I graduated during a recession in the '80's, but it seems like a very small inconveniance compared to what the current generation entering the workforce today

Twentysomethings takes joblessness with equal parts self-obsession, guilt

By Katherine Ryder
updated 9:32 a.m. PT, Sun., March. 15, 2009

A few weeks ago, a Facebook status update announced that my friend—let's call her Dorothy—had received her first unemployment check. I clicked on some pictures expecting to see tears and instead saw her drinking Red Bull and flashing her pearly whites. The photographs were presumably taken after she lost her job since, in New York, the first unemployment checks take between three weeks and two months to arrive. After I logged off, the images lingered like an unfinished equation.

With some wonder, I started seeking out stories that, in a few short strokes, fulfilled every negative stereotype associated with Generation Y, the so-called entitlement generation. They're easy to find. One unemployed Gen Yer is living out a life dream, traveling India and paying for hostels with unemployment checks. A particularly desperate male had to actually move back into his parents' beautiful two-story house in Connecticut and is on a weekly allowance from the state.

What's striking is that the stories are told with refreshing honesty; there appears to be no real effort to mask anything. "I was trying to find another job, but I was being very selective," says a mid-20s male who was laid off from a job in L.A.'s music industry in early 2008 and who collected unemployment for six months. "I was, admittedly, being a pompous prick."

The stories continued, some with genuine guilt about receiving public benefits. "I collected unemployment for two months, and I felt incredibly guilty. Is that the norm?" asks a mid-20s female elementary-school teacher living in Montana. She described a number of people who live in her mountain town who work seasonal jobs and collect unemployment the rest of the year. The guilt came up again. "I do feel guilty. I do. I heard New York has to borrow something like $100 million from the government to pay for everyone on unemployment," says a mid-20s male who worked in telecommunications in Chicago and New York. He continued, "I was laid off in 2007, and I didn't collect unemployment because I thought I was too good to collect it. I didn't want to be a drain on the economy." That was before his family lost 90 percent of their net worth with Madoff. Even now, he admits, "I haven't even gotten the rude awakening yet." This last story is from one of my good friends, and I asked him if I could include it. "Sure. Mention it all. Just don't use my name. Slam us."