Career Planning

Reality Check: What Parents can Expect from Possible Student Unemployment/Underemployment

Parents have dreams for their children: healthy childhoods, college educations, strong careers, loving families, etc. But for many parents of college students, their dreams may take a hiatus while the reality of the economy, job market, and a shift in this generation’s priorities take hold.

According to a May 2011 survey conducted by the Heldrich Center at Rutgers, 14 percent of those who graduated from college in the last five years are looking for full-time jobs. And 78 percent of the most recent grads say their first job isn’t a “career.” Read more about this Generation Limbo* in this Aug. 31, 2011 New York Times article.

Here are a few things to expect, for parents who face their student’s college graduation, followed by unemployment or underemployment (jobs that require less education or experience than what the employee offers):

Soul Searching

Your grad will reevaluate his priorities, hopes, goals, strengths and weaknesses. He may feel slighted and even betrayed after working hard in school only to find himself with bleak job prospects.

Help him ask the important questions: What gives me joy? What am I good at? What is my ideal career? How can I attain that? Where do I see myself in five years, 10 years, 20 years?

Couch Crashing

If your grad finds himself with low or no income, you may find him on your couch, living with you. Saving money and avoiding debt should be a priority for your grad, and you can help him by offering a free (or cheap) place to live, guiding him in a budget, and reminding him to save money and avoid using credit cards that have high interest rates.

Be sure to set boundaries:  if he moves home, have a move-out date in mind and discuss his responsibilities. If you loan him money, put in writing how and when he will pay you back, and make sure he sticks to it.

Table Waiting

To make ends meet, most unemployed grads end up taking less-ideal jobs that bring in a meager income and don’t necessarily involve their talents or skills. But it doesn’t have to be permanent.

Parents who are supportive and encouraging can give their children motivation and hope in tough situations. Tell your student that this job, economy, life stage, etc. won’t last forever, and remind him of what he’s working toward.

Risk Taking

If your grad doesn’t find his dream job, he may need to create it. Necessity is the mother of invention, and underemployment is the father of start-up companies.

Some parents cringe at the risks required for their children to go out on their own and create their careers. But remember: this is his life and his risks to take. Even mistakes can be a building block for a strong, stable future.

*Generation Limbo: Waiting It Out by Jennifer 8. Lee, New York Times; 8/31/2011

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