Bad economy is good for young resolve

Posted: Thursday, October 23, 2008

I remember just a year or two ago when it felt like newspapers were the only industry facing financial catastrophe.

Papers were being sold, budgets were being cut, and then there were the layoffs and voluntary leaves.

I couldn't believe it. I'm in my 20s, and my college years aren't that far behind me. Yet there I was looking at a buyout offer.

It's a scary experience. And very few of my peers understood what I was going through. Why would they? We're all under 30. This is the kind of stuff we read about in history class or heard our parents talk about. We'd never lived through a period of our own economic upheaval.

Then Wall Street took a nosedive, and all of my friends started plugging in. We have 401(k) plans, some of them dabble in the stock market, and a few have their own businesses. It isn't just newspapers facing hard times. Everyone is.

A coming recession? What is that all about?

"I've honestly never even thought about it," says my friend Chic James, 28, an Atlanta graphic designer. "We had been so involved with what was going on overseas with the war that I don't think anyone even knew what was going on with the state of our economy until recently.

"It all happened so fast that it seems like it came out of nowhere. The gas prices should've told us something, but how were we to know that that was our warning?"

Corporate giants everywhere - eBay, Pepsi, American Airlines - are feeling the economic crunch, and hard-working Americans are losing their jobs.

Now I have friends in Atlanta, Los Angeles and right here in Kansas City who are unemployed. And despite what some may think, being younger doesn't always make it easier.

Chic unexpectedly lost her job only weeks ago. She has a college degree, five years of experience, and she has faith that it will help her get another job, but the experience has been distressing.

"The thing that really can discourage a person is this modern-day way of applying to positions that you feel you're qualified for," she says. "It's overwhelming to apply to hundreds of jobs online and not get one callback."

Van Sneed, an illustrator, says what bothers him most about being laid off is that he didn't do anything wrong.

"I didn't do anything to cause the economic woes, yet I am the one being punished," he says of losing his job. "I went to school, I graduated, and I did what I was supposed to do. But none of that matters right now. It's not helping me put food on the table."

Despite the economy, Sneed still believes everything will work out. People just have to stay focused, he says.

"I'm not losing sight of the visions and goals I have for my life. I still plan to one day wake up and do what I love to do every day - make art.

"I am more motivated now than I was before," says Sneed, 25. "I am going to pursue my dreams like there is no tomorrow."

It seems the looming recession isn't just teaching us to cut back. It's teaching us to push forward in the face of adversity.

• Jenee Osterheldt is a columnist for the Kansas City Star.



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