The Twenty-Something’s Struggle For Work/Life Balance
10:35 am, March 6th | by Colette McIntyre
Fueled by coffee, the Scarface soundtrack, and his/her own aspirations, the average 20-something is abandoning the concept of work-life balance in favor of “getting ahead.” Whether it be for an unpaid internship or an underpaid entry level job, young adults are facing expanding work hours and an increasing volume of work with little wiggle room to say “no.” Apparently, the new normal is a never-ending grind.
Sunday’s New York Times features a piece exploring the phenomenon of the “no-limits job,” interviewing four women in creative industries (or what the article refers to as “rock-star professions” — film, TV, publishing, and media) who work long hours for little or no pay. Industries are looking for the perfect “22-22-22.”, meaning “a 22-year-old willing to work 22-hour days for $22,000 a year.” Thanks to a glacially recovering economy, the omnipresence of a college degree, and the repackaging of traditional entry-level positions into internships, many 20-somethings are unable and unwilling to refuse jobs that are, at bottom, exploiting their labor.
A 2011 Pew report reflects this massive desalarization, finding that the median net worth for households under 35 dropped by 68 percent from 1984 to 2009, to $3,662. At the same time, for households over 65, it rose 42 percent to $170,494. As the Times reports, 1.2 million more 25-to-34-year-olds lived with their parents in 2011 than in 2007.
Yet, in the face of this decrease in pay, young workers continue to rack up the hours: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011, 20-to-24-year-old full-time workers logged just 2.1 fewer work hours a week than those 25 and over. Thanks to new technology like smart phones, there is not such thing as being “off the clock.” 20-somethings are expected to always be available, checking and answering emails and texts even when out of the office. As the Times‘ piece notes, “complicating matters is the fact that it is not yet known how to quantify or define digital work.” Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest — this is the young worker’s bread and butter and, perhaps not coincidentally, social media does not follow the typical 9-to-5. Many interns and entry level employees are stuck managing their companies’s various media platforms overnight, labor that no one is sure how to compensate or quantify.
As Casey McIntyre, a 28-year-old publicist in New York, told the Times, “If I’m not at the office, I’m always on my BlackBerry. I never feel like I’m totally checked out of work.” Unfortunately, Ms. McIntyre’s case is not an anomaly. The new, young worker is expected to be endlessly adaptable, obedient, and energetic. If a worker doesn’t meet these standards, well, there is an ever-increasing number of unemployed, qualified candidates who would be willing to work round the clock if it meant that they were working at all.
[Photo via Shutterstock]