By Sarah Lee GrilloLast August, new to Brooklyn and on the hunt for paid gigs in anything related to the arts, I was happy to have finally scored an interview with a non-profit arts organization looking for a content writer. This particular organization functioned as both a gallery and a web-and-print-based publication dedicated to giving New Yorkers the inside scoop on upcoming shows and events in the arts. Having sent out many dozens of resumes over the course of the summer to little or no response, the interview alone seemed like a big win. And with a background working for both for-profit and non-profit arts organizations and experience in professional writing and editing, this position was well within my skill set.
The nice folks I interviewed with were thrilled with my experience, and determined that I was a great fit for the organization and the professional writing work they needed done for their publication. They offered me a position on the spot. But when I steered the conversation toward the topic of compensation, I was told that what turned out to actually be just an “internship” would be rewarded only with an “in” to multiple arts events and all the free coffee I could drink. There was simply no budget to pay someone, not even someone as qualified as myself. The work that they deemed essential to the functioning of their organization, as the case were, wasn’t worth paying someone for.
After leaving that interview promising to think it over, I found myself asking: was this worth it? I wasn’t going to gain any skills with this position. I wasn’t going to be receiving any form of school credit. I certainly wasn’t going to be paid, not even minimum wage. I would, in essence, be doing this organization a giant favor in the form of free labor for 15-20 hours per week. The perk of knowing more about what was happening in the New York City arts scene and making connections that could, perhaps, eventually lead to actual paid work was appealing, but the amount of energy I’d have to put in for something that really ought to have some form of compensation besides coffee (which I didn’t drink at the time, regardless) seemed necessary. I wrote them a nice email an hour later politely declining, and didn’t hear from them again.
Such is the plight of the Millennials. We enter the job market backed with B.A.s, M.A.s and often legitimate experience, but are met with a sea of internships that are nowadays too often set up to take advantage of a young work force eager for whatever they can get, even if it doesn’t pay. And while plenty of internships do offer school credit, stipends, legitimate work experience, or a small salary--as they are required to by law--far too many have cropped up to replace what were once paid positions. Even a cursory view of the job listings on websites like Craigslist will show hundreds of posts each week looking for free, skilled labor in exchange for the “experience” of getting to work in your field, build a portfolio, or maybe possibly land a position if you prove yourself. The hurdles for 20-somethings to find decently paying work are that much taller, and there are that much more along the path to a career.
This was not always the case. By 2008, a study released by The National Association of Colleges and Employers concluded that 50% of graduating students had worked an internship, up from 17% in 1993. Many of these were unpaid internships, and there is little doubt many of them had displaced, at least in part, what were once paid positions lost to the recession.
Moreover, the terms of many internships are increasingly problematic, with too many of them being exploitative at best and illegal at worst. While internships traditionally have had a certain amount of coffee-fetching and other unglamorous tasks associated with them, there are more than a few accounts of interns being misled into spending the bulk of their internship doing unskilled labor in lieu of bettering their career prospects. An intern at a law firm might, for instance, find themselves spending their days doing janitorial work instead of learning, you know, law. On the other end of the spectrum, some internships have the opposite problem, in which they require their interns to do skilled work without being paid for positions that would have once been salaried and with benefits.
In a recent win for the interns, a judge ruled that Fox Searchlight violated federal law when one of its interns, working as an accounting clerk on the set of Black Swan, was required to work in just such a predicament without receiving anything in the way of school credit, job training, legitimate career experience, or monetary compensation. But this is a small win, considering that twenty-somethings across the nation are working in similar situations and rationalizing it as simply the lumps we must take to climb the career ladder. Few recognize it for the exploitation that it is, or appreciate the fact that it disenfranchises the many, many young Americans who can’t afford to spend a summer working for free, full-time, in a place like New York City.
The reality is that as a generation, we are both eager--desperate even--for work, and too often ignorant of the laws surrounding internships, resulting in a perfect storm of generational conditions that, coupled with a bad economy, make us an ideal source of free or underpaid skilled labor for penny-pinching companies. And the justifications for these internships, both from the interns themselves (“this must lead to a job”) and the companies they work for (“in a tough economy, we can’t afford to pay”) are arguments riddled with holes, as this awesome strip very perfectly explains.
So how to change this situation? Without a doubt, more lawsuits will have to be brought to companies that are increasingly relying on internships to displace paid labor. The fact of the matter is, while the U.S. Department of Labor has outlined rules for what constitutes internships, no one is really enforcing those guidelines. But there are things that Millennials can do to change the situation on a personal level.
For starters, as a rule, we need to stop accepting to work for nothing. For young creative professionals, this simple rule extends well beyond internships: agreeing to design a web page or create a logo in exchange for “experience” is exploitation, pure and simple. Young people also need to be more aware of what their skills are worth. Whether you are a writer, an illustrator, a musician, or an editor, if you estimate a gig is going to take fifteen hours of your time, and it ultimately pays $100...well, that’s about $6.50 dollars an hour, below minimum wage and not worth anyone’s time. So set a goal for an hourly wage, and stick with it; if a company, a client, or an employer tries to sell you on a gig that pays below your goal, only agree to it if it’ll benefit you in other ways. Otherwise, it is not worth it.
There is a place for internships, there is no doubt about that. But there is also little doubt that since the economy soured employers have been redefining and expanding the term “internship” in a scheme to save money, and we have too often acquiesced. The laws need to be better regulated, and ultimately only lawsuits and political action will bring any traction on that end. But as a generation, we also need to stop agreeing to work for nothing. In the end, we need to demand better of ourselves and the people that employ us.
By Sarah Lee Grillo
A recent article on Slate.com made the point that parents should be more weary of publishing their children's pictures on websites like Facebook. The caution had less to do with online predators--although one would assume that inference goes without saying--and more to do with shaping a child's online presence before they have a say in the matter. Indeed, as I get older, more and more of my Facebook feed seems to be taken up by pictures of weddings; these are followed, almost inevitably, by pictures of newborns not long after. Hundreds of pictures of newborns. And while the accomplishment of having a baby may be a worthwhile thing to document and share with the world, the line quickly becomes blurred as the child grows, and soon enough has its very own online presence, an avatar, sculpted on the iphone photos, instagrams, youtube videos, and Facebook posts of its parents. Which would be the natural inclination of any 21st century parent, it would seem.
These days, most millennials are adept at the balancing act of maintaining two personas: our real selves, and our online avatars. Our avatars are usually the idealized versions of ourselves (we shake our heads at or defriend Facebook users who continuously use the site as a forum for their personal angst, relationship troubles, and negative outlooks). Ideally, what we present to the world is a monitored, censored version of ourselves, screened to make sure it captures us in the best light. In the most literal sense, I see this in the profiles and photographs of some of my younger female relatives, whose selfies are culled from the best of dozens of pictures, phone held at just the right angle, hair teased just right, lips pursed in just the correct amount of pout. But of course, I too am guilty of just the same thing, sans the pout. We all are. And while personally I was fortunate enough to be more or less an adult when Facebook became the norm, I do worry about people younger than myself who may come to regret the choices they made public to the world before they were emotionally mature enough to make such potentially loaded decisions, as technical capability in no way assumes emotional culpability. And, to take it a step further, one wonders about the consequences to children who are ushered into the realms of the internet before they are even born into the real world, their first years made public for all to see, their memories no longer confined to home movies and photo albums.
I wonder if sites like Facebook are healthy for us sometimes. As a medium for maintaining networks of distant friends and acquaintances, sure. As a source for news, articles, and internet campaigns we might not otherwise see, of course. And certainly as a tool to freely market a start-up, a band, a project--that goes without saying. But on a personal level, seeing a world of idealized avatars can at times be an unnecessary stress. I know I am not the only one guilty of feeling depressed or anxious when, at times, the escape of a website like Facebook seems to offer only a vast network of friends and acquaintances who all appear to be happier and more successful in their careers and pursuits. It's not the truth, of course; these are avatars we are seeing, idealized versions of reality. And comparing avatars is ultimately a fruitless exercise. But nevertheless, there it is: our greatest accomplishments, positive career changes, best photographs of us, cutest photographs of our children, smartest one-liners, most insightful political thoughts, all of it collected on a page that is "us." And whatever it may be that plagues our present, real-life thoughts, there nevertheless exists an extensive, ever-changing yearbook of people at least moderately connected to ourselves who have accomplished, it seems, what we have yet to. I find it both inspiring and, at times, a bit depressing. *For more on how Facebook can lead to stress and low self-esteem, check out Wendy Sach's piece on Huffingtonpost.com.
For millennials in particular, the pressure to sculpt that perfect avatar is born in part from the fact that for the world of our real selves, life can be a lot harder. Our avatars do not mention the time spent living at home, the barista job we're working to make ends' meet, the dwindling bank account. Sites like Facebook in no way require that we divulge that information. So our avatars are a display of our accomplishments, and in turn we see little of anyone else but their best. And as Facebook and other social networking sites become ever more present in our lives, it ultimately presents us a skewed version of the world.
There's good news, however. Some would argue that the closed system of Facebook, like AOL before it, might rapidly become a thing of the past. For older and more savvy internet users, Facebook is an aging phenomena that doesn't hold a candle to the freedom of creating one's own website to share with the world. And for a younger generation, the site has lost its appeal next to simpler and less ad-intensive options like Instagram and Tumblr. Quips the 13 year old blogger Ruby Karp in her piece on the subject, "It wasn't the Facebook it was when I was seven." Perhaps a couple years from now I'll look back on my lament about avatars and the Facebook profile as a blip in the evolution of the internet; perhaps as technology advances, the pressures to maintain the dual presences of our real selves and our online selves will dissipate as the two merge. Is that a good thing? Who knows. What I know for sure is that it is important for us to keep in mind that for now, avatars aren't really real. When we're in control of them, they're idealized versions of the truth. We must strive to remember that. And taking a break from the world of social networking might sometimes be a good thing for us all.
By Suzanne Lunden
We’ve all had sex in the backseat
in the parking lot of the elementary school.
We’ve figured out how to be beautiful
how to ask to be told
how to mix our drinks
how to remove the dress
so that it falls to the floor inside out
so that the crumbs and dog hairs
will not be noticed by coworkers
tomorrow but will press into us.
We forget the name of the bar.
We remember the name of the dog.
We’ve all stopped eating meat because it’s an atrocity, the way we kill.
We’ve all started again, because there's something in it we need.
We’ve all figured out that the fear of flying is mostly about control.
That like the tiny flicker and monster noise of the plane
in the sky, the act or rather inaction of flying throws into stark relief
the happy chance of the continued existence of our minute selves
in the grand chaos of the universe. We all do it anyway, finding mutual
mysterious comfort in the idea that it’s safer, that for those few hours
we are less likely to get ourselves wrecked by a car or trapped beneath a train.
Planes are built to fly and we, unfortunately, are built to, at some point, die.
We’ve all got short little spans of attention; we’ve all ceased to regret.
We all stand in the subway, we’ve all lived in the hallway,
slept on the bathmat, up on the roof, among the dishes and tar,
slept for three days, slept not at all, not for a week, not for a night,
dancing, coughing, wondering if any of those textbook seekers of immortality
ever couldn’t sleep, wondering if this is what it feels like to be
very, very old: this feeling in the jaw like needing to weep, this losing bet
on the borders of the body, this codependent relationship with the habits of the sun –
We’ve all half-read Lacan, we all love Leonard Cohen.
We know that memory is our sustaining myth,
that a beginning sweetens an end.
We know that we tell mostly terrible stories,
and we tell them anyway, to feel them leave us,
that they may hang in the air, safe from our decay.
Hi everyone. This is Sarah, Deanstreet.org's creator and editor. As you may or may not be aware, this morning a blog post was posted to some decidedly negative feedback. I want to start off by saying that the views of individual contributors do not, in any way, at all, under any circumstances, represent the views of any other contributors. Really. The only two people who know ahead of time what is going to be posted are myself and the writer of the post.
That being said, I was submitted a blog via email this morning (the 2nd since this website's creation a couple weeks ago) that was...not in great taste perhaps. As a friend of the writer--all the people on this site are friends of mine--I understood the context in which she was trying to describe her experiences as being a white woman in a predominantly black neighborhood. But regardless, the post missed the mark, and after some negative feedback, we took it down.
This blog is meant to serve as a forum for issues relating to the millennial generation. Gentrification in cities like New York is definitely part of the conversation. But as this blog gets on its feet, I would like to assure our audience that we will step up our commitment to thoughtful, well-researched writing. That's my job as an editor and our mission as a forum for Millennials.
By Sarah Lee GrilloThere’s no shortage of debate over the plight of the millennial generation. From a nation of parents concerned over the futures of their struggling twenty-something children, to an automotive industry scrambling to figure out how to get young people to start buying cars again, without a doubt we are a generation leaving many scratching their heads as to just who we are, what we value, and what the future holds for us.
And, I believe, we millennials are a bit confused ourselves. While we know that our values have started to shift away from consuming things (cars, houses) and more towards consuming experiences (live music, good food), we nonetheless are too often at a loss when it comes to navigating the minefield of today's economy and job market, compounded with the struggles to make ends meet and pay off loans. We are the first generation in recent memory that will not do as well or better than our parents did, at least as far as financial stability is concerned. We’re entering into adulthood at a time of decline, with an economy and a quality of living that will likely never again be what we became accustomed to as children. And having grown up in such privilege, we enter into the workforce--many of us--without the inherent tools and resources to navigate a world largely unreceptive to our quest to make a decent living, coming of age in a nation that borrowed well beyond its means and with a government that slashed away at the safety nets and social institutions built to once guarantee a solid middle class.
So, we have begun to reinvent our values, and we have started shift our expectations.
For my first blog for this website, I wanted to offer two alternative points of view on the conversation surrounding the millennnial generation. The first comes from clinical psychologist Dr. Meg Jay, whose TED Talk on twenty-somethings was actually the impetus for this blog’s creation. You can see the sixteen minute talk here, but to summarize her viewpoint, Dr. Jay makes the case that today’s young adults falsely see their twenties as a decade of procrastination, extended adolescence, and a time to relax until life truly begins around age thirty or so. She tells stories of twenty-something clients in crisis as they approach thirty realizing they’ve squandered the decade in dead-end jobs and dead-end relationships with little to show for their time. Ultimately, she argues that contrary to popular opinion, adult development is perhaps most important in one’s twenties; that career, income, marriage, and children are on the line for a generation that does not take their twenties more seriously.
She makes some pretty solid points, and in many ways I think she is not entirely wrong. Indeed, people of all ages need to be better at taking their goals more seriously and to become creative about how to achieve what they want. But where I depart from her point of view is in her traditionalist perspective on the goals and successes of adulthood: career, family, marriage. Further, she says things like:
“Now is the time for that cross-country job, that internship, that start-up you want to try.”And:
“The Urban Tribe is overrated. Best friends are great for giving rides to the airport, but 20-somethings who huddle together with like-minded peers limit who they know, what they know, how they think, how they speak, and where they work.”
These viewpoints, as well intentioned as they may be, negate the valid experiences of millennials. The first assumes that career opportunities are only ripe for the picking, should 20-somethings get up off their lazy butts and take them (the economy, cost of living, and debt of young adults never once enters into her speech). The second ignores the reality that for young urban dwellers the support system of close friends and extended acquaintances can be crucial to both happiness and survival. I would argue that the experiences of millennials--and what people including Dr. Jay may interpret as our inclination towards “extended adolescence”--have less to do with some innate attitude problem on our part and are more directly the result of economic circumstances beyond our control. And the reinventing of our values and goals--say, investing oneself in creative pursuits over the toil of an underpaying and under-stimulating office job--is a valid departure from the traditional milestones of adulthood other generations may have worked to attain.
Dr. Jays’ focus on childbearing is a point I find particularly problematic. She uses science (hey, fertilization in women peaks at 28, did ya know?) to make the argument that now is the time for 20-somethings to take their relationships more seriously in preparation for a mate. Her insistence that she’s only speaking the harsh truth ignores the even harsher reality that many millennial women approaching “peak fertilization” are in no way ready to responsibly raise a child. After all, when so many people in their late twenties are seeing decades of college loan debt yet to pay, working underpaying jobs outside of their chosen fields without health insurance, and sacrificing a third or even half their income on rent alone, is now really the time to be pushing for babies?
Here’s the reality, Dr. Jay: we are a generation that is going to have to make sacrifices due in large part to the fiscal indulgences and economic mismanagement of the generations before us that borrowed against the future. We may have to delay having children, or even find alternative means like adoption, when we are ready for it. Once again, we are adapting, and I take issue with even well-intentioned folks like Dr. Jay who condescendingly label millennials lazy procrastinators when nothing could be further from the truth.
Most importantly, though, Meg Jay’s speech assumes that the status quo will continue uninterrupted, and that 20-somethings are leaving themselves ill prepared for it. I would argue that the status quo is radically changing and will continue to evolve, and 20-somethings are approaching these changes with a different set of values and goals which suit an existence of decreased privilege but, one should hope, increased spiritual and personal fulfillment.
*For more on Dr. Meg Jay's perspective and the millennial conversation, you can hear her on this piece from NPR: Avoiding the Post Millennial Midlife Crisis
The second point of view comes courtesy of NPR. In a recent piece on millennials and automobile ownership, author Noah Nelson examines the attitude shift of a generation more concerned with consuming experiences and less concerned with consuming things, which has resulted in a measured decrease in car purchases. Whereas someone like Dr. Jay might begrudge a 20-something riding the bus--you know, delaying that inevitable child-safe minivan and all--the reality is that buying and maintaining a car is either outside the means for many millennials, unnecessary for our needs, or both. From personal experience I can attest to the fact that owning a car can be a debt trap in which you find yourself sinking money into constant repairs, insurance, and gas--the price of which is triple or more what it was in the 90’s. Car ownership in almost every way is a stress that for many young adults we’re happy to avoid, and, more crucially, we are not ashamed to do so. In interviews with Los Angeles-based millennials who travel to work by bus and by skateboard, this NPR piece offers the rare perspective of supporting millennial’s choices, validating them as the thoughtful response to the changed economic circumstances that they are. And to take it a step further, although these choices might be born in large part out of economic necessity, the result of using public transportation, traveling by bike, by skateboard, or by one’s own feet, is that we are offered a richer and more exciting experience traveling the landscape of our neighborhoods and our communities than if we spent our time shuttling around in the metal comfort zone of a car. In the grander scheme of things, we are also contributing less to a culture of ownership and to industries negligent of the both the environment and of natural resources. Having a car might sometimes be easier, but going without actually seems better.
The millennial debate will doubtlessly continue for a while yet, which is a large part of why we started this blog to begin with. We will continue to hear the condescending remarks of talking heads convinced that we are a lazy, spoiled, procrastinating group. We will undoubtedly hear that our circumstances have less to do with economic factors and are instead the result of an unwillingness to grow up and a fear of commitment to either career or relationships. Don’t listen to that.
Because we will also be validated, as we should be, for our generation’s shift in values that places more of an emphasis on friendship, communities, experiences, creative pursuits, and exploration over traditional life goals that are either unattainable or unwanted. In short, we are a generation looking for happiness in a time of economic uncertainty, and in a lot of ways I think we are more on the right path than our critics could ever imagine.