should be more than enough to meet your needs.
I guess the ultimate point I want to make is never to take what you have for granted. Getting a full time job in my field took a lot of soul-searching; building up my self-esteem, self-respect, and self worth; and a lot of unpaid writing and editing work. This is the case for many millennials—they work shitty jobs, using their free time to do work in their field for free to build up their resumes, and live paycheck to paycheck for several years before finally landing a full time job. But maybe the struggle is a prerequisite for appreciating what you have.