The job market for young people is really tough out there. And that means that for many marriages just starting out, there’s a whole level of stress that wasn’t there as much for people in my generation or my parents’ generation.

It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage. And today I wanted to just start a discussion about how the current job situation is affecting young couples.

My oldest daughter Rebecca just graduated from her undergrad at university. I was up visiting last week and she started rattling off all of the jobs that her fellow grads now had: manager at a fast food restaurant; manager at a chain retail store in a mall; working in another chain retail store; reception for a small business. Not a single person had a job that actually required a university degree.

Those that graduated with an actual profession, like nurses and teachers, can’t get jobs in their fields, either. In our neck of the woods, those jobs just don’t exist.

I don’t have any answers today. I just thought I’d make some observations, and then we could talk about it together.

When there aren't jobs for millennial couples, how do you plan for the future?

I think what’s happened is that more and more young people have been pushed to go to university, but the jobs aren’t necessarily there.

Yet as more and more people have university degrees, jobs that once would have been open for kids with high school diplomas are now going to people with four year degrees, leaving those with just high school diplomas farther behind.

At the same time, university has been dumbed down. It isn’t as rigorous as it once was, making the value of the degree much lower. Add to that the fact that companies are no longer hiring full-time employees to do things. Many are just hiring contractors. And universities are not keeping up with many of the skills needed in the current job market.

My youngest daughter, for instance, is getting a marketing degree from a very well-respected program. But in looking at the courses she’s required to take, they’re geared towards somebody getting a job for a company like Ford or Coca-Cola or a big grocery chain. If most new jobs are at companies with fewer than five employees, then how is this relevant? All the things that I hire out on this blog, for instance, aren’t things that are covered in her program. And yet they are skills that are desperately needed.

So there you are as a young couple, and all you desperately want is to have that traditional life you’ve dreamed of.

You want decent jobs so that you can save money for a downpayment on a little house. You want to be able to furnish that house. You’d like to be able to think about having children at least in the next few years. But how can you do that if you can’t afford for one of you to quit your job?

Back in 1989 I was making $15 an hour as a secretary one summer. Another job was $13 an hour. Wages are exactly the same today as they were 30 years ago.

But prices have risen substantially. People now have student debt. And so all of these things that we’ve been selling young people as dreams seem harder and harder to reach.

My daughter’s friends are very bright. They’re hard workers. And there just aren’t jobs, although the unemployment rate is not that high. It’s just that everybody seems underemployed.

I don’t know what the answer is, except to keep living within your means. Learn to be very frugal so you can save. Avoid student debt as much as possible.

And, if possible, aim to have your own business.

Two books that I think are just brilliant are Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You and Barbara Winter’s Making a Living without a Job.

So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You LoveNewport talks about developing skills that businesses need so that you have something to sell to them. Winter talks about how to create the self-employment lifestyle.

Making a Living Without a Job, revised edition: Winning Ways for Creating Work That You Love

Neither gives you step-by-step plans for creating your own business; both more help you dream in that direction and see that it may be possible and brainstorm about how you can create the life you love, and then you can get other resources that take you through the nitty gritty. But they can help you look at work differently. Newport will encourage you to develop skills; Winter will show you that there are other pathways to income than a traditional job.

What I’ve always told my girls is not to try to find a 9-5 job at an office, but instead to figure out how you can create your own job, and that’s what both are doing. My son-in-law is now aiming for that as well. And in this job market, that may be the smartest move.

But it still saddens me to listen as Rebecca rattles off all the jobs her friends have, and then acknowledges, “but they’re so grateful to have a job at all!”

Starter jobs are one thing–but at least people once had the promise of more. Now we don’t. So you’re newly married, and what do you do? Do you just keep getting more degrees in hopes that a better job is there if you just have a Master’s or a Ph.D. or that one other diploma? Do you go back to a technical college instead with a more practical diploma? Or do you jump in and hope for the best? And how does that uncertainty affect your marriage?

I know many who read this blog are twenty-somethings. You’re living this right now. So let’s talk: do you find it hard to plan for the future when it’s hard to see how to ever get a decent paycheque? How is it affecting you? Are your friends going through this, or is my daughter’s experience the anomaly? Let’s talk in the comments!

SheilaSidebarAboutMe - Wifey Wednesday: How Do You Start a Marriage When Jobs Are So Scarce? Sheila Wray Gregoire has been married for 27 years and happily married for 22! She loves traveling around North America with her hubby in their RV, giving her signature "Girl Talk" about sex and marriage. And she's written 8 books. About sex and marriage. See a theme here? Plus she knits. Even in line at the grocery store.
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