|By Lynda Edwards, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Demographers foresee a generational shift in the workplace led by this age group, generally defined as being born between the early 1980s and early 2000s. But some of the career factors millennials embrace — flexibility, purposeful labor, economic security — are not necessarily within their grasp as they enter a job market weakened by the Great Recession.
Independent work may give them flexible hours and meaningful employment, but economic instability is often the trade-off. Millennials on the
The respondents flatly say some American dreams may be out of their financial reach forever: traveling overseas, a college education, homeownership, children. Like young people launching careers in the Great Depression, they acquire an amazing array of skills that save them money — car and bike repair, baking, home maintenance, computer languages, sewing. Several boast of their ability to cut their food budgets by eating nothing for a month but:
— 40-ounce jar of dollar-store peanut butter and saltines.
— Off-brand power bars bought in bulk at
Yet they are idealistic and hopeful enough to name meaningful work for a good cause as a life goal. Economists may still be wondering when American companies will boost salaries and hire full-time workers. These millennials believe this fragile freelancing economy may be the new normal for their generation.
Here are three of their stories.
When one of her bosses sexually harassed her crudely and repeatedly, 27-year-old blogger and freelance marketing writer Juniper Russo knew exactly what to do.
"The guy who was harassing me had the power to cut off a lot of lucrative assignments, and I couldn't afford to lose that money for my daughter and me,"
Freelancing helped her create a life nestled inside a cozy
"The dogs are the best alarm system,"
The back door is painted and decorated to look like a TARDIS, Doctor Who's magical police telephone box that transports him across space and time.
"Yes, I'd like a European vacation or a cross-country road trip, but realistically I don't know when we could afford it,"
She had been earning
When asked how she envisions the future for herself and her family, there is a long pause while she reflects.
"Honestly, when I look ahead, I don't have any hope for my spouse and me to move any higher economically than lower middle class, just above working poor," she replies slowly. "But, yes, I do believe we can help our children be happy and confident without high income. I hope our kids make it into middle class, if the future still has a middle class."
"I was unemployed, broke. I had two housemates, and we were living in an old house in a bad neighborhood with worn-out carpet in the bathroom," recalls Parker, now 32. So he grabbed his
When partygoers appeared in a Parker photo, it bestowed a certain cachet. In 2010, Parker told
"I was a terrible negotiator. People told me they would pay me later then never did. I wanted to convince potential employers to hire me permanently so I didn't complain or argue when I probably should have," Parker says.
During the four years he photographed parties, city officials and local activists noticed his work and were impressed. He discovered he had a gift that marks talented photographers: the ability to capture diverse worlds. His photos of men playing dominoes in a homeless shelter and elderly low-income locals lunching in front of a community center mural are as vibrant and engaging as those of wildly costumed dancers at Bangers Ball.
"I was doing work I loved for a higher purpose, which meant a lot to me," he says. "I did get exhausted by how often people wanted me to work for free. They said it would help me build my portfolio. And I had already maxed out my credit cards building the portfolio for a career I was trying to make happen. Finally, I took a food-service job at Mojo Burrito — and I was glad to have it for the health insurance."
Then a local politician offered Parker a salaried dream job as campaign photographer. Parker gave notice at Mojo Burrito. The politician scheduled a meeting with Parker at a coffee shop to discuss his start date.
"He never showed up. I phoned him. The call went directly to voicemail," Parker says. "I called my boss at Mojo and said, 'Abort! Abort! I need my job back!'"
Parker is now office manager in Mojo Burrito's
"I told him, 'You can't do that; you hurt all of us when you devalue your work," Ruiz says, shaking his head. "I suggested
Desks, chairs and tables fill the living room space. Ruiz rents the desks to other millennial freelancers who need an office or a quieter place than a coffee shop for client meetings.
"It's a sliding fee scale;
Ruiz and his two housemates share the kitchen, which means their only privacy is their bedrooms. Ruiz even shares his own room with an enormous dog, "some sort of boxer/Doberman mixture that I rescued when he was locked alone, starving in an abandoned building."
The lack of personal space doesn't seem to bother Ruiz or his housemates, both of whom occasionally work for a business Ruiz launched with his brother. Called 423PK, the business began as a directory of local bands. Ruiz would take promotional photos and create an entire, low-cost press kit for the band, complete with posters and music videos.
Now he's adding legal forms and online contracts band members can print out and use in lieu of hiring a lawyer. Bands can hire 423PK to promote individual events. Ruiz is now at a point he can hire freelancer friends instead of doing all the work with his brother. His new jewelry-making housemate discovered she had a knack for negotiating sponsorship deals after Ruiz hired her for assignments.
Ruiz is planning a business trip to
"I just can't take out student loans to spend time in class learning how to do what I'm already doing," he says.
"I've begun to wonder if marriage and children will ever happen for me; most of my girlfriends get tired of how much time I need to spend on working," he muses. "But I need to invest that time because now I have people whose work and pay depend on me."
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