The term Millennial seems to denote a generation primed for rapid progress. A new millennium moving forward. New ideas, new technologies. Bullet trains. Robots. Fuel cells. Perhaps even a mission to Mars. It seems a pretty sleek and shiny moniker for a generation, especially considering that our preceding age cohort was given a totally nondescript identifier: Generation X.


But you know what I think of when I ponder my generation? The Great Recession. Student loan debt. 9/11. Living at home well into adulthood. Being labeled “entitled” when all we want to do is be able to afford rent AND student loan payments (the nerve!) And OK, sure, smartphones and selfies and all matter of Apple gear. But those last few things are pretty much staples of developed nations at this point.


Considering all the road bumps we hit as we entered adulthood during one of the worst economic periods in the past century, it seems to me that a more fitting name for our generation would evoke the essence of a hand-me-down family car with incessant, costly problems that keep landing it back in the shop.


So while I don’t particularly identify with the shininess the word Millennial implies, what I have felt like is something more like this: a Recessional.


When the economy collapsed in 2008, I was still in college and was lucky in that I could continue my education. Some of my peers could no longer afford tuition and had to drop out or transfer to schools close to home so they could move back in with their parents and take on part-time jobs – if they could even find one.


When I graduated two years later, the job outlook still seemed pretty bleak. I had not planned on pursuing a master’s degree, but what else was a 21-year-old with a degree in creative writing to do at a time when everyone was proclaiming that the written word was dying and when people with more “employable” or “practical” degrees were seeing their own jobs slashed left and right?


So I went straight to graduate school, putting off entering the job market in the hopes that an advanced degree would make me a more appealing applicant in the future.


Like many people my age, I moved back in with my parents. Most of my friends moved back into their family homes as well, and began lengthy searches for employment. As months dragged on, it became clear that pursuing careers relevant to their majors was not realistic – at least, not yet.


These were my closest friends: A communications major who went back to work as a manager at McDonald’s. An art major who went to work at Disneyland. A political science major who took a job in a real estate office. A history major who interned at museums for years before finally going to graduate school. And an accounting major who ended up housesitting for a guy who was out of the country for months while she looked for employment.


A Pew Research Center study released in May 2016 found that in 2014, for the first time in more than 130 years, adults between the ages of 18 to 34 were more likely to be living in their parents’ homes than with a spouse or partner in their own household.


A September 2016 study by Jaison Abel and Richard Deitz of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York pointed out that the underemployment rate of recent college graduates (a figure measuring the percentage of college-educated workers in jobs that do not require a college degree) continued to increase for several years following the Great Recession. In 2014, underemployment among recent college graduates reached its highest point at a rate of 46% – and this was well into the recovery.


People who graduated in the aftermath of the recession struggled to find any employment at all, “let alone jobs that utilized their degrees,” the report stated. And when underemployment rates began to decline after 2011, the improvement was less sharp for recent college graduates than it was for college graduates as a whole.


Amber Ballrot, a Long Beach resident and friend of mine since as far back as Hoover Middle School (sorry, no embarrassing childhood photos included), studied marine biology at the University of Santa Cruz. After graduating in 2011, she moved back in with her mom and spent about a year looking for work in her field, but to no avail. Ultimately, she took a job at a Signal Hill-based wholesale jewelry company, handling online sales and shipping.


“Coming out of college, I thought I would be doing something in the field that I wanted,” Amber said. “I was willing to do the dirty work . . . and then start from the ground up.” But that did not pan out. “I had to move on to make things work. And I never went back to it.”


After about a year of working at the jewelry company, she joined the Worldwide Organization for Organic Farming (WWOOF) program that allows participants to travel to a distant locale and work on an organic farm in return for room and board. She went to Hawaii for five months and learned how to keep bees, among other things. “It wasn’t super positive, but I was still trying to be positive – trying to do something that wasn’t just waiting [tables] at a restaurant or sitting there being a shipping person at a jewelry place,” she reflected.


Upon her return, she moved back home again and worked part time at a law office in Seal Beach for a year before finding full-time employment as an environmental compliance technician. She continued living at home until a few months ago, after she had paid off all $20,000 of her student loan debt. “I paid it off for my birthday this past year with my own money,” which she accomplished by working and living at home, she noted.


In January 2016, George Washington University’s Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center released a report about Millennial financial habits with data sourced from the 2012 National Financial Capability Study. The report found that 81% of college-educated Millennials had at least one long-term outstanding debt and that 54% of Millennials expressed concern about their ability to repay student loan debt.


A survey by TD Ameritrade found that Millennials have some savvy financial habits, despite being burdened with student debt. About 80% of Millennials have a budget, compared with 61% of Baby Boomers, according to the survey. Millennials were also more likely to be saving for a goal than Baby Boomers, with more than 50% focused on saving for an emergency.


Ultimately, Amber said she deferred milestones like starting a career, buying a car and moving out both to pay off student loans and because it was difficult to find work in her field. She considers her actions financially responsible. In her view, she had done everything society had told her to do by going to college, and she did her best when that strategy proved lacking.


“I went to college because it was what I assumed I was supposed to do,” Amber said. “In retrospect, I might have waited . . . or done something vocational,” she reflected. “I remember we had those advisors at Lakewood [High School]. . . . They would come and line us all up for our day for our advisor meeting, and I had like what, 10 minutes with her? And you know, my family didn’t go to college or anything, so I was pretty much on my own.”

Still, she said: “I would not be in the position I am in if I didn’t go to college. . . . I like where I’m living, and I like what I am doing. But I was very patient for it.”


I spoke with Amber for this piece because she exemplifies what many college graduates around my age went through during the recession – at least, the ones I knew. And the research seems to back that up.


Of course, not everyone had such frustrating experiences. Long Beach resident Jorge Galvan, for example, joined the military in 2007 and exited in 2011.  When I asked him if the recession had impacted him in any way, he responded: “To quote my cousin, ‘Thank God I was in the Marine Corps, because the recession had no impact on my life.’” Plus, when he came home his schooling was paid for – no pesky student loan debt to deal with.


But many Millennials still struggle to escape underemployment. And while many also find it difficult to work in our chosen fields and to pay off loans, we are told – by generations who came of age during more economically advantageous periods, no less – that we are entitled. That we expect to be handed everything. That we’re lazy for living at home and not finding real work.


“Millennials,” they’ll say, perhaps accompanied with a shrug or a look of exasperation, and we know instinctively that the term is meant as a pre-packaged summation of all these insults in one word. And what is there to do but to look back in collective frustration, not knowing how to respond other than to say (if we have the guts): “But we did what you told us to do.”


So the next time you find yourself about to spit out “Millennial” like it’s a dirty word, I have a favor to ask: think of the Recessionals.


(Note: While this edition’s column focuses primarily on Millennial college graduates, future columns will address other aspects of the generation, including those who didn’t attend college or who pursued vocational careers, younger Millennials just now entering adulthood, etc. If you’d like to make suggestions for future Millennial Pulses, e-mail me at