Employment Guide: Stamatakis: Take post-grad chances

By Nick Stamatakis

If I’ve learned anything from the one issue of “Time” magazine that I’ve read in the past six months, it’s that young people are really exciting. If I’ve learned anything from the one issue of “Time” magazine that I’ve read in the past six months, it’s that young people are really exciting.

We use the Internet! We routinely incorporate social networking into our daily lives! We have no notion of privacy! Mark Zuckerberg!

However, in at least one important way, young people are actually quite boring. It’s not because we mainly use the Internet to watch five straight hours of “True Blood.” Nor is it because incorporating social networking often amounts to nothing more than following Ashton Kutcher on Twitter and sometimes saying #hashtag ironically.

Rather, it’s because we don’t move across the country like we used to. Even when we’re pursuing employment, the prospect of working in a far-off city is becoming increasingly less enticing. According to census data, only 2.4 percent of college graduates made a long-distance relocation in 2010, a historically low rate.

This stasis can be extremely costly to new graduates. After all, unless you’re graduating in a technical field where your fresh expertise can benefit an organization, your position as a new entrant to the labor market is often tenuous at best. With little experience besides a smattering of part-time work and a course load designed mainly to encourage broad critical thinking (I’m being generous here), geographic mobility is possibly your greatest asset when seeking employment.

After all, those experienced workers often have two responsibilities that make moving almost impossible: mortgages and families. It has always been hard to pull little Jimmy out of school to move away, but with housing prices still in the tank and families unable to unload, the advantage to the mobile youth has never been greater. The IMF estimates that the inability of people to move might increase unemployment by up to 1.5 percent — a fraction prime for new graduates.

So why aren’t college kids moving? One reason is economic: With loads of debt and fewer opportunities for even part-time work, millions of graduates are forced to return home. The prospect of free room and board is too appealing to pass up.

Another reason is that many of the places where college graduates could find jobs aren’t exactly ideal destinations. States like Nebraska, North Dakota and Vermont seem backwater, especially to students who just spent four years studying in incredibly diverse parts of the world.

A further, less commonly cited reason for our immobility is a certain contentedness with the status quo, even if it means having a less-than-stellar job. As Kurt Andersen noted in a December “Vanity Fair” article, young people today are not drastically altering culture like their predecessors. Aside from a few technology-inspired exceptions, our clothes, music and movie tastes have largely gone unchanged in the past 20 years. We have no qualms with what’s being fed to us. If our culture needs no changing, why drastically upend our lives geographically?

Our generation’s aversion to change and risk — exhibited both in our higher savings rates and our preference for having one job rather than moving between multiple jobs frequently — is already well-documented. Of course, it’s possible that this aversion to great change, either geographic or cultural, might just be a healthy response to the apparently dangerous risk-taking that occurred before the recession.

But considering that the financial crash occurred comparatively recently, our aversion might come instead from our upbringing — from learning about the world through a screen rather than cuts and scrapes, while living in the most prosperous nation on earth with largely unquestioned global power.

Either way, our cautiousness is troubling. A world with no risk is fundamentally a world with no gain. And with ample jobs available in far-flung states, those with the financial means and social freedom to move in search of greener pastures have no excuse not to roam.

It would be truly exciting, ultimately, to be the generation not just of Twitter users, but of Twitter users with jobs.

Contact Nick at [email protected]