Young People Greet 2011 With Caution

Guests

Keli Goff, contributing editor, TheLoop21.com
Laura Sessions-Stepp, author of Unhooked
Hilary Doe, national director, Roosevelt Institute Campus Network

In 2010, education funds have been cut as tuition has risen, and youth unemployment levels neared 20%. Signs of economic progress are on the horizon, but many young people will have important decisions to make about where to live, what to do and where to study that can't be put on hold any longer.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

The economy is tough for many, but young people face sobering statistics. Unemployment under 30 is at its highest rate since records started to be kept, 60 years ago.

We hear that next year will be rosier. On the other hand, we heard that last year, too. And in any case, a lot of young people are going to have to make important decisions before the good times reach their parents' basement.

If you're under 30, what big decision do you face in 2011, and what determines your choices? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, historian Douglas Brinkley with stories about what's changed for white people this past year. But first, we're going to talk with young people as they look ahead, and we'll start with a caller. Zack's(ph) calling us from St. Louis.

ZACK (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: Hi, Zack, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

ZACK: Hi, yeah. I'm a medical student in St. Louis. I'm doing a dual degree, M.D.-Ph.D. And my decision came a little earlier than last year. I actually made a decision to do a Ph.D. in addition to a medical degree a couple of years ago.

One of the main reasons which kind of influenced that decision was the uncertainty in terms of compensation for a specialty in medicine. And it also gave me an opportunity to kind of feel things out and see where the economy was going to be in a couple more years.

CONAN: Because it takes a little longer if you're doing that double, right?

ZACK: If you're doing the Ph.D. also?

CONAN: Yeah.

ZACK: Yeah, quite a bit longer. It's about an eight-year combined program.

CONAN: And as long as you're in school and studying, those student loan bills don't come due.

ZACK: That's definitely true, and that's always a good thing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, they're going to eventually come due. You're going to be facing some big decisions how many years down the road now?

ZACK: well, probably about three more years. But, so there's a slight caveat which I didn't mention, which is the Ph.D., because I decided to do it halfway through medical school, pays for the latter half, which also influenced my decision.

And the actual payment on the loans can be deferred until the end of residency, which is another four to five years after the end of medical school and the Ph.D. So that's about eight years down the road.

CONAN: By which time everything's going to be booming, of course.

ZACK: I sure hope so.

CONAN: You'll be in good shape. Thanks very much for the call. Good luck to you.

ZACK: Thank you.

CONAN: And let's go now to NPR's bureau in New York and Keli Goff, contributing editor at TheLoop21.com, a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, as well. Nice to have you back, Keli, happy new year.

Mr. KELI GOFF (Contributing Editor, TheLoop21.com): Always great to be back. Happy new year to you, too - almost new year.

CONAN: Almost new year. Is the economy, do you think, the largest variable in the lives of young people?

Ms. GOFF: Yes and no. And the reason I say yes and no is because I actually think that the biggest variable is one which the caller just touched upon, which is the issue of financing your education, right. Because the one major difference between us and our parents and our grandparents, because I'm speaking as a millennial, is the fact that, you know, the cost of going to school is so much greater today than it ever was.

I'll give you a quick example. In my family, I'm what you call a surprise. We've very sensitive about the word mistake or accident.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GOFF: But my sister was actually graduating from high school, and my parents got the joyous news that they were going to get to start all over again.

So they have a pretty good vantage point in terms of the drastic increase in terms of financing a college education. It's been really extraordinary. I mean, nearly doubling from, you know, my sister attending Rice, a private university, I think that was something like $20,000-something a year at the time. And by the time I got to New York University, and it was almost $40,000 a year.

CONAN: Wow.

Ms. GOFF: And of course, the real issue, which as the previous caller touched upon, is that it's not considered optional in this economy to have a college education. And I think what was really interesting about us watching some of the protests take place in England is I read a lot of comments on the Internet where people were saying things like, when are the college students in America going to react like this?

CONAN: These were, I just should remind listeners, these were riots in England when the cost for - as part of a budget-cutting measure by the government, the cost for college education tripled.

Ms. GOFF: Right.

CONAN: It was pretty low to begin with but tripled.

Ms. GOFF: Right, and it's still significantly lower than a lot of our colleges here. That's, you know, something to keep in mind, right? And so, I think it went up to, what was it, $14,000, approximately. So, you know, the real issue here is the difference between our country and theirs, allegedly, has always been that anybody can make it, right, if they have the work ethic and a dream.

And the problem with financing your higher education is that it's becoming increasingly like indentured servitude. I mean, it cost nearly $40,000 a year when I went to NYU, which was almost 10 years ago. And, you know, for the kids who are coming behind me, it's even more expensive.

And so if you're saying that it's a requirement to survive in this economy that you have a college degree, and yet you're expected to go into debt, significant debt, to get one, then that means you're starting your life at a significant deficit before you even, you know, you've even left the finish line. And that, I think, is combined with the economy because that problem's not going away.

CONAN: And a deficit either way, as you suggest. Yes, you're going to -if you go to higher education, you're going to wind up paying back big-time loans. If you don't, and I think we need to remember half of American kids don't go on to higher education, they're going to end up, well, without that extra education and a hard time finding a job.

Ms. GOFF: Right. And so I actually think that that's the crux of this issue. The economy certainly is a big issue, but as you pointed out, in a few years, that's likely to be booming again.

But we still have not found a way to really address this singular issue of what I consider the real divide between the haves and the have-nots. It's not taxes, in my book. For me, it's really going to be financing education down the road for a future generation of Americans.

CONAN: We know among the things you specialize in, Keli Goff, is in politics. Any lesson to be learned from the near-40-percent drop in youth turnout for the midterm elections? That, of course, there's always a drop-off in non-presidential-election years, but that's pretty substantial.

Ms. GOFF: Right. You know, I didn't find it that surprising because in the last midterm elections, back in 2006, about 12 percent of voters under 30 turned out, and this time it was about 11 percent. So while it is significant from - a significant drop from the turnout in 2008, which was around 18 percent, it's not particularly significant in terms of a typical midterm election voter turnout.

The other thing I'd point to is, you know, I wrote about this and talked about this a lot, and I think, you know, people probably didn't take it as seriously at the time, but I'm going to reiterate this. I always said from day one that I felt strongly that the relationship between young voters and Obama were very specific to Obama and young voters.

It was a very personal relationship, and I likened it to the relationship that I felt that Bill Clinton seemed to have with working class white male voters, particularly Southern voters. You know, he carried - I think he was one of the last Democratic presidents to carry significant Southern states.

And, you know, there was a lot of, I think, cautioning of the Democratic Party at the time for taking these voters for granted because they were not Democratic Party loyalists. They were simply Reagan Democrats who came back to Clinton because Clinton was on the ballot.

And I think that there's some similarities there between Obama and young voters. You know, I think one in 10 voters said that it was their first time voting in an - it was actually more than one in 10. A significant number of voters said it was their first time voting in a presidential election in 2008. Six in 10 of those who said it was their first time were voters under 30, right.

So there was something very special that was happening in that election because the parties had always been the same. So it couldn't have been just the party labels, Neal. It had to be a specific reason that they felt the need to go to the polls.

There was a 135 percent increase in the number of young people who participated in the Iowa Caucus in 2008 over the previous caucus, a 135 percent increase. Barack Obama won the Iowa Caucus by about 20,000 votes, 17,000 of those votes were from voters under 25 that they had registered.

So, you know, there was something very specific to him as a candidate that was going on that I don't think people should be extrapolating to have a party-wide significance, particularly when you look at the numbers and they show that 50 percent of voters under 30 now identify as independents.

So I think that there's more to this story here, and part of the story is the fact that Barack Obama's name wasn't on the ballot. Now, that was good news for some Democratic candidates in terms of older voters and voters in more conservative districts, right. But in terms of younger voters, that spelled some bad news for Democrats.

CONAN: Keli Goff is with us, a contributing editor at TheLoop21.com and also a contributor to the Huffington Post. We want to hear from young people. What big decisions do you face in the year ahead? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

We got this tweet from MegZonteli(ph): Should I pursue my dream that will launch my husband and I into possible debt or continue down a mediocre, satisfying career?

Well, that puts what Keli Goff was saying into a nutshell. Let's go to Eugene(ph). Eugene's calling us from Sacramento.

EUGENE (Caller): Yes, sir. How's it going?

CONAN: Very well, thank you.

EUGENE: Yeah, you know, I'm 29 years old. I'm a young black man here in Sacramento, California. And the difficult - I face, you know, just choices in general, but when you go and ask your parents, given this particular financial market, there's no real advice. You know, I almost feel lost.

I can't go out to - I can't go into a neighborhood and feasibly purchase a home thinking that the situation's going to be level. It's hard for me to save up enough money to start a business. It's just a really large place of flux, and no one seems to have advice or evidence that things are going up and down, where to put your money.

You know, it really just - it's really, really kind of scary out here.

CONAN: It's interesting you say that. We always report the consumer confidence level as a big indicator. If things are going okay, it's about 90. Lately, it's been hovering in the low to mid-50s and not doing as well as people thought.

Keli Goff, I think a lot of people feel like they're in Eugene's shoes.

Ms. GOFF: A lot of people do. And let me say this, Neal, that, you know, had my career not sort of taken a different path about three years ago, four years ago, I guess, now, I would be in his shoes.

I mean, and I was just having this conversation with someone, how I'm considered on the tail end of millennials in that I'm actually no longer a voter under 30. I'm now officially 31. And I think millennials go up to those born in 1978.

So I'm on the tail end, but I see significant differences between my friends who are just three and four years younger than me. And the reason I say that is because, you know, I made the decision to leave a pretty comfortable, cushy job with really good benefits because I got the opportunity to write my first book, and it was sort of one of those now-or-never moments because the 2008 election was upon us.

And I decided to do it, and I was just having this conversation with my mother that if I had come to her today and said I got this great opportunity, someone thinks I should turn this into a book, do you think I should leave my job, she'd probably say absolutely not, you know, you're out of your mind.

And I think that's not what our country is about, Neal. You know, the reason our country is a world and global leader is because we have innovators. And you can only innovate when you're willing to take risk, and right now, we have a generation that has not been provided the safe haven to take risks the way that it should, and that's really disappointing.

CONAN: It's interesting, a recent Pew survey found that while less than one-third of currently employed millennials report that they earn enough now to support the lifestyle they want, nearly 90 percent believe they eventually will. Eugene, I wonder, do you count yourself in that 90 percent?

EUGENE: Well, you know, I'm fortunate. I have graduated from college. I have a very nice job that I enjoy a great deal. But it doesn't provide me the kind of security to invest money in a market that - where the value seems to just seemingly drop out of the floor.

You know, kind of like how she was saying before about having the opportunity to go and try and do things, this type of market now really seems like you're better off managing debt and trying to work with making payments. It feels like that's the kind of money I make.

Like, I don't make enough money to save up and go purchase those big things. I make enough money to have credit and manage my payments over time. And, you know, and just given that kind of outlook, it really makes me take a step back...

CONAN: Eugene, thanks very much. We wish you the best of luck. Happy new year. Keli Goff, thanks very much for being with us. Stay with us. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Unemployment at an all-time high, political disengagement, an economy still struggling, a tough road ahead for young people as we look toward 2011. We're talking about how things have changed.

We want to hear from you. If you're under 30, what big decision do you face in 2011? What determines your choices? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We want to bring a couple of other voices into the conversation. Joining us is Laura Sessions-Stepp, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, formerly with the Washington Post, author most recently of "Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both." She's been kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A. Thanks very much for being with us.

Ms. LAURA SESSIONS-STEPP (Author, "Unhooked"): Thanks for having us.

CONAN: Also with us here in the studio, Hilary Doe, national director of the Roosevelt Institute's Campus Network through their project Think 2040. They interviewed thousands of students about what they wanted the future to look like, and they've released their findings in a new report titled "The Blueprint for Millennial America." Thanks very much for you being with us.

Ms. HILARY DOE: (National Director, Roosevelt Institute Campus Network): Thank you.

CONAN: And Laura Sessions-Stepp, we were talking with a lot of people in that first segment who seem to have gone to college, in a few cases a few years beyond college, but that there's still that statistic, 50 percent don't go on to higher education.

Ms. SESSIONS-STEPP: Right, and we need to think a little bit about them. Two years ago, I visited a young man named Bobby(ph) and his girlfriend Laurie(ph). They had, between them, three kids, living with Laurie's father. Bobby was unemployed. He dropped out of high school after the 10th grade. He tried - he was a manual laborer, basically.

And just two week ago, I wrote a sort of an update of Bobby, and Bobby now has a job. And his - he's very excited about that job, excited to be able to provide for his family. But he doesn't think of college. He just thinks of getting that job, and as long as the construction industry does well, he'll do well.

But it reminds us that for a lot of the millennials, a good half of them at least, they're really struggling with sort of bread-and-butter issues. And Bobby, unlike the young people in London who were protesting against their tuition hike, Bobby has no health insurance. He doesn't have the social support network. Young, poor Americans don't have the social support network that other kids in other countries do. And so when the economy hits, it really hits them hard.

There is a good - there is - and let me quickly tell you this. There is also a kind of a good side to this for Bobby and Laurie, his girlfriend. Two years ago, he was out of work. The strain was so hard they were talking about splitting up. Now they've managed to stay together, in part because of the economy, because they really can't afford to not live together.

CONAN: Cheaper to live together.

Ms. SESSIONS-STEPP: And by living together for two years, they've gotten closer together. So they're now no longer talking about splitting up.

So sometimes the economy, a poor economy, has some interesting turns to it for certain people that we don't really think about.

CONAN: Hilary Doe, I wonder, when you talk to kids about the future, what they would like the future to look like, what are they telling you?

Ms. DOE: Well, the economic issues that they're facing when they leave college now are really unprecedented for many generations. You know, it's a bunch of different issues that we're facing that other generations just haven't had to deal with. Not just a huge recession with record unemployment, since the statistic started being kept in 1948, but also like you were mentioning, Laura, you know, 39 percent of them don't have health insurance. You know, all kinds of things are stacked against them.

And I actually really empathize with one of the callers who called in because I hear this same narrative across the country. A lot of young people graduate, aren't employed and really want to be entrepreneurial. They really believe that the American dream is taking that opportunity to be innovative, to really implement their good idea, to help people, to be social entrepreneurs but instead feel hindered by this need to mitigate risk, to ensure that they can make their credit card payments on their huge student loan bills instead of taking a risk, investing in our economy by doing something entrepreneurial that will both employ themselves and others.

And I was mentioning earlier to Laura, I think, that the social safety net is something that comes up amongst young people much more frequently than a lot of political pundits might want us to believe. They talk about Social Security more than any 19-year-old - you would expect a 19-year-old to, because they think of those social programs as a way to lower the barrier to entrepreneurship, to increase our opportunity to be innovative.

If we have health insurance, we don't have to worry about taking a risk and not having anyone to pay for our flu shots or our children's flu shots, right. We can do that.

So there are just a lot of examples across the country of this growing sentiment to really invest in social programs and build a new social safety net that's flexible to 21st century challenges in a way that young people haven't really discussed those programs previously.

CONAN: Here's an email we have from Michael Jackson(ph) in Michigan. My big decision is whether to return to school after receiving my B.A. in poly sci this past spring, either for a J.D., M.A. or a combo degree.

The real crux of the debate is I have two boys, one year and seven years old, a wife to try to support. I currently run my own small company, Mohawk Refuse, in Jackson, Michigan. What do I do, Neal? I'm already 27 years old, 28 next month. There are no jobs available in mid-Michigan, but driving my family further into debt for a less-than-sure future career is a huge leap of faith. Another investment-in-the-future story and doubts about that.

This from Owen(ph) in Rockford, Illinois. In July, when I moved to my parents' basement in order to take a better job near my hometown, in September, I got married. In October, I turned 30. My wife will be living in St. Louis until she's done with school in August. I sincerely hope the economy is better by then so we can start living together as man and wife instead of commuting five hours for occasional weekends together.

And boy, that's a big strain on a lot of families - well, especially on males trying to be heads of household.

Ms. SESSIONS-STEPP: Can I say something here?

CONAN: Please.

Ms. SESSIONS-STEPP: I'm thinking also, the other huge difference in this generation and previous generations is their connectivity, their connection to each other, social networking. There is the sense, as hard as it is for them, that they're not alone, and they know that, and they're constantly chatting with each other about it, and they're sharing resources.

If you go on Craigslist, and you're looking for a really cheap table, probably you can get one for, like, five bucks. And that couldn't have happened during the Depression because there was no Craigslist, right?

If you're going - I also have noticed in my...

CONAN: I don't think there was any Craig, to tell you the truth.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SESSIONS-STEPP: I've also noticed that so many more young people go out together as groups, and of course this has been true for a while, but they share - instead of taking your date, your girl out on a date or your guy out on a date and having fancy mixed drinks at some expensive restaurant, you - 14 or 15 of you get together, go to a mid-priced restaurant, rent a table and drink beer and wine.

And so I think that there are some other changes to this that we don't know the effects of yet that are really interesting in the way social -human beings react to each other socially.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller in on the conversation. Tyler's(ph) calling, Tyler from Provo in Utah.

TYLER (Caller): Hi, Neal, big fan.

CONAN: Thank you.

TYLER: Thanks for the show, too. I feel like a lot of these comments that have been coming in kind of echo my own comments, but I'll go ahead and make them anyway.

I am married, a father of one, and I am three years into my undergraduate degree. And I work at a - it's sort of manual labor, but it's hard work. And my job offered me a promotion to a position that makes 50,000 a year, except it didn't work with my school schedule.

And so I had to make this choice. Do I go to school and finish out and gamble on something uncertain, or do I take this job doing something completely uninspiring for 50 grand a year right now and just accept this life?

CONAN: And what are you deciding?

TYLER: I decided to stick with school and to gamble on the future. I think, you know, Utah has a pretty solid, decent economy right now, and hopefully, job opportunities come available once I'm done.

CONAN: Well, Tyler, your gamble sounds like you're more in Nevada than in Utah. But we wish you the best of luck. It could be difficult. Happy new year to you.

This email from Velia(ph). My fiance's parents are hard on him about finishing school, but he works full-time and goes to school full-time. It stresses him out. I tell him don't worry, I have a great-paying job, that you can work part-time and finish school. Then he could help me out. You know, parents stress us out about school but do pay our rent, electric, water, groceries, gas, et cetera.

And Hilary Doe, this is, I guess, well, a lot of kids are still dealing with their parents well past the age when they thought their parents' control over their lives would be over. Yes, they're helping them out, but boy, it's annoying.

Ms. DOE: If they're lucky, they're helping them out. I mean, sure, that's existing longer. I mean, I think that's another reason that young people are bringing up issues of social security. You know, you want to ensure that your parents are secure, as well as you are. There's no sort of inter-generational warfare here. We're all really in this together.

But secondly, I'd say that there are a lot of young people across the country who wish they could better rely on their parents. You know, our parents have been struck by this economic recession, as well, having lost 401(k)s and needing to save all over again.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. DOE: You know, we have a student at UCLA, for example, who's affiliated with the Roosevelt Network, and she's been working day and night trying to house and feed homeless students, a population we don't think about that much. But a lot of young people are having to make that decision between, you know, paying for rent or buying another credit hour at this point. And they wish that they could rely on their parents.

CONAN: Let's go next to Jacob(ph), Jacob with us from Ashville, North Carolina.

JACOB (Caller): Hello. I'm a - I find myself in a little bit of a conundrum because I would like to join the military or I'd like to pay for college. And my choices are either get a really expensive student loan or join the Navy. And I don't really know where to move on from there.

CONAN: The Navy, if you join, well, you would get then some help in paying for college after you got out.

JACOB: Absolutely. Absolutely. But also, there goes four, six years of my life.

CONAN: Well, you would get some training in the Navy perhaps that might help you in a future career in electronics or some other field maybe.

JACOB: That's a definite possibility. I've been looking towards the medical field, hopefully getting my MD within the next, you know, 10 years hopefully. But I don't know. There are so many options, but at the same time there's not a lot of options that unrestrict me for the rest of my life.

CONAN: And so it is the difficulty of not just taking out the loan, but then staring it in the face for the next four years or however long you're in college.

JACOB: Absolutely.

CONAN: Well, Jacob, when do you have to make this decision?

JACOB: Because I currently work at Wal-Mart and I - no offense to anybody that works at Wal-Mart, but I do not want to work at Wal-Mart for another month, let alone for the rest of my life.

CONAN: Jacob, if you don't want to work there, we don't want you to work there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JACOB: Well, I appreciate that. It's good job. It's just not what I want to do.

CONAN: Well, Jacob...

JACOB: It's very physical.

CONAN: ...we wish you the best of luck. And, well, talk to a lot of people about making that decision. It sounds like you're weighing the benefits. And, Laura, you wanted to come in here?

Ms. SESSIONS-STEPP: I just - is the caller still on?

CONAN: Yeah.

JACOB: Yes.

Ms. SESSIONS-STEPP: It's interesting to me, and I'd like to hear from Hilary, too, about this. Many of the callers we've had are male, and do you think that this - the recession and the economy, is it kind of getting to males that they're not able to, sort of, provide or prepare a future where they can be, quote, unquote, "the provider"? Is it changing the way gender roles are going to be in the future?

CONAN: What do you think, Jacob?

JACOB: Honestly, I don't know. Never really thought about that kind of a question. I'm sure that it has some impact. But I really don't know.

Ms. DOE: I would say that I think, you know, gender roles are changing whether we like it or not partly because of the economy, but for a lot of other reasons as well. And since, you know, women are enrolling in college at a rate that's outpacing men, I think what's probably more fundamental here is recognizing the major changes that are happening in society that are really piling on to this recession to make it even worse.

Like in the 1990s, grant aid for college outpaced loan aid for need-based students. When people applied, you know, because they were need-based and needed assistance to go to school, there were more grants given than loans. That's completely flipped. Loan aid is dramatically larger than grant aid for need-based students. We shouldn't forget that, we're hearing over and over again.

CONAN: Jacob, good luck. Thanks.

JACOB: Thank you so much.

CONAN: We're talking about the future for young people as they look ahead. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's talk with Amanda(ph). Amanda with us from Fort Wayne in Indiana.

AMANDA (Caller): Oh, good afternoon, sir.

CONAN: Good afternoon.

AMANDA: I guess I can somewhat speak to Jacob a little bit. I'm 25, graduated with a bachelor's in political science, couldn't get a job with the government or the humanitarian aid NGO, so I decided to join the Air Force. And, currently, I'm on Christmas break. I have to be back by the third. And I've kind of realized military is not for me. Not - I don't have anything against the military or anything like that, it's just some people are military-worthy and some aren't, and I just don't think it's for me.

So now, when I get back, I will - I guess, by this weekend I have to decide, you know, do I forego this officer position that I have possibly waiting for me if I graduate from training or do I pursue something that I'm actually going to enjoy, even though I didn't have much luck finding a position when I graduated and wait.

CONAN: And how long do you have to make this decision, Amanda?

AMANDA: Sir, just by the third because we start back on the fourth.

CONAN: Wow. So next week.

AMANDA: Yes, sir.

CONAN: It's going to be a long weekend.

AMANDA: Yes, very much so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I don't envy you the decision, Amanda, but at least you have some options.

AMANDA: Yes. And I feel bad for those who, you know, maybe don't have those options. I guess maybe I'm - maybe squandering them, but I guess I have to decide between doing something that I now realize I'm not going to be happy with or just sticking out and trying to pursue something that I will enjoy.

CONAN: Hilary Doe?

Ms. DOE: I was just wondering, Amanda, what kind of characteristics are you looking for in a job. I asked because Millennials have a pretty unique set of ideal characteristics for the career paths they want to pursue and I wonder maybe what you're looking for.

AMANDA: I'm looking for something that's going to make me feel - I guess it sounds somewhat selfish - satisfied. The position I've had with the military is just very generic. And I realized that I want to help people.

Ms. DOE: Right.

AMANDA: That's my driving force, and I wanted to do that ever since I can remember. It's just gotten to the point where I couldn't find a job, and so it just, in a sense, kind of went the easy route and just said, hey, I'll just join the military, somewhat ignorantly.

CONAN: Well, good luck to you, Amanda. Happy New Year. It may be a tough one, but happy New Year, remember it for a long time, I suspect.

AMANDA: Sir, (unintelligible). Thank you.

CONAN: Okay. A couple of emails. This is from Lindsey(ph): Something I struggle with is the question as to whether to remain with my current reliable secure employer and continue with a job that I'm mildly happy with or seek new job opportunities that may increase growth and knowledge in my field of interest. Changing jobs may mean a cut in pay and/or benefits. But at what point is my growth and happiness worth it? Am I taking for granted my current job, which pays well and provides me health care and retirement benefits? How do I justify leaving such a job when so many of my peers are out of work altogether?

And this a tweet from Sonic Persephone(ph): It's not so much big decisions as many little choices to better manage the price, everything going up while still saving for the future.

So young people facing difficult choices about where they go. And, of course, a lot of them, well, their options are extremely limited by a very tough economy. And, as we mentioned, unemployment and underemployment, higher than it's ever been since those statistics started being kept. In any case, we wish everybody who called and emailed us and tweeted all the luck in the world and a happy and prosperous new year.

Our thanks also to Laura Sessions-Stepp. Her book: "Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both." Also with us, Hilary Doe, national director of the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network. They have a new report out titled "The Blueprint for Millennial America."

When we come back, we're going to conclude our conversation with people from diverse backgrounds about how 2010 was for them, historian Douglas Brinkley on white people.

I'm Neal Conan. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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