By most measures, millennials got the short end of the stick when it came time to enter the workforce because so many of them graduated during the height of the Great Recession. And yet, they still can't seem to shake the stereotype of being job hoppers who move around because they're bored or aren't willing to pay their dues.
But research from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) sheds light on just how big of an impact the turbulent economy had on millennials' careers. The NCES study followed more than 15,000 people who were high school sophomores in 2002, checking in with them three times over the course of the next 10 years to track their personal and professional progress.
The results reveal a generation who struggled to find their career footing amid the bursting of the dot-com bubble, the September 11 terrorist attacks and rising unemployment: 41% of the study subjects were unemployed at least once between 2009 to 2012 (defined as being unemployed for a month or longer), while 24% were unemployed three or more times.
And the average amount of time they were out of a job over that time frame? A whopping 10 months.
Not helping their situation was the fact that 60% of the subjects who went on to college or other postsecondary education had to take out loans to afford school, borrowing an average of $30,000.
The cumulative effect of all this was a "failure to launch" — i.e., putting off life milestones because their finances simply couldn't support it. Less than a third of the study cohort were married by their mid-20s (compared with 46% of those who are about 10 years older) and almost a quarter of study subjects reported living with their parents in 2012.
“Because this generation had to borrow in such high amounts or pay so much for college and had relatively anemic earnings, we just sort of assume that that is the norm,” Mark Huelsman, a senior policy analyst at think tank Demos, told Marketwatch. “We’ve baked in the fact that people are going to struggle and they’re going to start their economic lives late.”
If you're a millennial who got a late start in launching your career, you may have some catch-up to do when it comes to growing your money and future earning potential. The good news is that, in today's job market, there are ways to turn a job-hopping history into a career asset. Tie previous experiences into a cohesive brand that explains your career path — and what you can contribute to a future employer.
Once you get the gig (and you will!), remember to tap that company 401(k) to start saving for retirement. Every little bit adds up, and contributing enough to qualify for a company match can help your savings grow even more.