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‘20-somethings’ hit by angst


NEW YORK—Molly Stach thought she was doing everything right until she got laid off from her public-relations job in December.

Since then, the 26-year-old has been struggling with self-doubt.

“Why don’t they want to hire me?” she asked of the companies not responding to the résumés she sends out each week. “I went through four years of college, graduated.

“You get praised while you are working and then all the sudden you are not employable.”

For 20-somethings who are losing their first or second jobs because of the current recession, the economic downturn has been an especially bitter pill. Many of them have been raised to believe they can do anything and be anything—and are finding their high expectations dashed.

“Many were raised to believe that the world was their oyster,” said Alexandra Robbins, author of “Conquering Your Quarterlife Crisis.”

“And in this kind of economy, that’s just not the case.”

The U.S. national unemployment rate for people aged 20-24 was 12.9 percent in February, up from nine percent a year ago and higher than the overall unemployment rate of 8.1 percent, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For those aged 25-29, the rate—not seasonally adjusted—was 10.6 percent.

Getting laid-off is a humbling experience for gen-Y’ers, many of whom have never experienced real financial hardship or big disappointment, said Nancy Molitor, a clinical psychologist in Wilmette, Ill.

She said many of her young adult patients feel depressed, devastated, and uneasy about their future.

“A lot of these kids grew up thinking they were going to be able to have it all,” she said. “They feel frozen just when they should feel excited and hopeful about the future.”

While 20-somethings don’t generally have the responsibilities of older workers, getting laid off is in other ways a harder blow because they’re still trying to figure out what to do with their lives and are “ardent about doing something meaningful for a living,” Robbins said.

Craig Hengel, 27, of St. Cloud, Mn., was surprised to be let go from his job at a printing company.

“Losing my job is something I never thought about because I am educated, very hard-working . . . and have never had to deal with something like this,” he said.

“I don’t really know what to do next and I’m not finding much answers,” he lamented.

In previous recessions, companies tended to let go more senior workers because of their high salaries, said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.

But he said younger workers are faring worse this time around as employers hold on to the workers who have knowledge, experience, and better work habits.

A growing number of workers over age 60 also have been returning to the workforce and capturing jobs that would have gone to young adults, he added.

Brianna D’Amico, 23, was the first to go at the high-end retail group where she landed a job in Washington, D.C. She had been there six months when the company restructured; everyone else had five or more years of experience.

“It really hurts to lose a job that you really like, that you were good at, that you were praised for being good at,” said D’Amico, who is now collecting unemployment.

“For a while I felt so embarrassed I was laid off.”

In some ways, growing up in a time of plenty has made it harder for 20-somethings to adjust because they have to learn new skills, such as budgeting, living frugally, and staying out of debt, said Dr. Judith Orloff, author of “Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life.”

Still, she added, many have a youthful outlook that there’s plenty of time to fix things and get back on track.

Some are hitting up the bank of mom and dad, though mom and dad are experiencing their own financial struggles.

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