SYLVIE DOUGLIS, BYLINE: NPR.
(SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, "WAKING UP TO THE FIRE")
STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:
Dear graduating class of 2021, congratulations. You have made it to graduation after a horribly challenging senior year. And here at THE INDICATOR, we wanted to get a very special guest to honor this achievement and to honor the year that we have been through. So we thought who is special enough? We thought, like, Janet Yellen, Ben Bernanke, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. But then we thought, no, for this, we are bringing in the really big guns. And so we made this special request. We thought, it's never going to happen, but it did. It did happen. I am thrilled to introduce your commencement speaker for 2021 is the one, the only Cardiff Garcia.
CARDIFF GARCIA, HOST:
VANEK SMITH: Welcome back, Cardiff.
GARCIA: I think everybody's - in everybody's brain, there's like a wah, wah, wah (ph).
VANEK SMITH: No one's brain is going wah, wah, wah.
GARCIA: (Laughter) Like, not Janet Yellen, not Bernanke.
VANEK SMITH: Nary a brain, Cardiff; nary a brain.
GARCIA: Yeah. In all seriousness though, Stacey, this is super-exciting because you and I are going to tell all you graduates out there everything you need to know about how to navigate adulthood so that you can be just like the two of us - podcast hosts...
VANEK SMITH: Yes.
GARCIA: ...Making the big bucks (laughter).
VANEK SMITH: Live the dream, everybody - or, you know, maybe a little more modestly, how to be wise, discerning adults; adults who will avoid making the same mistakes that people in our generation made, at least the financial mistakes, because even though money will not buy you love or respect or any of the best things in life, it is still pretty useful for buying a lot of the second-best things in life.
GARCIA: Yeah, everything else really - and, in fact, to show you how serious we are about the idea that money does matter, we're not even going to keep doing this commencement speech until after a quick ad break.
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GARCIA: Graduates of 2021, we know that this is a super-weird time to be entering the labor market. And so our first bit of advice goes to the graduates who plan to move back in with their folks after graduation, whether that's because you don't have a job lined up yet or you do have a job, but maybe it doesn't pay very well. And meanwhile, you want to save on rent, pay down your student loans, or maybe you just like living with your parents. Some parents, Stacey, are pretty cool.
VANEK SMITH: It's the truth. In fact, I am home with my parents right now.
VANEK SMITH: It's really, really wonderful to see them. And they remind me of all kinds of economic forces, like maybe don't leave the window open when the air conditioning is on.
VANEK SMITH: That was a long conversation.
GARCIA: Getting that lecture, yeah.
VANEK SMITH: (Laughter) Regardless, though, the advice is this. You are not alone. Do not feel weird about it. Even before the pandemic, the share of young adults - that is people between the ages of 18 and 29 - who are living at home with their parents had been climbing for decades. It was all the way up to 47% in 2019.
GARCIA: Yeah. And last year, for the first time ever, more than half of young adults were living at home, and that's partly because of the pandemic. But that's also just where the trend was headed, so do what you got to do. And feel good knowing that a lot of other young people are doing the same thing too.
VANEK SMITH: And that, of course, leads us to our next piece of invaluable counsel, really. So at some point, there is a good chance that earlier generations will start saying things like, people in your generation have no character. You people are too entitled. You don't know the value of an honest day's work, you know, that you don't want to grow up, that you don't want to leave your home and get married and have kids and get a steady job. And, you know, get off my lawn.
GARCIA: And when people say that stuff about your generation, honestly shrug it off too. Keep in mind that that's the exact same stuff that was said about the rest of us when we were your age.
VANEK SMITH: So here's what the data shows. So the specific trends about young adults that everybody loves to complain about - things like, you know, that more people in their 20s and 30s live at home with their parents, that a smaller share of them buy their own homes than earlier generations, but they don't marry at the same rates - are trends that have been going on for decades and decades. Your generation did not start them.
GARCIA: Yeah, and other complaints like the idea that young adults are restless and change jobs more frequently than their parents and grandparents did aren't even true. Rates of job-switching for young people have been really stable for the last couple of decades. And actually, they're way lower than back in the '70s, '80s and '90s.
VANEK SMITH: So don't let it bother you when it is your turn to be dissed by older generations. And if it does bother you, look at the bright side. Someday, you yourselves will also be old, and you will get to say that stuff about the next generation after you. And you'll be just as wrong as everyone who came before.
GARCIA: And now let's turn to who's making money since we know you're curious.
VANEK SMITH: Oh, yes, I'm curious.
GARCIA: Look around at your fellow graduates. And if you have not already made friends with the people going into the computer sciences, do so immediately because on average, their starting salary after graduating this year will be about $72,000 a year.
VANEK SMITH: And by the way, they are closely followed by graduates going into engineering, who will make about $71,000 right after college. And after that, there is a big drop-off. Graduates getting jobs in business, communications, the humanities, social sciences and math and science will be making between 58- and $63,000 a year. But the good news is that average starting salaries are rising for every single one of these categories
GARCIA: And also, just don't stress too much if you think you picked the wrong major. There is plenty of data showing that it's totally normal for young adults to shift into and out of different career tracks in the years after they graduate. And actually, if there's one theme to this whole speech, it's don't worry if your situation just is not yet what you hoped it would be. You have time to find your way.
VANEK SMITH: You do. And look; a college degree - it is not a guarantee that you're going to make a ton of money or build a lot of wealth throughout your life. But one thing we can definitely say is that college graduates on average have jobs that are much more resilient to economic downturns. And so college graduates do tend to make it through these downturns in better shape financially.
GARCIA: Plus, college graduates are always more likely to report having more stable finances. At the end of last year, for example, almost 90% of people with college degrees said that they were doing at least OK financially. For people with only a high school diploma, it was just 67% who believed that they were doing at least OK. And that's according to a big survey that was just released by the Fed.
VANEK SMITH: Finally, we have tried to not spend a ton of time telling you the stuff you're probably already hearing from other people. For example, you probably already know that it is a good idea to start saving for retirement as soon as you can, spend less money than you make, invest that money carefully, etc.
GARCIA: Yeah, but let's also be honest about this. It's not always realistic to put away money for retirement if, for example, you owe $39,000 in student loans, which, by the way, is the average balance for student loan borrowers out there.
VANEK SMITH: But we want to leave you with one note of inspiration. The pandemic seems to have led many people to rethink what they're doing with their lives. For example, people started a shockingly high number of new businesses during the pandemic, including one Cardiff Garcia.
GARCIA: Heyo (ph), yup.
VANEK SMITH: Many others are thinking of retraining for a new career or thinking of retiring early.
GARCIA: And all of these options require money. They are more likely to be available to you later on if you start being careful with your money now because when we started this speech by saying that money can't buy you the best things in life, there might be one big exception - time. Doing something unpleasant, like paying off debt or banking away money for retirement, can buy you the time later to do the things that you want to do, the things that matter to you. And just what those things might be - well, you got to figure that out for yourself. Good luck.
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GARCIA: This episode was produced by Brittany Cronin with help from Gilly Moon. It was fact-checked by Sam Cai. Our editor is Kate Concannon, and THE INDICATOR is a production of NPR. And also - lots of links in the show notes.
VANEK SMITH: Woohoo, Cardiff is back, ladies and gentlemen.
GARCIA: (Laughter) That's right. Go check those out at NPR - what's the link again? Oh, my God - npr.org/money - /money, yeah.
VANEK SMITH: (Laughter).
GARCIA: So go check those out at npr.org/money.
VANEK SMITH: Dude, it's been, like, a month (laughter).
GARCIA: So awesome to be back.
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