One would think with the flexibility offered by remote work, working from home and virtual job opportunities that young adult unemployment would decrease. This, however, is not the case. But then again, maybe there is an underlying dynamic that the unemployment data has overlooked?
Young adult failure to obtain jobs and gain independence
The purpose of this article is to provide support to parents of young adults who are exhibiting failure to launch symptoms. We also share how alternative working arrangements may be a useful pursuit for young adults.
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Georgetown University’s Center on Education in the Workforce conducted a longitudinal study of employment of young adults (twenty year and slightly older). After compiling the data, they next compared the calculations with data sets of same aged people in different time periods (1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s).
By 2012, Georgetown found there was a ‘failure to launch’ (FTL) phenomenon. This occurs when young adults experience difficulty obtaining a job and gaining independence. It is summarized the comparisons below.
- Today, it is taking young adults about four years longer to reach the middle range of wage distributions (1980s the mid range wage was reached at age 26, now its 30).
- Young adult labor force participation has declined to percentages experienced shortly after the Vietnam War (1972 levels).
- Young adults are not taking advantage of the higher levels of retirements, keeping open jobs that were typically filled by young adults.
- Within the approximate ten year time period, (2000 to 2012), the employment rate of young adults dropped to 72% from 84%.
Symptoms of young adult failure to launch and secure job
Shortly after the Georgetown compilation and comparison of longitudinal data employment data of young adults, in 2019, the Journal of American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, republished additional research in the National Library of Medicine: National Center for Biotechnology Information. The failure to transition seamlessly from adolescence to young adulthood is believed to leave profound scars on the psyche of the slower to mature individual and their families.
For instance, the Eli Lebowitz, PhD the author of the article “Failure to Launch”: Shaping Intervention for Highly Dependent Adult Children” presented these challenges:
- Young adults may be stigmatized for the society’s perception of their failure to transition to adulthood.
- Young adults exhibiting FTL symptoms can be unduly considered as “overly pampered and lazy.”
- The parents of struggling FTL adults are often “ridiculed for being too indulgent.”
- Young adults with FTL can struggle to function as independent adults and can be “overwhelmed by the societal demands.
- Young adults may suffer shame and alienation as they compare their lack of progress with their more accomplished peers.
Worldwide young adult job status impacted by COVID-19
Globally, young adult job attainment and employment were negatively impacted by COVID-19. In 2023, an article titled, “Employment Disruption and Wellbeing Among Young Adults: A Cross-National Study of Perceived Impact of the COVID-19 Lockdown,” published by the Journal of Happiness Studies found that young adults experienced an increase in unemployment (loss of job), employment disruptions, and a decrease in income (reduction in income while employed).
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Not only in the US, but across the globe. Data was collected from six countries (US, China, Lithuania, Portugal, Slovenia and Italy) representing four continents. In each of the six countries (with the exception of China), the economic and psychological well-being of young adults were impacted negatively. The researchers provided data to evidence the following:
- In the US, COVID-19 mandated closures helped marshal the “highest job loss rate since the Great Depression.” (Romm, 2020).
- In Europe, COVID-19 lockdowns, the “Gross Domestic Product (GDP) economy shrank 12.1% in the second quarter of 2020—the sharpest decline since 1995 .”(Eurostat, 2020).
Trauma of COVID-19 slowed maturation of young adult brain development
Before we go about citing yet another peer-reviewed, research-based study, we want to mention why the restrictive societal conditions swept in by COVID-19 have been so detrimental to young adults.
Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment Journal indicates that in ideal conditions, the structure and processes of the human brain does not fully develop until the adult age of 25 years. Further there are other studies showing how trauma is associated with depression and anxiety. Further, traumatic experiences can negatively impact brain development.
Increased threat perceptions changed young adult views on jobs
One could theorize that increased threat perceptions fundamentally changed the way in which yound adult viewed jobs, careers, employment and quality of life. The International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, defined “COVID-19 is a new type of trauma that has never been conceptually or empirically analyzed in our discipline.”
The authors speak of the following risk factors related to COVID-19 trauma:
- COVID-19 virus is invisible and at this time, perceived to be hard to contain,
- Leaders continue to identify COVID-19 and assorted variants as a danger to health,
- Continued exposure to chronic stressors (news media, scientific experts) drain coping capabilities,
- Perceived threats of COVID-19 infection, indirect societal pressure, and actual direct economic, financial and professional livelihoods can lead to disintegration.
Young adults considering alternative ways for earning a steady wage
S&P Global Market Intelligence indicated that while young adults in their early 20s are not entering the traditional workforce; they are strongly considering other avenues. “Which ones?” you might ask.
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Non-traditional work. Social media. Entrepreneurship. These more flexible, self-employed, sub-contracting, gig working arrangements are not generally counted as part of the old style labor force. But, the potential to earn a living wage can be what may entice young adults away from more conventional jobs. And, these gigs can be done in your parent’s basement while living at home.
These alternative work-related job strategies are not too far-fetched. Further, they represent a logical approach to thwart the NTL label society tends to affix upon those who have had the misfortune of becoming of age during COVID-19 and entering a lousy job market as a result.
Some of the reasons cited for the alternative approach to earning a living wage are:
- The hiring rate in May 2022 was just 4.2%; in May 2021, 8.5%; in May 2020, 10%, from hiring rate highs of 15% in May 2019.
- Young adults, in large numbers, are not filling the job gaps left open by older workers seeking early and age-related retirements.
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Young adults employed on remote, virtual and freelance jobs are normalized
Starting one’s own business as a social media influencer, gig worker, video content creator is no longer frowned upon. A gen Z non-traditional economics degree holder explained his rationale, and possibly the decision-making of his peers in this manner,
“This is becoming normal, at least more normal,” Roth said. “There’s so much more available to this generation … there are so many alternatives.”
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This sentiment is further echoed by a CNBC article, revealing that upwards of 60% of teens (aged 13 to 17) now want to start their own business rather than seek a steady 9 to 5 job. Where do they get their inspiration?
- 40% are inspired by other social media influencers, entertainers and celebrities.
- 45% are interested in learning how to go about being a successful influencer by other entrepreneurs.
- 37% would pursue after-school programming on gaining entrepreneurship job skills.
Tips for parents of young adults exhibiting failure to launch job-related symptoms
What can parents and concerned adults do when their child/ young adult appears to be suffering from a temporary bout of FTL (failure to launch) ?
- Understand that some world leaders are advancing a massive restructuring where traditional norms of society are being reset.
- Recognize the societal upheavals and the drastic effect the COVID-19 lockdowns, social exclusion and isolation have on the physical and psychological well-being of young adults.
- Make gradual reductions in full-scale accommodations while providing empathy related to negative circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 forced lockdowns.
- Develop a growth plan with milestones, goals and objectives, for
- income generation (ie in 3-6 months the child/ young adult will pursue a part time traditional job or remote job or gig, freelancing work);
- job skills development (the individual will take a coding, bootcamp, influencer training; embark upon training for a vocational career, etc)
- self sustenance (the individual will make a contribution to rent, car payment, gas, food, utilities)
- social skills (the individual will develop a calendar of social/ professional events for which to partake, professional groups/ associations to join and interact)
- support network (the individual will seek out others who may be supportive of his/her/their endeavors)
- Establish a budget for self development and/or entrepreneurship pursuits
- Hold weekly (or monthly) meetings depending upon the family dynamic to discuss, review and modify the growth plan and budget.
- Seek outside mental health, community-based and other social services support as needed.