We're not exactly willing to turn on, tune in, and drop out. We came of age as deregulated financial institutions stumbled and took housing, bank accounts, and jobs with them. The bailout helped those industries bounce back, but what about a generation's collective sense of security and purpose?
On an individual level, it's useless to try and guess. But aggregate data can give us a glimpse into the conventional wisdom of our times. In the past, large surveys have shown that millennials are optimistic when it comes to improving their communities, and want meaningful jobs that fix social injustices. A new phone survey from GfK's OMNITEL and Monster.com shows us another side of that—instead of shying away from traditional, career-oriented values, millennials are actually more gung-ho about the idea of a steady career than baby-boomers.
Out of a representative sample size of a little over 1,000, 62% of 18- to 30-year-olds answered that they still considered a career very much a part of today's working reality. Only 48% of boomers felt the same. Furthermore, 37% of millennials felt that a career could provide a sense of accomplishment, while only 26% of boomers agreed.
Another part of the survey asked what kind of career respondents would want if money didn't matter. Some 42% of Americans answered that they'd want to help others—as a nurse, social worker, human rights worker, or philanthropist. Another 15% answered that they'd work as teachers, and 13% as artists and musicians.
Meanwhile, boomers and millennials generally agreed that singular jobs weren't likely to provide a sense of accomplishment or lifelong earning potential. Economic data supports that belief. The types of jobs—not careers—that are growing happen to be low-wage ones. Compared to total U.S. employment growth over the past few years, the food services, hospitality, and retail industries have soared ahead. And while executive profits in those industries have increased by as much as 130% (like in McDonald's case), wages at the bottom have remained stagnant.
A majority of both baby boomers and millennials also agreed that careers required college education and training. Still, teachers' wages over the last decade have stagnated, then tumbled in the recession. It's great that us youngs have a sense of optimism about what's to come, but perhaps the most revealing aspect of the study showed a different kind of disconnect: The jobs that pay well don't appear to line up with the jobs most Americans would want—nor are they jobs that help others.