When the 2007-2009 U.S. recession sent American unemployment rates skyrocketing, most students of the current Texas Tech undergraduate class were still in middle school and high school. Though we were too young to make a difference, we were old enough to see the worry in our parents’ demeanor. After all, most of us were raised on the support of the great American working class, and when it stumbled we felt the reverberations.
Growing up during the recession has clearly made a mark on the millennial generation. The acceptance of low wages and less vacation time shows the pressure millennials feel to work harder.
However, these poor benefits come at a large cost. With no one else to fight for their job benefits, it is up to millennials to overcome the recession mentality and fight for better working conditions.
In the U.S. Federal Reserve’s 2014 report titled, “In the Shadow of the Great Recession: Experiences and Perspectives of Young Workers,” reporters remark, “there is clearly anxiety among young individuals when thinking about their job prospects.”
As this anxiety has crept up on the young working class, its consequences can be seen in the loss of employee benefits. It is shown in The Atlantic’s article, “Why Are Wages for Young College Grads So Terrible?” that wages for recent college graduates have stagnated after the 2009 recession.
There recently has been a great rise in the number of unpaid internships, as exhibited by an April 22 Forbes article, which appears abnormal considering the rise of college-loan debt. With these unpaid internships on the rise, it appears young workers are willing to cope with declining working conditions.
With the pressures of unemployment and high debt, millennial workers often have to accept low wages in time-demanding jobs in order to stay competitive. One terrible effect of this is the continuing decline in vacation days Americans take.
The Guardian reporter Jana Kasperkevic writes in her article, “Why is America so afraid to take a vacation?” that not only do Americans receive much fewer vacation days than other developed countries, but most Americans choose to not take all of their vacation days, even if they can.
According to the article, last year the number of unused vacation days in the U.S. reached a 40-year high. Kasperkevic writes that although Americans often have the ability to take more vacation days, they are simply too afraid to take time off.
Overworked and underpaid, this trend can unite old and younger workers. However, while some older workers may have seen better days with better working conditions, millennials do not know any different. It seems as if from the first day we arrive in a college university, the competition begins.
The threat of unemployment seems to loom over the current college campus, as seen by the recent decline of liberal arts majors in favor of more career-orientated majors, as shown in a 2013 Chronicle of Higher Education article by Michael Bérubé.
Despite this anxiety toward finding a job, millennials still have a right and a duty to push for more vacation days and higher wages. In Kasperkevic’s article, John de Graaf, president of the nonprofit organization Take Back Your Time, incorrectly states that CEOs hold the responsibility for encouraging vacation time.
While it may be helpful for CEOs to push employees to take vacation time, it is highly unlikely they ever will. CEOs have little incentive to push employees to take time off to recuperate, as they have no legal obligation and little economic incentive.
If CEOs have any incentive to offer paid vacation days, they certainly have none to raise wages. This was recently demonstrated when Wal-Mart once again exploited its workers by offering them a raise and then cutting their hours, according to an Aug. 31 CNN Money article.
The article quotes Jessica Levin, a spokeswoman for the United Food & Commercial Workers union, when she said, “We now have further evidence that Wal-Mart’s so-called ‘wage increase’ was nothing more than a cruel PR stunt. Hard-working Wal-Mart workers — many of whom did not even see a raise in pay — are having their hours cut all so Wal-Mart can pad its bottom line.”
Without CEO incentive to offer higher wages and more vacation time, it is up to millennial workers to push for better standards. Millennials may still be young, but life is still very short. The time after college is one of the greatest times for travel and adventure. If the push for vacation time and fair pay are not made, these opportunities can quickly slip away.
Perhaps the greatest example of this is the life of John Steinbeck, who is arguably one of the most important and influential American writers. According to Jackson J. Benson’s, “The True Adventures of John Steinbeck,” Steinbeck was able to write through the Great Depression by living cheaply with elders, getting his food from fishing and sharing resources with friends.
By fighting for leisure time to practice writing, Steinbeck was able to produce some of the most influential works in American history. How many millennials have forfeited their aspirations to keep their jobs is unknown. However, like Steinbeck, the time and resources to pursue personal aspirations will only come to those who fight for it.