Shwetha Sundarrajan is a senior magazine journalism major and writes “This is the Shwe” for The Daily News. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.
‘Tis the season to be applying.
If you’re a soon-to-be college graduate like me, then you’re probably frantically scouring LinkedIn for new job postings and worrying about beginning your new life as an adult in an increasingly post-pandemic workforce and world. You’ve probably heard horror stories from students who graduated last year while we were in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic in June 2020 and when the unemployment rate for recent college graduates between the ages of 22 and 27 hit its peak at 13.6 percent, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Things weren’t looking too good a year ago either, but things are now looking better. The unemployment rate dropped to 6.2 percent in June 2021, almost twice as low as the year before, according to the same Federal Reserve Bank of New York report. Because remote work has become a new norm in the workplace, with nearly 26.7 percent of U.S. employees working remotely, companies started offering remote work opportunities to applicants. That’s great and all, but I never expected my first day at my “big girl job” to be sitting in front of my computer at my parents’ house.
Doesn’t it feel like we’re missing out?
Job interviews used to be something I got dressed up for, but now, I sit in front of my computer, dressed in a bizarre combination of a blouse and pajama pants with my knotted curls pulled into a messy bun. I feel like I’m supposed to be going places, but I’m still stuck in the same place I was when the pandemic started. And the plethora of questions bombarding me through the screen is all a test of worthiness. So in a world that’s still figuring itself out, how do you determine your own worth?
It’s all like a game of tug-of-war. On one hand, you have professors and parents urging you to immediately jump into the workforce and, on the other hand, my own social media is full of stories of unhappy millennials leaving their workplaces in droves. Take, for example, the r/antiwork or r/hatemyjob subreddits. They’re full of stories of unhappy working millennials who share their work horror stories, ask for advice and more.
Who do you listen to?
According to a series of polls commissioned by New America and Third Way, many college students believe the worst of the pandemic is over but aren’t so optimistic when it comes to the economy, as 33 percent of students say the economy is getting worse. The poll claims nearly one-half, or 47 percent, of students say they feel uneasy with their financial situation over the next few months.
So why is it that we have been known as the so-called “snowflake” generation and have been painted as entitled and sensitive, when in reality, most of us are grossly underpaid and overworked? We’re often bashed for wanting to simultaneously enjoy our youth and progress in our careers, but contrary to previous years, the average starting pay for the class of 2021 was $55,260 — the highest on record, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
While this is a great improvement to previous years, it brings up the question: Is it enough in a world where simply existing is expensive?
According to a 2019 survey of 2,000 undergraduates by CollegePulse, “56 percent of students said that a high-quality health plan was the best perk a company could offer to offset a lower-than-expected salary.”
Before the pandemic, it seemed like employers were ignoring pleas for change. But the pandemic flipped the tables, putting the ball in the employee’s court.
Many frustrated millennial and Gen Z workers such as Jessie DaSilva, a 34-year-old intuitive mindset coach and business consultant from Tallahassee, Florida, went viral on TikTok after calling out a reporter who asked her "what perks millennials desire in the workplace," which struck a nerve with both DaSilva and the 303,400 viewers who viewed the TikTok. They resonated with the points DaSilva made regarding perks companies think millennials want such as nap pods, snack rooms, etc. versus what they need, such as a liveable wage, good benefits and vacation time, among other things.
How do you determine your worth in a workforce and economy that’s still evolving? Who do you listen to? Do you listen to those who advise you to put your head down and accept subpar pay and benefits until god knows when?
Or is there a change coming in favor of employees? Will we be the generation that can live in a world where there’s an actual work-life balance?
The big question is, how? How do you stand up for yourself in a space where you don’t have the upper hand?
Advocacy — put your foot down and demand it. Don’t settle for subpar pay and shoddy benefits because you’re just starting off. You deserve to have benefits and make a liveable wage just as much as anyone else, regardless of what field you’re in. We are the generation that grew up during The Great Recession, and we saw a rise in terrorism and climate change. We want freedom in a time of rapid change, so let’s start demanding it.
Know your worth, and go forth. The world awaits, and it’s yours.
Contact Shwetha Sundarrajan with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @fengshwe.