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Underemployment and Failure to Launch


I’ve lost count of how often I’ve received emails or calls from parents of mid to late twenty-somethings sharing their concerns about their child’s arrested development. The story always contains the same elements: living at home + a college degree + no direction or internal drive + lots of potential and intelligence + not sure what to do. Their request is always the same: How can I help their kid? Unfortunately, when the situation is dire, not much. Believe me—I’ve tried. I worked with that type of person for several years as a part coach, mentor, and counselor. It’s hard for me to recall someone who’s turned the corner at that point and went on to a successful career and a happy, fulfilled life. Instead, most of them continue to float along. (It's why I think the answer is to intervene when people are younger)

In late February 2024, the Wall Street Journal published a report citing over half (52%) of college graduates as underemployed five years after graduation. That’s a near 10% increase over five years prior. It’s trending in the wrong direction. They’re landing jobs, sure, but ones that don’t align with their credentials—jobs in retail, food service, or administrative services. It’s not all what you think, either. These aren’t all grads with Sociology or Communications degrees. We’re talking about Business majors, too. 

Since I went to school, the costs have risen exponentially. It used to be that if you got a college degree, then you were almost guaranteed to get a good-paying job, a successful career, and lifelong security. No longer. Now, you will be paying a lot more for a lot less and no guarantees. The entire system is being called into question, and rightfully so. 

Match those rising tuition costs with the equally exorbitant housing costs and inflation in recent years. A 2023 Harris Poll for Bloomberg reports half of 18-29-year-olds still living at home, rates that haven’t been this high since World War II. 

But I want to zero in on the experience of that young graduate for a second. 

Everyone has an innate psychological need to feel like their life adds value. In other words, to feel competent and experience what it means to contribute. According to the expert researchers who study the Self-Determination Theory, having a meaningful role where you create value for others is one of the key ingredients to feeling good about yourself and finding fulfillment in life. I’m not saying you can’t feel inner worth if you’re serving cocktails, folding clothes, or collating copies at the printer (but I do think it's a lot less likely). I’m saying that having the training to do something but being unable to offer it will make most people feel worthless. When you feel worthless, you feel hopeless, and it impacts your mental health in exponential ways. It’s miserable.

What do you think underemployment does to someone? How do we solve it?


P.S. What if there was a way to get the best resources to impact the kids in your life—delivered to you at the right time?
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