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by SixFigureStart | October 14, 2009


Trivia challenge—Name that industry: Despite the downturn, one industry added 168,900 jobs last year—three percent more than had been identified as necessary by senior officials, and the first occasion in 35 years where it's met all of its hiring targets. What's more, the average new recruit was paid a signing bonus of around $12,000, with those in harder-to-fill roles getting up to $14,000. If you guessed "U.S. Armed Forces," give yourself a pat on the back—all of those figures came from this Washington Post article detailing this year's successful military hiring blitz—something achieved "despite the near-certainty that [recruits] will go to war." And that's not all: the level of qualification of the average recruit went up as well, with 95 percent of all signing up having at least graduated high-school, as opposed to 83 percent last year.

The figures are a pretty stark indicator of just how tough the hiring market is out there right now. Despite having a better chance of going to war (and therefore ending up in harm's way) than almost any class of recruits in recent history, young people are signing up in unprecedented numbers. As cynical as that may sound, even the Pentagon acknowledged the effects of the recession on its recruitment efforts, with the WaPo reporting that it said "the economic downturn and rising joblessness, as well as bonuses and other factors, had led more qualified youths to enlist."

For the most recently-minted generation of workers out there—"Generation Crunch," as they've been dubbed in some sections of the media—it's beginning to look like those on the upper platforms of the corporate world have simply pulled up the ladders, leaving no way for those following behind to even begin climbing. Continuing the ladder analogy, a BusinessWeek article this week conjectured that "while unemployment is ravaging just about every part of the global workforce, the most enduring harm is being done to young people who can't grab onto the first rung of the career ladder." It then went on to point out that "an extended period of youthful joblessness can significantly depress lifetime income as people get stuck in jobs that are beneath their capabilities, or come to be seen by employers as damaged goods." Patriotic and service-oriented reasons aside, it's little wonder that so many are flocking to the Armed Forces to find the sort of career stability and earning potential that seems to be unavailable elsewhere just now.

The bigger question in all of this, of course, is what happens years down the line. If the BusinessWeek information is correct, we're setting the scene for an entire generation of people who are likely—through absolutely no fault of their own—to have it that much harder for the rest of their lives. For all the debate that we've heard this year over "generational theft" (see: the debates over stimulus, health care, and deficits), surprisingly little attention has been paid to the plight of this most recent generation as it enters the most hostile employment environment since the Great Depression.

So—Armed Forces aside—is there a solution out there? Will green jobs and infrastructure programs be where it's at? Should we feel sorry for the Millennials or are they just a bunch of whiners who are sore at not finding the world served up on a platter like they'd been promised? Who's got it worse: a 22-year old who can't find a job or a 63-year old who can't afford to retire because of the markets? Do let us know your take: we'd love to hear it.

--Posted by Phil Stott, Vault Staff Writer


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