"Get a job" is a familiar mantra for many boomer parents to their adult children. Millennials' attitudes about work is the subject of studies, satire and cinematic comedy. Besides flexible work hours and work-life balance, what else are they looking for? A recent survey of 18,000 millennials provides some insight.
Topping the list of "preferred" employers are Google, Disney, St. Jude's Research Hospital, Apple and the FBI, according to the National Society of High School Scholars survey. While Google and Apple are obvious choices for their cutting-edge technology and workplace culture, what explains the other choices? A Deloitte report found that millennials seek employers with a strong sense of purpose and a positive impact on customers, employees and society.
Robert J. LaBombard, CEO of GradStaff, a nationwide recruiting company, agrees. "Millennials want to work for companies that have a compelling mission that ties whatever product or service to a greater good and maybe even changes lives," he said. Also, "training is important to this demographic because they like to learn."
"Local hospital" was No. 6 on the NSHSS list, not surprising in that health care means helping people and continuing education opportunities. The health care industry also tops both the fastest-growing occupations and highest-paying job lists. Beyond physicians and physician assistants, registered nurses and physical therapists lead the pay scales.
Although the outlook is good for 25- to 34-year-olds, the work world and living on a fixed salary has proved a reality check for some millennials. Employment does not guarantee a middle-class lifestyle. A survey by The Guardian found that one-third of millennials categorize themselves as working class, compared with 40 percent of Gen Xers and 44 percent of boomers.
Perhaps one reason that millennials chose that category is that it takes longer for them to earn the national median wage than previous generations. That mark of financial independence increased from age 26 to 30, and for young African Americans to age 33, according to a Georgetown University study, Failure to Launch. Another reason: Many millennials start their working lives heavily in debt, with two-thirds carrying at least one form of long-term debt, including student loans, car payments and mortgages. Last year's college grads had an average of $35,000 in student loans.
The combination of lower wages and high debt places a financial burden on many young adults. "You expect future generations to keep improving their social and financial situations and what I've seen is instead that, if anything, there is a contraction in the middle classes for this cohort," wrote Bobby Duffy, global director of Ipsos's Social Research Institute, which conducted the Guardian study.
Still, even while living paycheck to paycheck and being "chronically stressed" about money, more than 80 percent of millennials remain optimistic that they will achieve the lifestyle they want.
Mary W. Quigley, a journalist and author, has written two books about motherhood and work. An NYU journalism professor, she is the mother of three adult children and blogs at Mothering21.com.