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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Here's an old expression we heard from a young woman trying to find a good job in a bad economy. The expression is: man plans and God laughs. Today's 20-somethings are trying to start their lives during one of the worst recessions in decades, and as kids, they were told if they did everything right they could have anything they wanted. Now as young adults they have to put that promise aside. Our guest correspondent, Judy Woodruff, has the first story in her series Generation Next.

(Soundbite of sneakers on stairs)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tsivia Finman moved to New York City with two college degrees, $2000, and one plan. She wanted to do meaningful work. That was six months ago. She's still looking.

Ms. TSIVIA FINMAN (Job hunter): I'm not used to this whole key business. You know, my whole childhood growing up we didn't lock our doors.

WOODRUFF: She grew up in a quite suburb in Michigan, the oldest of seven children in an Orthodox Jewish family, but she wanted to see more of the world, so she landed here in the East Bronx, a musty apartment building where salsa music plays on a Saturday night. During the day, the voices of children from the school next door. This is Tsivia's uncle's place. He grew up here and now she's a guest - short-term, rent-free.

Ms. FINMAN: I keep listening to the kids outside. There's always some kind of recess activity right outside the window and I look out there and I'm thinking should I have become a teacher? My parents are teachers. My grandparents are teachers.

WOODRUFF: But Tsivia's degree is in public administration, a masters from Wayne State University. Some day she wants to make policy or run a government program.

Ms. FINMAN: I'm just looking through my inbox here and it's all junk.

WOODRUFF: She applies for any government job where she thinks she has a chance. She taps out her qualifications.

Ms. FINMAN: …at the U.S. Senate Sub Committee on Investigations. I participated…

WOODRUFF: Tsivia knows she's competing with lawyers and accountants who've lost their jobs. She says she'd take any entry level position. But with tight budgets and hiring freezes, there's not a lot out there. Sometimes she feels cheated by this economy. Government jobs were supposed to be safe.

Ms. FINMAN: Everyone was saying how there's just - the government sector is opening up. This is things I've been hearing for years. And I just didn't think it would hit my sector as it had hit the financial sector. I didn't think it quite would have the reach that it did. In one sense it was reassuring. I'm not in this alone, you know, this is bigger than me. This is bigger than the city of New York. This is a global problem.

WOODRUFF: But you still wanted to work in government?

Ms. FINMAN: You know, it's not as clear cut to me today. Government was plan A back when I was finishing up school. I've kind of opened up the possibility to work anywhere. I just want work. I just want work.

WOODRUFF: And she does have work, just not the work she wants. With her money running out, Tsivia took a part-time job as a cashier at a used book store.

Unidentified Woman: Where are the cookbooks?

Ms. FINMAN: Right in this section, like right here.

Unidentified Woman: Oh, right here?

Ms. FINMAN: Um-hum.

WOODRUFF: She makes less per hour than a babysitter makes in New York, with no benefits, but it's enough money to keep her in the city to look for the job she'd rather have.

Have you given yourself, Tsivia, sort of a deadline or are you just - I mean how are you thinking about that?

Ms. FINMAN: Well the deadline would be really based on that number in the bank account, when I have just enough to buy that ticket back to my parent's house. That's when the search is over and then I don't know what to do, figure it out - go back to my parents and figure something out from home.

WOODRUFF: Are you getting help from your family, or what are they able to do for you?

Ms. FINMAN: No, I actually haven't asked anybody for money. There's a certain sense of pride with that. It's not something I'm comfortable doing. I feel like because I lived at home through college, they've really over-extended themselves. I mean, they don't feel this way, at least they haven't expressed that. But I feel that turning 25 this year it's about time I was independent. The one big concern is I'm not insured right now. I don't have medical insurance. Thankfully I've been really healthy, but that's not what insurance is for.

WOODRUFF: These days, a lot of people in their 20s have the same problem: no job, no health insurance. But Tsivia has a health condition that could threaten her life. Marfan syndrome, it weakens connective tissue in the body. Tsivia takes pills to relieve stress on her heart. Without regular monitoring, her aortic valve could weaken or rupture.

Ms. FINMAN: I mean I'm still taking my medication. It's generic. I can pay out of pocket for that. That's not a problem. And I think - I've been avoiding it because I find it distasteful, but I'm in the process of applying for Medicaid.

WOODRUFF: What's involved in that? I mean how far along are you in that process?

Ms. FINMAN: I'm not sure. I mean, you always figure you'll find that job, you'll find that job, and I think that's why I didn't apply for Medicaid earlier. 'Cause I was like, something's bound to come along, I'll have that work, but you cannot do what I'm doing. It's playing with fire, and that's scary. It's scary.

WOODRUFF: Your parents must be very worried about that.

Ms. FINMAN: I actually haven't really brought this up. I think we're just avoiding this topic. I mean I've discussed it a couple of times with my parents, but I'm avoiding this issue. I'm being irresponsible. I have to figure something out and when I start thinking about things like health insurance, that's when all my positivity about finding a job kind of goes away. That's when I just become desperate and sad and scared and you know, all these emotions that you're trying to keep at bay kind of really pop up.

WOODRUFF: So how does she keep those feelings at bay? She tries to remind herself that many people have it worse, and that many times have been worse. She's talked with her grandparents about the Great Depression.

Ms. FINMAN: You know, my grandmother remembers going to the grocery store, her mother sent her for two stalks of celery, because they couldn't afford the whole bunch. And that was just part of life, you know. I mean I think what we learn from that Golden generation is sort of how to just survive without complaining, because they couldn't complain. And so I try to use that as an inspiration for me because I feel I kvetch a lot. I feel like I'm always complaining about this.

WOODRUFF: So when you have - decades from now when you have your own grandchildren, do you have any idea how you're going to look back on this time.

Ms. FINMAN: You know, if I'm having grandkids that means things worked out. And so the story will have had a happy ending and I'll say, well you know, perseverance really pays off, kids. And I'll be there for them in the way that my parents, grandparents, extended family and friends have been there for me. It's a great opportunity to say things are going to be okay. And I'm fully confident things are going to be okay. Yeah, yeah.

WOODRUFF: Tsivia Finman has a few job interviews to look forward to in New York this month. But don't call me a New Yorker, she says, not yet, not until I'm paying New York taxes full time. For NPR News, I'm Judy Woodruff.

INSKEEP: The series is called Generation Next, and Judy continues it tonight on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS and next week on MORNING EDITION. We have more information which you can find at npr.org.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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