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Jessica Cumberbatch Anderson   |   September 30, 2013    5:30 PM ET

America's "Lost Generation" continues to flounder, according to a report released Monday by the Georgetown University Center on Education. And while three groups -- young men, high school graduates and African Americans -- continue to bear the brunt of The Great Recession's limiting access to jobs, experts say financial independence is taking longer to attain for young adults across the board.

Over the past 30 years, the age at which young workers reach financial independence, the median wage, has increased from age 26 to age 30, the report called "Failure To Launch: Structural Shift and the New Lost Generation" states. For young African Americans, the age has increased to 33.

And the time it takes for young people to settle into a career (and ultimately retire) isn't the only area where black Gen-Yers are tracking behind. Between 2000 and 2012, the employment rate for the young fell from 84 percent to 72
percent, with young African Americans facing a peak post-recession unemployment rate of 30 percent, twice as high as that of young whites.

Take a look at the charts below for a few of the findings we pulled from the Georgetown University report.

In addition to comparison's between racial groups, researchers examined whether older workers' tendency to stay in the workforce longer is what's keeping the younger generation's financial freedom at bay. But despite the fact that sixty-two percent of women 55 and older were employed in 2010, compared to 42 percent in 1987, the report concluded that it isn't older workers who are crowding younger ones out. Instead, they point to an "imbalance in resources" between young and old (resources like Social Security and Medicare) as a more likely cause.

Check out Georgetown's full "Failure To Launch" report here and tell us:

Jillian Berman   |   September 30, 2013    5:12 PM ET

Young people are taking longer to launch their careers, but it's not totally their fault, a report released Monday from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, found.

"What we see here is it's the economy, not attitudes," Anthony Carnevale, the director of the Georgetown center, told The Huffington Post. Young job seekers are having trouble finding work and making money because of structural changes that have been taking place for some time, according to the report.

Here are 7 charts from the report that illustrate some of the most frightening trends.

The share of young people in the labor force is at its lowest point since 1972.

labor force participation

The situation is so bad that young people make up a much larger share of America's unemployed population than they do of the nation's workforce.

employed vs unemployed

For the young people who are lucky enough to have jobs, it's taking longer than ever to start earning the median wage. In 1980, the average worker hit the median wage at 26, now that number has gone up to 30.

young adults wages

And the earnings of men ages 18 to 29 have been declining relative to the earnings of everyone else since 1980.

mens earnings

The result is that it's getting harder for young Americans to build up any wealth. Older Americans had 44 times as much wealth as younger Americans in 2009. That's up from 13 times as much wealth in 1984.

wealth gap

And the job market is bound to get even more competitive. By 2020, more than 65 percent of jobs will require a degree beyond high school.

jobs degrees

This is especially troubling because government spending for higher education has been on the decline since 1999.

higher education spending

Why Kids Don't Leave Home -- It's Not (Just) The Economy

Jane Adams Ph.D.   |   May 31, 2012   10:34 AM ET

By the time PolitiFact tracked a frightening statistic about how many recent and current college graduates (85%) will be moving in with their parents this year to its source and proved it was a hoax, I was on the hunt, spurred on by the repetition of this figure in Time, CNN, and even HuffPost, paying special attention to what happened when the Boomerang Generation began coming home again. Their numbers began rising even before that, doubling between 1980 and 2008, long before the economy tanked, and has risen only 5% since then, which casts reasonable doubt on the conventional wisdom that the phenomenon is all due to the recession.

The reason more kids move back home isn't just because they can't afford to move out or even because they can have sex under the parental roof -- something their parents never could. Baby boomers have been enabling their kids' extended adolescence for over two decades, spurred on by their desire to have a more honest, authentic, intimate connection with their children than most of them enjoyed with their own parents. Technology helps -- staying tethered electronically 24/7 keeps them in the kind of touch that was (fortunately) impossible when we came of age; we created our young adult lives and made our mistakes and missteps largely out of their sight, and what they knew about them was only what we offered in a carefully edited phone call or letter. The high rate of divorce and the concomitant increase in single parenting in the last quarter of the twentieth century also changed the parent/child dyad, furthering the mutual emotional dependence of boomers and their offspring. And while working mothers proliferated during that same period, the satisfaction we took in our careers diminished when we bumped into the glass ceiling on our way to the top; many turned instead to a more satisfying and enduring role, "professionalizing" parenting and devoting the energy and competitiveness that previously went into jobs into raising perfect children. The timing of life stage events like completing school, leaving home, beginning a career, marrying and raising children changed, too. The consequent delay in engaging with the developmental tasks appropriate to their life stage had a ripple effect on both generations: it's not just 20 and even 30-somethings who don't want to grow up. If 30 is the new 21, 60 must be the new 40, because their parents aren't any more eager to move on from midlife than they are from adolescence.

A 20-something coming and going between jobs, roommates and romances for a few years is the new normal, but having adult children as long-term roommates has implications of a greater social change; it's a hallmark of the redefinition of the family life cycle, the psychosocial meaning of independence, and a new life stage located somewhere between middle and old age - Permanent Parenthood. Because the real statistic we all ought to be noticing is the 30% increase in 2011 of 25-34 year olds living at home. In many cultures and ethnicities, living at home until (and even after) marriage is normative. But in middle class America, whose graying "post-parents" couldn't wait to leave home, there's a growing concern about whether their kids ever will.

Employment Rate For Young Adults Lowest In 60 Years

Alexander Eichler   |   February 9, 2012   12:01 AM ET

Are you young and looking for work? You're in good company.

Just 54 percent of Americans ages 18 to 24 currently have jobs, according to a study released Thursday by the Pew Research Center. That's the lowest employment rate for this age group since the government began keeping track in 1948. And it's a sharp drop from the 62 percent who had jobs in 2007 -- suggesting the recession is crippling career prospects for a broad swath of young people who were still in high school or college when the downturn began.

"They had the misfortune to be born at a time that would dump them into this labor market as young people," said Heidi Shierholz, a labor market economist at the Economic Policy Institute. "If we stay on the track that we're on, this cohort is not going to outpace their parents."

The Pew study arrives just days after the Labor Department's monthly jobs report, which showed the national unemployment rate trending down for a fifth straight month -- a change that many took as a sign that the economy is finally beginning to right itself. Yet joblessness is still high, and financial security remains out of reach for millions more people than just a few years ago.

Young adults were largely spared the collapse in wealth that many older Americans went through when the housing market imploded. Still, in some ways they have it the worst of any demographic. Besides the historically low employment rate for people in their late-teens and early-20s -- which is, incidentally, about 15 percentage points below the general employment rate for working-age adults, according to Pew -- the recession has eroded young workers' paychecks to a far greater degree than any other age group.

Among adults ages 18 to 34, more than a third say they have gone back to school in the face of a tough labor market, the Pew study notes. Nearly a quarter have taken an unpaid job or moved back in with parents. One in five have put off having a child or getting married due to economic concerns.

Still, the young people surveyed by Pew seem remarkably optimistic.

A full 88 percent say they're either making enough to suit their needs now, or expect to in the future. And 60 percent of people ages 18 to 34 say their children will have a better standard of living than them. That prediction is notably more confident than that of people ages 35 and older, of whom only 43 percent have a similarly hopeful view.

Young people are probably correct to say that their earning power will grow as they age, said Shierholz. But a wealth of research suggests that young people who enter the job market during a recession face years of wages that are lower than people who got there slightly sooner and had a chance to establish themselves. People who graduated and kicked off their job search in 2009 or 2010 are likely to experience pay 10 to 15 percent lower than their peers', for as much as a decade after leaving school.

If all of this seems like grim news for young people, they can at least take comfort knowing that older generations seem to recognize their struggles.

The Pew study found that among the general population, 41 percent of people think young adults have it tougher than anyone in the current job market, and a growing number of parents say they believe children should aim for economic independence by age 25, rather than a younger age.

Part of that cross-generational commiseration may come from the fact that huge segments of the national population are struggling financially right now. Shierholz told The Huffington Post that the obstacles faced by young job-seekers reflect the muted health of the overall economy.

"Things were not so great even before the recession hit," she said, citing the growth of the wage gap and the decline of labor unions -- trends that predate the current slump by several decades -- as factors keeping the lower and middle classes from achieving greater economic buoyancy. "If you want to move the dial on what's going on with young workers' unemployment, you need to help the labor market more broadly."

Post 50 Music: The Lost Audience

Hank Bordowitz   |   December 15, 2011    7:53 AM ET

First up, a confession: I didn't make up the notion of "The Lost Audience." It came from a record company started by my buddy, Dennis Damico. The idea rocked my foundation: A record company geared to making music for adults. Dennis realized that just because we turned 50 doesn't mean our ears have died or our brains have withered, that a lot of what passed for "adult contemporary" music was horribly misnamed.

Dunno about you, but I find the need to be musically challenged and the need gets more acute as I get older and collect more experience. These days, I get more depth out of Ornette Coleman, Diane Krall, or even her hubby Elvis Costello. These are intelligent adults making music for the entertainment and elucidation of other adults, their contemporaries to whom music still signifies.

We are the generation that invaded record stores on Wednesday, when the new releases came out, wanting to be the first of our friends to have the new cool album. We slept on sidewalks outside of Korvettes for the first tickets to the Dr. Pepper Festival. We took and continue to take our musical entertainment seriously. It matters to us.

Many of us have that one album that we would never have made it through junior high without. Mine was the Who's Quadrophenia. I wore out my copy, and kept playing the worn out copy. On a recent road trip, my friend Larry and I sang along with every word as we approached our 17th hour on Route 80. Whether any of that behavior was healthy or not is not the issue. We are the generation that would do these things when the music spoke to us.

This is not to put down the current generation of young adults. They just have other things on their minds. But the entertainment industry hasn't lost the mindset of "Doin' it for the kids," shooting for that 18-34 year-old demo, the supposed gold standard of consuming humanity.

The music business isn't the only culprit in this, though possibly the most egregious. The movie biz, TV, radio (especially radio!), and even print fall into the trap of "doin' it for the kids." As a denizen of the music business, I can't tell you how many times I've heard "we're doing it for the kids," from executives and even artists.

If the record companies are doing it for the kids, they're barking up the wrong economic tree. Today's 18 to 34-year-olds were raised with myriad choices we couldn't have dreamed of when we were putting quarters on the tone-arm to keep the records from skipping: video games, DVDs, Manga and more. Many in this demo regard music like email: A utility available for free on the web.

The problem with us in the Lost Audience, from the media biz point of view, is that our tastes have matured and broadened with the rest of us. Nostalgia is only part of it. Certainly, there are still enough of us who will pay $300 a ticket to sit at stage level for a Who concert, or can help Billy Joel sell out 14 shows. But we also crave something new, something that speaks to us today, from today, about today. And we all crave it differently, which makes us really tough to reach for organizations that are used to marketing en mass.

Our tastes diverged as our gray areas, both on our heads and in our outlook, have grown. In our youth, our tastes tended toward the monolithic, the black and white. We hung with the disco crowd or the rockers, or went in jazz circles, or even classical. Music identified us to our crowd. What we listened to became part of our identity, and it affected our social situations. It also made us targets for marketers.

In our 50s, our tastes are frequently more catholic. People who wouldn't have been caught dead listening to Vivaldi with their 18-34 year-old ears might now spend one night a year at the Philharmonic. This doesn't stop us from playing poker with some hard rock on in the background, or from seeing and enjoying our kid's high school musical. Cruising with an iPod on shuffle, we might hear a track of the B-52s followed by Nora Jones, then Kermit Ruffins, and some Gershwin and it would make a kind of internal musical sense, at least to the owner of the iPod.

While it might not seem like it, there's an awful lot of entertainment out there that could reach out and grab us, but we might not ever hear about it. Like so much these days when hype rises to the top, much of the good stuff gets subsumed in the sheer volume of everything else. With a lack of good gatekeepers, winnowing through this mass of media, separating the gold from the dross, can seem a herculean task for something as simple as entertainment.

The Lost Audience is as diverse and discerning as all the individuals it comprises. The good news is, there is music and entertainment to reach every one of us. We just have to find it and share it.

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Sex For Tuition: Gay Male College Students Using ‘Sugar Daddies’ To Pay Off Loan Debt

Amanda M. Fairbanks   |   August 30, 2011    8:00 AM ET

NEW YORK -- Three years ago, during his junior year at New York University, Kirk met with a financial aid officer to plead a familiar case: his inability to manage the yearly payments on his $50,000 tuition bill.

Once again, the school official reminded Kirk that in order to register for next semester’s courses, he needed to come up with another $8,000 -- or risk expulsion.

Kirk nearly divulged his secret to the loan officer, finally letting her know exactly what he had resorted to in a desperate attempt to finance his education. Midway through college, Kirk had begun turning tricks in order to pay for school.

“Once and for all, I just wanted her to understand what the expense of NYU was really costing some of us,” says Kirk, now 23, who graduated a little more than a year ago with a degree in theater and film. “I felt like telling her: You really have no idea what some of us do in order to stay here."

And the escort work didn’t end when Kirk left NYU. He has continued selling his wares on what he describes as “virtual street corners" -- websites where young gay men seek out the companionship of wealthy older suitors.

After personal ads on Craigslist drew little in the way of reliable income, Kirk went on the hunt for a "sugar daddy." He currently has a profile on a website called Kirk’s lithe, bare physique figures prominently in most of his profile photos, while others showcase his dark, chiseled features. He describes himself as a bachelor’s degree-holding non-smoker and social drinker who’s on the hunt for a “patron/daddy/boyfriend.” While the price of Kirk’s companionship is listed as negotiable, he generally charges about $200 an hour.

Kirk is hardly alone in his decision to sell sex in order to pay for school. Late last month, The Huffington Post chronicled the uptick of debt-strapped young women similarly searching online for suitors or wealthy benefactors who, in exchange for companionship, sex, or both, might help with the bills.

But the willingness to date for money is not limited to beleaguered young women struggling to pay off debt. An increasing number of gay male students have also taken to the web in the past several years searching for wealthy benefactors. While young gay men exchanging sex for money certainly predated the financial collapse, recent events have pushed some students to consider engaging in risky behavior that in more robust economic times might have been unthinkable, according to several owners of websites that broker such hook-ups.

The rise in the number of straight and gay college students moonlighting as "sugar babies" occurs at a time when the life plans of many 20-somethings have taken a brutal detour. Earlier this summer, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that half of recent graduates are underutilized -- whether they are jobless, working part time, or working in a job that doesn’t require a college degree and therefore tends to pay less.

In addition to a lackluster job market, a historic number of recent graduates are also struggling to pay off an overwhelming amount of student loan debt. The U.S. Census Bureau recently reported that over the past 20 years, the average annual cost of college has more than doubled. Nineteen million currently enrolled college students now face an average cost of $15,876 for one year of in-state tuition at a public university or $40,633 for one year at a private institution.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s quarterly report on debt recently found that delinquency rates for student loans are on the rise, with 11.2 percent of borrowers more than 90 days past due, compared with 9.5 percent of student loan borrowers during the same quarter in 2009. Further, between the first quarter of 1999 and the first quarter of 2011, student loan debt increased by a whopping 511 percent, with borrowers under the age of 30 bearing the biggest financial brunt.

While many 20-somethings embarked on their dream of a college education when a decent-paying job was virtually guaranteed as part of the package, the rules have now changed -- and a new generation is coming of age during an era of limited options.

Gautam Sharma, the 39-year-old founder of and, estimates that between 60 to 70 percent of his sites’ sugar babies are either currently enrolled college students or recent graduates. Of Sugar Daddy For Me’s 3 million members, Sharma says that about 2 million are sugar babies. Men seeking a gay sugar daddy account for about 80,000 of the site’s members and of these, about a quarter list some combination of “school,” “college,” “university,” “money for school,” “student debt,” “college debt,” “tuition,” and “college expenses” in their profile.

Another site,, which boasts over 800,000 members, has seen a sharp increase in users that it defines as “college sugar babies.” The site's 41-year-old founder, Brandon Wade, estimates that about 35 percent of its members are college students and 90,000 are gay male sugar babies. In 2007, the site said it had 5,239 gay male sugar babies who were also enrolled in college. Today, that figure stands at 35,682.

Kirk tries to abide by a few basic ground rules when getting sex for money: he refuses to perform oral sex, always wears protection, and will only have sex as a top, never a bottom. Whenever possible, he tries to avoid having sex with supposedly straight, married men looking for a “discreet” hook-up.

“I don’t want to feel objectified because of an exchange of money for sex. I want to feel equal and empowered, but I’m also really explicit that I’m just there for the money,” says Kirk, who estimates that he’s received money for having sex with more than 100 men in the last few years.

Kirk acknowledges that he’s benefited from the largesse of his various encounters. One sugar daddy paid for two years’ worth of rent on an apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, while another cosigned an additional loan for school. A recent hook-up yielded a new iPhone.

For the time being, Kirk says he sees working as a part-time prostitute as a practical solution to climbing out from beneath a mountain of student debt. Kirk also works as a server at a Manhattan restaurant four nights a week and auditions for theater and film work during the day. On free nights, he regularly trawls the web, looking for a generous sugar daddy willing to take on the burden of helping him pay off his hefty loans.

But with tuition money due each month, and an endless stream of voice mails from student loan creditors, sex work is starting to feel like something Kirk can’t afford not to do. The clock is ticking and Kirk knows that he won’t be young and gorgeous forever.


“How many of you sugar babies are hungry, but not for food?” the emcee croons to a packed crowd of hundreds at the Hudson Terrace, a rooftop lounge on 46th Street in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen. “Remember, guys: You’ve got to be generous. You’ve got to make it happen. It’s passion all night long.”

Seeking Arrangement regularly sponsors parties for sugar babies and sugar daddies to come out from behind their laptops and reveal themselves in open-air mixers. Seeking Arrangement, which Wade says has about 100,000 members in the New York City area alone, received about 400 RSVPs for its latest fete, a mid-August party called "Midsummer Night Affair." The party’s promoter, Alan “Action” Schneider, says that more than 500 have shown up -- with men paying an entrance fee of $80 and women forking over $40.

At first glance, the crowd resembles one that could be found in any standard Midtown nightclub. The men are in suits and the women wear skintight, brightly-colored dresses. Crystal chandeliers dangling above the dance floor emit a dark, ruby light and the bar is packed, often four people deep.

But the average age of most of the men is 50 -- or older -- and they are gray-haired and balding. Most have a tubby roll of flesh around their midsections. The women, mostly black and Latina, appear to be in their mid-to-late twenties, and none look much older than 35. Many of them say they're in college.

Stephan Smith, who helps run Seeking Arrangement, says a majority of the “higher caliber” people in terms of both looks and wealth haven’t come out tonight. “The daddies didn’t come because of the public exposure,” Smith explains. “And some of the babies didn’t come because they knew the high caliber daddies weren’t coming.”

Wade, Smith’s boss, regards gay men as the site's pioneers. “The gay community were really the first to embrace the sugar lifestyle, even more so than the straight community,” Wade says. On Seeking Arrangement, individuals don’t explicitly identify as gay, but merely say what they’re looking for -- be it a sugar daddy or a far smaller universe of sugar mamas. “You identify your sex, you say what you’re looking for, but you never have to come out and say, ‘I’m straight or I’m gay.’ That’s been a very vital and very successful component of our site.”

Career counselors and those offering discounted plastic surgery lurk at the edge of the nightclub. Sharma, Wade’s competitor and the founder of Sugar Daddy For Me and Gay Sugar Daddy Finder, is standing nearby. An Indian man who speaks in accented English, Sharma wears a tuxedo and smokes a cigar. Sugar Daddy For Me also helped promote the event.

While the party skews toward straight men and women, a few young gay men are also on the prowl. Sharma says he created his sites partly because of what he describes as the “social stigma of being gay.”

While there are more than 80,000 gay sugar babies on Sugar Daddy For Me, there are only about 11,000 gay sugar daddies on the site. It’s partly an issue of supply and demand, Sharma says. Some of the gay sugar babies seek out the companionship of older, supposedly straight men because there don’t seem to be enough gay sugar daddies to go around.

Another of the party's attendees, Samuel Schall, studied the gay sugar baby culture as an undergraduate at George Washington University. Schall hopes to help organize a separate event specifically targeting gay men later this fall.

Schall mentions the tendency of older, straight men to pursue relationships with younger, gay men. “I think it’s more common than people would like to believe,” Schall says. "From the sugar babies that I've spoken with, the more money and the more power these older men have, the more comfortable they are flaunting their closeted homosexuality -- especially in D.C., where you have a lot of people doing things secretly and behind closed doors."

Wade concedes that men who are married and identify as straight are drawn to his site partly because of the level of anonymity it provides. “Sometimes they have a career they want to protect, or perhaps in their public life they are straight but in their private life they are perhaps gay,” Wade says. “I guess I think of it as a way for people to display their true self, their true colors.”

Noel Biderman, the 39-year-old founder and CEO of Avid Life Media, a social entertainment company, runs a handful of arrangement-seeking websites. One of Biderman’s more successful ventures is, a site for married people looking to have extramarital affairs. While none of his sites specifically target gay men, Biderman does operate an offshoot called, where married men can hunt on the "down-low" for affairs with men instead of women. Biderman says that 4.2 percent of this site's young male users, or 618 men, identify themselves as students.

Based on a written survey of 100 sugar babies in New York, Schall concluded that in both good times and bad, sugar babies seek out the companionship of sugar daddies -- gay or straight -- because they want to be able to afford a certain lifestyle.

“A lot of the people I surveyed in the gay scene were students but they weren’t necessarily using the money to pay off their student loans,” says Schall, who found that most of the gay respondents hailed from middle-class or even wealthy families. “Rather than paying off debt or basic expenses, most used the money to afford the extravagant and often lavish gay lifestyle. And many later found it a tough habit to break.”


“In the gay scene,” Jake says, “all you really have is your age or your money.”

Miidway through college in Washington, D.C., Jake met his sugar daddy through a friend of a friend. He asked for anonymity to preserve his privacy.

Jake says he didn’t really need the money his sugar daddy paid him, but his tastes quickly adjusted to accommodate his new lifestyle. The biggest high generally came after he spent time with his sugar daddy, when he’d walk home with bags full of newly-purchased designer clothes and expensive shoes. His pulse further quickened when he'd stop at an ATM to deposit a huge wad of cash, stunned as his previously overdrawn bank account suddenly showed thousands of dollars at his immediate disposal.

“It was such a great feeling. It gave me such a sense of independence,” says Jake, who took up with a 60-year-old straight married man who he says worked in a “lofty position in the D.C. political scene.” (“Jake” is not his real name, but a pseudonym he uses when meeting older men.)

Over the course of two years, they met up once or twice each month to spend long, luxurious weekends at fancy hotels in major cities. Sex was often involved, but it was not uncommon for the two to meet up for quiet, midweek dinners on Capitol Hill. In total, Jake says he made between $35,000 to $40,000.

Eventually, though, the relationship started to feel like nothing more than a transaction, with Jake seeing only dollar signs whenever the two spent time together. Growing less enamored of his sugar daddy (the two no longer speak) and with graduation looming, Jake started budgeting his money. He now uses what’s left of the money to pay for basic living expenses like rent and utilities, while he continues to search for a job.

Jake says explaining his extravagant purchases to his parents, who often wonder where the money comes from, has created an unforeseen challenge. Recently, when an expensive pair of sunglasses yielded particular suspicion, Jake brushed off their accusations, saying that a close friend had loaned them to him.

While his parents paid for college, Jake has considered selling sex again in order to pay for graduate school. “Once that bank account diminishes, you start to worry,” says Jake, who arranges his dark brown hair in a disheveled mohawk. He sports a scruffy beard and has brown eyes.

“Even if you hate going to your sugar daddy, the money is great so you do it. But at a certain point you start to question: Exactly how much is my soul really worth?”

Unlike in the straight world, many say they find working as an escort on the gay scene to be an accepted, even applauded practice. While none of the nearly dozen men interviewed had told their parents about their sugar daddies, nearly all had discussed them with their friends. And unlike the young women engaged in similar behavior who reported feeling great shame and remorse, the men generally seemed less traumatized by their decision. In fact, they often felt emboldened by the money they were able to earn, rather than shamed by the stigma.

Christian Grov, an assistant professor of public health at Brooklyn College and co-author of “In the Company of Men: Inside the Lives of Male Prostitutes," attributes the rise of young gay men engaged in sex work as part of a growing sense of social acceptance. Gay men engaged in sex work often face far less of a stigma than do straight women, he says. Generally speaking, Grov finds the gay culture more accepting of one-night stands and casual relationships.

In his research, which included an Internet-based sample of gay sex workers in New York City, Grov found that a significant number of gay male escorts were looking to put themselves through school. Most saw it as a temporary means to an end, rather than work they considered pursuing for the long haul. “Working as escorts allowed them to be in school and be a full-time student and also afford a halfway decent life,” Grov says. “Essentially, they could be going to school and living deep in Queens, or have an apartment in Chelsea and a fancy gym membership and still live a nice life.”

While Jake reports having earned vast sums of money from his sugar daddy, Grov says the going rate for men tends to be far less than for women. “It’s the only profession where women can make more than men, dollar for dollar,” explains Grov, who says the going rate for gay sex in New York City is about $250 an hour, though many gay male escorts charge far less.

Grov says he sees debt-strapped young men as particularly vulnerable and likely to consider sex work, especially when they can’t find jobs out of school that pay a living wage. “The danger is that for some, the money can seem really easy and they worry they might become accustomed to that kind of lifestyle."

This past summer, Alex, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of California, Riverside, started looking for a sugar daddy to help pay for school. In the short term, he wanted help with $500 for books. In the long term, he must pay down about $25,000 in student loans.

Alex, who is not openly gay, has kept his behavior secret from both friends and family, fearing their reaction. His mother works as a homemaker; his father as a gardener. So far, he’s met up with one man in his forties he found on Seeking Arrangement. Though the two never had sex, Alex made $300. He immediately deposited the money into a separate savings account he created for school expenses.

“I’m not using it to go out and drink or party,” Alex says. “I’m using it to pay for my education. I guess I’m willing to do whatever it takes.”

Alex's parents emigrated from Mexico to make a new life in California’s Central Valley. But school’s on him, and sometimes the pressure to afford it feels like too much.

“Everyone I know is in crisis. There are no guarantees that I’m even going to graduate and get a minimum-wage job,” Alex says. “I see this as a fast, easy way to get money. Older guys are into younger guys, so I’m going for it.”

Grov affirms that gay men in their twenties can typically charge the highest prices. “It’s definitely a market for younger, attractive, fit men,” he says. “But the window is narrow and eventually, well, gravity takes over.”

In 2000, David S. Bimbi, an assistant professor of health sciences at LaGuardia Community College, conducted a study of 50 gay men between the ages of 18 and 50 who participated in Internet-based sex work. Many of the young men purposely kept apartments in Midtown Manhattan in order to meet up with businessmen before, during and after work, which freed them to go to school during the evenings.

“It allowed them to afford the lifestyle and luxuries, while living in a manner to which they’d like to become accustomed,” says Bimbi, who interviewed several young men who used money made working as escorts to put themselves through school. Bimbi says a good portion of the men weren’t embarrassed about what they did, seeing it as a practical, even necessary way to make ends meet. Bimbi describes a split personality when it comes to the culture of gay males involved in sex work: “Yes, they’re deified like gods and models, but they’re also looked down on like dirt.”

Bimbi says young men look for sugar daddies as a way to avoid the stigma that would come with becoming full-time sex workers. “What they don’t realize is that full-on escorts are getting paid $1,000 to $2,000 a night, not $200 an hour,” says Bimbi, who sees young men resorting to sex work, whether as prostitutes or sugar daddies, with increasing frequency, especially in a down economy when affording even a basic standard of living in an expensive city can seem like an impossible task. “But this added debt thing, it’s a huge motivating factor.”

Adam, 22, attends Augusta State University in Georgia, where he majors in communications. Three weeks ago, he created a profile on Seeking Arrangement. Since then, he says he's received a lot of naked, "creepy" pictures, but not much else.

Adam readily admits that were it not for his debt, he would have never joined the site. He has already amassed $16,000 in student debt, and still has one more year of school, and $7,000 in tuition, to go.

“I guess I’d say this is a last resort kind of option. I mean, the amount of debt I’m accumulating is so overwhelming, I have no idea how I’m ever going to get rid of it,” says Adam, who works during the day as an assistant manager at a local drugstore. “From when I started college until now, the cost of tuition has more than doubled.”

Even once he gets his degree, Adam fears that he’ll be unable to secure a better job. In some ways, he says he feels as though he’s being set up for failure.

“You do what you need to do and I guess that’s the scariest thought,” Adam says. “Suddenly, having sex for money doesn’t seem like such a terrible thing. But where does this all end?”

Andrew Lenoir contributed reporting.

College Students Using 'Sugar Daddies' To Pay Off Loan Debt

  |   July 29, 2011    1:08 PM ET

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WATCH: With Tuition Dollars At Stake, Student Veterans Eagerly Anticipate Passage Of Legislation

Amanda M. Fairbanks   |   June 28, 2011    4:40 PM ET

NEW YORK -- Earlier this year, we introduced you to Cameron Baker, a 27-year-old veteran of the U.S. Air Force. He's currently attending Columbia University on the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. In exchange for his military service, the newly revamped G.I. Bill promised to cover his educational expenses.

But everything changed in December of last year when Congress voted to amend the enhanced G.I. Bill by capping tuition assistance for out-of-state residents and matching them to in-state public rates. Veterans like Baker who attend private schools will now face a $17,500 cap on tuition.

Over the past two months, both Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) have introduced pieces of legislation aimed at grandfathering in veterans currently enrolled in private schools whose tuition would skyrocket. Miller's office estimates that such caps could affect as many as 30,000 veterans come August.

In mid-May, Miller's bill made it through the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Schumer's bill now awaits a markup with the Senate's Veterans' Affairs Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). That markup is scheduled for tomorrow.

Listen to Baker describe how the passage of Miller and Schumer's legislation will affect his ability to remain at Columbia and finish his college degree. Unless the existing law is amended, he and thousands of other veterans will face a difficult set of decisions. If he isn't grandfathered in, Baker faces between $50,000 and $60,000 in student loans. For Baker, going into debt isn't an option.

G.I. Bill Cuts: Veterans Enrolled In College Face Uncertain Futures

Amanda M. Fairbanks   |   June 24, 2011    8:00 AM ET

MADISON, Wis. -- Nearly two years ago, Stephen Lee uprooted his wife and two children from their home in Clarksville, Tenn., to study political science here at the University of Wisconsin.

As a 31-year-old Army veteran, Lee took advantage of one of the most successful tuition assistance programs in the nation’s history -- the G.I. Bill. In exchange for his nine years of military service, the federal government agreed to pay for Lee’s college education.

But on a brittle February night, the rules suddenly changed. At a Vets for Vets meeting on campus, Lee listened in disbelief as a university official told his classmates that the government had reneged on its original promise. In December, Congress voted to cut their G.I. Bill benefits.

Lee closed his eyes and bowed his head. The official said that, beginning in August, out-of-state residents at the university would face caps on their tuition assistance pegged at whatever in-state students had to pay. Lee, who became a Tennessee resident while stationed at Fort Campbell, now owed an extra $8,000 per semester. Beginning next fall, he and 56 other out-of-state residents attending the university on the G.I. Bill needed to come up with $16,000 in order to finish out the year -- an increase in cost none of them could afford without going into debt.

When Lee, a first-generation Korean-American, moved his young family to Wisconsin, taking out loans in order to graduate wasn’t part of the deal. The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill promised to cover his educational expenses in exchange for his military service during the previous decade. But then the rules changed.

“When I came to school here, the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill meant that I wouldn’t be on the hook for any tuition -- it meant that I’d be covered,” says Lee, over beers and brats one recent afternoon on the banks of Lake Mendota. He now feels let down by his country. “I see my time in the military as my service. I volunteered to do it. And while I don’t think it necessarily entitles me to have the country now bend over backwards for me, if you say you’re going to do something, you should do it.”

Since going into effect in August 2009, the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill has provided generous educational support for veterans returning home from war. It is the successor to the original G.I. Bill, or the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, which enabled millions of World War II veterans to attend college. In addition to money for school, the original G.I. Bill provided loan guarantees to 19 million veterans, enabling them to purchase homes and farms and start small businesses.

In America prior to the Second World War, only relatively affluent elites owned homes or went to college. The G.I. Bill helped lower the barrier of entry for the average citizen. It suddenly made the American Dream of homeownership and a college education accessible to a new generation of young people.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, nearly half of the 16 million WWII vets used the original G.I. Bill for college between 1945 and 1956. Over the past two years, the ranks of veterans attending American institutions of higher education has again swelled -- with more than 500,000 now using the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

Under the first version of the bill, a veteran who served for a minimum of three years after Sept. 11, 2001 received a full tuition subsidy from the government if they enrolled at a public college. He or she also received a monthly housing allowance, which varies according to residency, and a $1,000 annual stipend for books. Yet another provision, the Yellow Ribbon Program, enabled veterans to attend private schools as well as graduate and doctoral programs.

All of that changed in December of last year when Congress voted to amend the enhanced G.I. Bill by capping tuition assistance for out-of-state residents according to in-state public rates. Meanwhile, veterans attending expensive private schools will face a $17,500 cap on tuition. Prior to the change, caps varied widely. For instance, student veterans in Mississippi were capped at $805 per semester, while veterans attending schools in Florida were capped at $43,660 per semester. The new rules increased benefits for some while decreasing coverage for many others.

In recent months, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) have introduced separate pieces of legislation aimed at grandfathering in veterans currently enrolled in private schools whose tuition would skyrocket in August -- or about 30,000 veterans, according to Miller’s office. Currently, no provision exists to cover out-of-state veterans attending public schools.

The V.A. doesn’t track where student veterans reside, so the precise number of out-of-state students these changes affect is unknown. Student Veterans of America, a national coalition of student veteran's groups on college campuses, estimates that it may involve upwards of 80,000 out-of-state residents -- veterans that aren't protected under either Schumer or Miller's grandfather clause.

“The goal was to cover the greatest number of veterans impacted by this change, while using the limited amount of available money to do the most good,” says a spokesperson for Miller. Schumer’s office declined to comment on why his proposed legislation doesn’t include out-of-state veterans attending public institutions.

In mid-May, Miller’s bill made it through the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Schumer's bill now awaits a markup with the Senate’s Veterans’ Affairs Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). The markup is scheduled for the middle of next week. While out-of-state student veterans at public schools could be added, additional tuition assistance is unlikely. Even for veterans, most increases in federal spending are simply untenable in the current economic and political climate.

What all of this seems to boil down to is that future veterans returning home will face limited options for higher education. Going forward, most will attend a public institution as an in-state resident -- or forgo the dream of a college degree altogether.

For veterans, the in-state requirement is a particular burden. Their twenties are commonly peripatetic. Many decide to establish residency in a state where their military base is located or maintain residency in the state where they last lived in high school. When their service is up and civilian life beckons, many scatter and choose to put down roots in states where they haven’t lived previously. Several states, Wisconsin included, don’t allow full-time students to become residents while they’re enrolled in school.

Faced with a bleak job market, many young veterans are finding it difficult to make a seamless transition from military service back to civilian life. Over the past two years, unemployment payments to returning servicemembers have nearly doubled. And according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the jobless rate for male veterans between the ages of 18 to 24 is 30 percent. For young people in the population at large, the jobless rate is 18 percent.

Lee with his wife, Ayumi, and their twins, Amelia and Lawrence.

In the weeks following the announcement about tuition caps at the University of Wisconsin, Lee debated whether he should drop out for a year in order to establish residency. He also weighed the option of relocating to another state. But abandoning Wisconsin and his lifelong dream of a college degree wouldn't only affect Lee.

He mostly fretted about how to break the news of the G.I. Bill cuts to his wife. They currently live on his fixed income of $1,300 a month, combined with their savings. Taking on more debt in order for him to graduate simply isn’t an option. They were barely scraping by as it was.

“When I came to school here and ran those numbers, we made the decision as a family based on how affordable it would be,” says Lee. While he realizes a college degree is no longer a path of guaranteed riches or stability, entering an unstable job market as a 31-year-old with only a high school diploma seemed a far riskier bet. “I ran those numbers in good faith based on the promises our country made not just to me, but to my family. It really feels like a bait and switch.”


One of Lee’s earliest memories is from third grade. His teacher passed out strips of construction paper and brightly colored markers to make Mother’s Day cards. But with neither a mother nor a father at home, he instead made a card for his grandmother, the woman who raised him.

Lee was born in the United States to parents of Korean origin, but it was his grandparents who brought him up. He last saw his mother just before his tenth birthday. Even today, he and his father can go years between conversations.

When Lee was growing up in San Jose, Calif., he tried his best to assimilate. “We spoke the language, we ate the food,” he recalls. “My grandfather encouraged us to accept that America was our country. He firmly believed that if you were going to succeed in a new place, you had to become a part of the new society -- you had to join it.”

Lee’s grandfather, like many immigrants, believed that an education -- and especially a college degree -- were pivotal parts of his grandson’s eventual assimilation. He hoped Lee might become a successful doctor, lawyer, or engineer.

But most of the time Lee felt like an outsider, unable to quite fit in. In elementary school, he tested two grade levels above the rest of his classmates. As one of two Asian kids in a mostly white school, the racial taunts worsened as he grew older. Once puberty hit, Lee, who is now 5’10" and 250 pounds, went from being a scrawny kid getting picked on to one who was able to strike back. Fistfights became a regular part of his life, and with two aging grandparents, the troubled kid went to live with his father in Arcadia, a suburb of Los Angeles.

His father barely spoke English and worked in downtown L.A. in the import-export business. He shirked the responsibilities of parenthood. At 14, largely unsupervised, Lee came and went as he pleased and started to drink. His schoolwork faltered and as a chronic absentee with a 2.6 grade point average, Lee barely graduated. College figured far on the horizon, if at all.

After two false starts at community colleges in Chicago and California, he moved back to Arcadia. One afternoon with nothing better to do, one of his buddies suggested an excursion to the local Army recruiter’s office. Lee recalls his friend enticing him with something about college money. Mostly, he just went on a whim.

He completed a basic aptitude test in the back room of the recruiter’s office. As his friends struggled to get through it, the grade-school whiz kid handed in his exam with plenty of time to spare. The recruiter marked his test on the spot and, Lee says, his score was in the 99th percentile -- which qualified him for a desk job in military intelligence.

A month later, Lee boarded a plane for Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri to complete basic training. In the military, Lee thrived. It provided him with a sense of stability and comfort he’d searched for all his life.

“Looking back, I realized I had been living in chaos for the better part of my life,” says Lee, who excelled in classes for a career in intelligence. “The military's routine, the getting up at the same time every day and doing the same thing, it was exactly what had been missing from my life.”


In those early years, however much Lee benefited from the routine and sense of purpose the military brought to his life, the training and work felt monotonous and of little consequence.

He spent months staring at computer screens, trying to make patterns of out of tiny, green dots. He devoted countless hours to trying to solve make-believe scenarios in which Soviets still threatened much of western Europe. Once 9/11 happened and actual wars erupted, Lee yearned to leave his desk behind; in early 2002, he went on the first of three deployments overseas.

While on his first tour in the Gulf, he gathered intelligence from computers. But midway through his deployment, he realized that he excelled at reading emotional cues, at reading people. “I had to read my family and read between the lines,” says Lee, referencing his childhood. “It lent itself pretty well to becoming an interrogator.”

During his second 11-month deployment to Eastern Baghdad, Lee spent most of his time in local prisons, working with Arabic translators. In his work as an interrogator, Lee developed two sides to his personality -- the normal, easy-going guy morphed into a fierce, relentless questioner. While he says he never did anything illegal, he felt a growing sense of discomfort. Engaging in the psychological warfare his job required, Lee had to control every aspect of a detainee’s life: when and how often they could sleep, eat, or even relieve themselves.

Just thinking about it now makes him uncomfortable.

“The stuff that really messes with my head is the stuff I was good at,” says Lee, referring to the days he spent with detainees, breaking them psychologically to secure information. “Interrogating people is not a pleasant thing. It’s a battle of the wills. You use certain tools and they’re unsavory tools and fortunately or unfortunately, I just so happened to be good at it.”

Between his first and second deployment, Lee attended a language school in Monterey, Calif. where he became fluent in Korean. Unlike high school, he flourished in the classroom and college suddenly seemed like a real possibility for his future. While in Monterey, he met Ayumi Kanamaru, a native of Tokyo who attended school nearby. The two married and Ayumi made a home for them in Tennessee near Fort Campbell, the local base where Lee was stationed. Before Lee’s final deployment to Afghanistan, Ayumi became pregnant with twins.

“In Afghanistan, I started to see these things in the frame of becoming a dad, becoming responsible for these kids,” says Lee, who last collected intelligence in the Afghanistan’s Paktika Province.

Most of his work centered around keeping the Taliban from taking control of the local government. Playing with a detainee’s emotions weighed on his own. To try and get detainees to talk, Lee would use psychological pressure about a prisoner’s wife and children against them. As a new father, such tactics quickly became unbearable. “I guess I just started to see things differently. I know I couldn’t continue doing the things I’d done and look at myself in the mirror at the end of it.”

While overseas in June of 2008, Lee got word of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill’s passage. The bill meant not only a substantial increase in college tuition assistance, but a monthly stipend to live on. It made many schools in states where Lee didn’t reside suddenly affordable. A vision of his post-military life started to appear, where college now figured as the next, logical step. After his service, he hoped to avoid the series of dead-end jobs he worked after graduating from high school. Lee saw a college degree as the best way to avoid becoming a displaced and unemployed vet.

At the urging of his wife, Lee applied to half a dozen schools while still in Afghanistan. As civilian life beckoned, Lee wasn’t sure how to translate all he had learned in the military into a coherent career path. He decided to major in political science, believing that a well-rounded liberal arts degree would best prepare him to transition for life on the outside.

And when he received his acceptance letter from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, just months after his release from the Army, the decision to go was an easy one. He’d be able to attend free of cost.

“It was pretty much billed as get into school and we’ll take care of it,” recalls Lee.

When Lee, Ayumi, and the twins arrived in Madison they purchased a two-bedroom starter home on the outskirts of town. As Lee acclimated to the routine of being back in school, the family settled in for the long haul. For a while at least, their future felt certain.


“Education assistance for veterans helps reduce the costs of war, assists veterans in readjusting to civilian life after wartime service, and boosts the United States economy,” reads the original Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, which Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) sponsored in 2008.

Webb believed the updated education benefits might do for current veterans returning home from war what the original G.I. bill had done more than half a century ago when the Greatest Generation returned home after World War II. In an Op-Ed in The New York Times, Webb and then-Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) described the young men and women who have served in the military since 9/11 as the “new greatest generation.”

“If you truly believe that our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are like those who fought in World War II, let us provide them with the same G.I. Bill that was given to the veterans of that war,” wrote Webb, a former Secretary of the Navy who served during the Vietnam War. “A G.I. Bill for those who have given so much to our country, often including repeated combat tours, should be viewed as an obligation.”

The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill sought to shore up an earlier iteration, the Montgomery G.I. Bill, which was signed into law in 1984 and replaced both the Post-Vietnam Veterans' Assistance Program and its predecessor, the original WWII G.I. Bill. Named after its sponsor, former Rep. Gillespie V. Montgomery (D-Miss.), the 1984 bill increased college assistance for full-time students.

But as college costs continued to skyrocket, in most cases the Montgomery G.I. bill wasn’t enough. The $800 monthly subsidy barely covered community college, let alone the expense of a four-year degree. The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill described the prior educational assistance as “outmoded and designed for peacetime service.” The 9/11 bill gained bipartisan traction once Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) signed on. The Senate voted 92-6; the House voted 416-12.

Since its enactment nearly two years ago, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, $9.9 billion has gone towards tuition assistance. Between August of 2009 and February of this year, 547,945 veterans used it to pay for college. Of these, 335,334 attend a public institution, 121,655 attend a private for-profit institution, and 90,956 attend a private non-profit institution.

But the original bill wasn’t perfect. Last fall, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) sponsored the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010. It sought to fix flaws in the existing legislation by making benefits more streamlined and less complex, and allowing members of the National Guard and the Reserves to qualify for assistance. Last December, it sailed through the Senate with unanimous approval, including the support of Webb. In the House, only three Representatives voted it down. And in January, President Obama signed it into law.

Webb’s office declined to comment about the changes that have been made to his original bill.

While Akaka’s legislation improved the benefits for many veterans, a $17,500 tuition cap that was part of the bill hurt about 100,000 veterans who attend private schools or out-of-state residents who attend public institutions. Akaka’s communications director, Jesse Broder Van Dyke, says Akaka supports Schumer and Miller’s efforts to provide relief to veterans attending high-cost private universities affected by the cap.

But others say such legislation doesn't go nearly far enough.

“We’re still trying to get to the original intent this country put forth -- that any veteran who has served this country should be able to go to any school they want,” says Michael Dakduk, who directs Student Veterans of America, a coalition of student veteran groups on college campuses. Created in 2008, S.V.A. is a nonprofit funded by public and private donations. It also lobbied on behalf of changes to the bill. “Some of those changes were a long time coming and we were pleased to see them pass. But many veterans are still left out and it still needs to be amended. Student veterans are experiencing a decline in benefits beyond just those attending private institutions. We must not forget that out-of-state student veterans throughout the nation are also affected by changes to the bill. ”

Despite some improvements -- such as enhancing the reliability and ease of a payment scheme -- the inequity has left Lee reeling.

But Lee, of course, isn’t the only anxious veteran.

At Columbia University in New York, Richard Baldassari, a 25-year-old Air Force veteran, monitors the progress of the bill each morning after he wakes up. Baldassari is the leader of the Veterans for Higher Education Committee, the national veteran action group he formed. Prior to enrolling at Columbia, he served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unless Schumer and Miller’s legislation grandfathers him in before the August deadline, Baldassari is on the hook for more than $30,000.

Baldassari is concerned with the limited degree of social mobility enjoyed by veterans now returning home. “Because of the cap, they will now have to choose public institutions or institutions that cost less money,” says Baldassari, who believes all schools in the Ivy League should remain among the list of available options. “If a veteran has the academic potential and drive, they should be able to attend the best school they can get into. That was the whole point of this thing.”

Back in Wisconsin, Lee and several of his classmates weighed the option of dropping out for a year in order to establish in-state residency. Lee also considered transferring to another school. But as a homeowner, and with only a year left of school, his options were limited.

In the end, Lee took advantage of the Yellow Ribbon Program that allows veterans to attend institutions whose fees are higher than the available cap -- as long as a college is willing to split uncovered tuition and fees with the Veterans Administration. While the University of Wisconsin is willing to fund the 57 currently enrolled veterans who are out-of-state residents, it will not commit to funding future out-of-state veterans.

“In future years, we’ll have to tell out-of-state veterans that unless they want to take out student loans, they won’t be able to come here,” predicts John G. Bechtol, an assistant dean who is responsible for the more than 600 student veterans attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “It’s like putting up a stop sign for future veterans wanting to come to this world-class institution. They won’t be able to come here using solely their G.I. Bill.”


When Lee first arrived in Madison, he had a hard time getting out of bed and making it to class on time. Ayumi would ask him what was wrong and what she could do to make him feel better. Challenged by anxiety and depression from his combat experience, he often didn’t know how to respond.

Even now, when he’s walking through campus or playing with his two-and-a-half year-old twins, he sometimes has to remind himself to smile.

And a college degree may still not solve all of Lee’s job problems. In addition to graduating into a weak job market, when potential employers want to know what he’s been doing for much of the last decade Lee usually tries to change the subject.

“There aren’t a lot of private sector opportunities as an interrogator. I know my skills are useful, but I’m still figuring out how to translate them,” he explains, unsure of what comes next. “I guess it’s a puzzle I still haven’t figured out yet.”

When Lee finally graduates next spring, what he wants most is a normal job -- doing something where he feels like he’s of service, a job that feels like he finally fits in. His dream is to work in Washington, D.C., advocating on behalf of other veterans acclimating to life after service.

But until his senior year of classes begins this September, Lee is without work. He was even unable to find an unpaid internship for the summer, so he’s currently polishing his resume and doing volunteer work on behalf of other student veterans in Wisconsin.

“When I look at my kids, the last thing I want to see is a generation of veterans who are unable to finish school, a generation of veterans who are unemployed. It’s a really scary thought,” he says. “We as a country need to do something. I guess we could start with honoring our original promises.”

WATCH: College Grads Move Home, Face Uncertain Futures

Amanda M. Fairbanks   |   May 24, 2011    9:00 AM ET

LANSDALE, Pa. -- One midnight in April, Sabrina Malik pulls her red Chevy Blazer into her mother's asphalt driveway, removes the keys from the ignition, and stops to take a deep breath.

Alone in the darkness, a sense of defeat courses through her body -- disappointment about her past and uncertainty about what lies ahead. This, she thinks to herself, is surely what failure feels like.

Six years ago, Malik fled this town for Syracuse University. Since graduating in 2009 with a bachelor's degree in art history, she has yet to find a decent job.

She hadn't planned on moving back home and, at the age of 23, never expected to return to her mother's house for an extended and open-ended period of time.

"At times, it really feels very personal, it really feels like I've failed," says Malik, standing in the kitchen of her mother's two-story stone house and recalling the eight weeks since she returned home. She's wearing khaki shorts and white socks that come up to her ankles. Glasses frame her brown eyes and wavy chestnut hair grazes her shoulders. "Your dream is a very personal thing and when you can't do it, it feels like you're being told that you're not talented enough and that you haven't worked hard enough."

After graduating from college, Malik moved to Boston. There, she worked as a nanny, sold books, and waited tables -- a series of dead-end jobs that didn't pay more than the minimum wage, didn't require a college degree, and weren't remotely related to what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.

Two months ago, she ran out of money and drove home from Boston to Lansdale, a middle-class suburb north of Philadelphia, her car brimming with the contents of post-college life: canned food, twinkle lights, potted plants. A dozen of her paintings, stacked to the ceiling, kept hitting the back of her head. When a gas station attendant in New Jersey asked why she was moving and where she was headed, Malik didn't know quite how to respond.

She's hardly alone. Malik is part of a generation of 20-somethings that's experiencing what it's like to graduate from college, move back in with your parents, and then get stuck there.

To be sure, having a college degree still matters. Nationwide, while the unemployment rate hovers around 9 percent, the jobless rate for college graduates 25 years and older is 4.5 percent. By contrast, 20 to 24-year-olds who only have a high school diploma are contending with an unemployment rate of nearly 20 percent.

While college graduates typically navigate periods of economic decline far better than those lacking such credentials, the past few years have still taken an especially brutal toll on them. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the jobless rate for younger workers with a college degree has more than doubled since the recession began four years ago -- from 3.5 percent in April of 2007 to 6.4 percent in April of this year.

For college graduates under the age of 25, finding stable work is a particular challenge. According to Andrew Sum, an economist at Northeastern University, about half, or 3.2 million, are "underutilized"  -- meaning they're unemployed, working part-time, or working a job outside of the college labor market, such as bartending or waiting tables.

Added to the lack of jobs is an increased amount of debt. Student loan debt recently outpaced credit card debt in terms of total amounts owed by borrowers. By year's end, it is on track to surpass a trillion dollars, according to Mark Kantrowitz, an expert on student financial aid who runs the websites and

According to the Institute for College Access and Success, an independent, nonprofit organization that works to make higher education more affordable, the average graduate finishes school with $24,000 of debt -- though many struggle to repay far more.

Like Malik, many 20-somethings are experiencing early adulthood as one long pause in their lives, affecting not only conventional coming-of-age milestones such as becoming financially independent, but more deeply personal things as well -- like their hopes and their dreams. 


Recently, after sending out dozens of resumes and cover letters, all of which went unanswered, Malik's spirits plummeted. Even rejection feels better than no response at all, she thought to herself.

In her second-floor bedroom, where handmade quilts cover the bed and charcoal drawings line the walls, she tries as best she can to avoid her mother's notice. Mostly, she just doesn't want her to worry.

But Marilyn Malik is close to her daughter and is an expert at reading Sabrina's shifting moods.

"Sabrina gets down on herself and I worry," says Marilyn, sitting in her home office in the basement, where she works as a nursing supervisor for a health insurance company.

While she says that her daughter is welcome to live in the house for as long as she needs, she hopes that Sabrina might find a job sooner rather than later. And Marilyn is adjusting to the fact that her daughter's path may not mirror the one she took 30 years ago, when, as a college-educated young woman, she first ventured out into the world. 

Marilyn, 53, grew up in a small town in the Poconos. Her father worked as an electrician; her mother worked as a nurse. Marilyn studied nursing in college and she and her parents split the $4,000 annual tuition. She worked as a waitress to earn her share.

A few years after college, Marilyn married Ajmal Malik, a Pakistani immigrant. He attended college at the University of Lahore in Pakistan and earned two master's degrees after moving to the U.S. The couple made their home in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., where they raised Sabrina and her older brother Omar, who's now 25.

In those early years, Ajmal, an accountant, worked his way up the ladder while Marilyn picked up night shifts at the nearby hospital. She describes their standard of living as lower-middle-class -- borrowing money to purchase their first starter home and relying on quick, cheap dinners of soup and biscuits to get by.

Ajmal died of cancer when his children were nine and 11, leaving Marilyn to support an entire household on her income alone. "You grieve for yourself, and you grieve for your kids," explains Marilyn, who started working full-time after Ajmal died and has yet to let up.

Sending both kids to college was always the plan. The majority of the payout from her deceased husband's life insurance went towards a college savings account, which ultimately wasn't enough to cover the high costs associated with sending two kids to out-of-state schools. Marilyn paid about $100,000 for Sabrina to attend Syracuse University in upstate N.Y. and took out another $20,000 in loans to cover the rest. Sabrina and Omar, who attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, will have to shoulder their own graduate school costs, however.

"She'd probably say no to doing things if she knew how much everything cost," says Marilyn, who pays down the $20,000 in Sabrina's student loans while also saving up for her own retirement.

Sabrina is struggling to pay off about $2,000 in credit card debt and her remaining student debts weigh on her relationship with her mother. Marilyn hates owing money and tries to put an extra $100 or $200 towards paying down the student loans whenever she can.

Marilyn and Sabrina find it hard to talk about Sabrina's student loans and generally avoid the subject. Sabrina wishes she could do more to help her mother pay the debt and had planned on having a job after graduating that would allow her to do that -- yet another part of her future that hasn't exactly gone as planned.

While living in Boston, she made barely enough to cover her own rent and utilities, let alone scrape together enough extra to help her mother with the monthly loan repayments. Sabrina also wonders whether paying so much for college has made her mother's own life more insecure.

"I know she's further away from her own retirement because she sent us to such expensive schools" says Malik, whose plans for graduate education are indefinitely on hold until she can save up some money. Right now, even $80 application fees for graduate school seem like a lot. 

Although Marilyn remarried a few years ago, her first husband's absence is deeply felt -- especially now, when their daughter is struggling. "I wonder if he had been around, whether my kids would have been better placed, whether they would have received better advice," says Marilyn, who plans to work for at least another decade. She long ago decided that sending her kids to college was more important to her than saving for the day when she could retire.

By this point in her life, Marilyn imagined that her daughter would have already embarked upon a well-paying career and be living on her own. She also wonders what it means for the next generation of 20-somethings, and whether they'll have access to better opportunities than their parents' generation.

"My generation had it better than what my parents had and you'd think it would continue progressing that same way," she says. "Historically, each generation gets better as it goes along -- they're more affluent, they have more education, they reach more goals. This generation, you would hope that would happen, too, but it doesn't seem to be going that way."


Half a century ago, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had attained traditional markers of maturity by their 30th birthday: They had left home, finished school, gotten a job, married, and started a family. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2000, less than half of 30-year-old women and just one-third of 30-year-old men had attained similar markers of adulthood.

A lot, but not all, of the shift has to do with work -- or, more specifically, a lack of work, say analysts and others. They argue that the current recession has pushed 20-somethings farther and faster in a direction they were already headed.

Sending your kid to college once was a way of ensuring their sure-footed success. But with 20-somethings mired in debt and confronting a dearth of decent-paying jobs, many are returning to the nest.

"I can assure you that few people in my generation are living high off the hog in their parents' house," says Matthew Segal, the 25-year-old founder of Our Time, a national membership organization for young people under 30. He says he resents the popular characterization of 20-somethings as lazy and unmoored. "Trust me, they're not getting too comfortable sleeping in their childhood bedroom or eating out of their parents' fridge. They're moving home because they don't have jobs and they have a lot of debt."

Except for designated downtime, when she's either making art or weaving on her loom, Malik spends much of her time avoiding thinking about what became of the goals her parents helped her to set. Her mother always encouraged her to think and dream big. Yet since graduating from college, she's found herself doing the exact opposite.

Her dream for the future used to encompass a well-appointed and comfortable life -- a farmhouse, two artist studios, a husband, and several children. "But it's not worth dreaming so big anymore," says Malik. "My plans now are far less extravagant. I guess I'm learning to dream on a much smaller scale."

Specifically, she doesn't think she'll be able to afford a home as nice as her mother's. Nor, she predicts, will she be able to send her own children to schools as fancy as those that she attended.

"The hope that things are going to get better is really all we have," she explains. "I mean, on top of being the generation that's struggling, we don't want to be the generation that's cynical, too."

Some scholars attribute such hard-wired optimism to the way that the parents of 20-somethings raised them. Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais co-author books about millennials (typically defined as the generation born between 1982 and 2003).

"Millennials were raised the way Bill Cosby told parents to raise their kids -- set rules, show encouragement, don't use physical discipline, build up a child's self-esteem," explains Winograd. "If you tell someone from zero to 13 that they're always doing a nice job and that they're really special and wonderful, they'll wind up believing they are."

Self-confidence breeds optimism, according to Winograd and Hais, even when times are tough. "The millennials don't have a sense that everything is wonderful, because obviously it isn't, but they believe as a country that things will get better and their lives will also get better," says Hais. "In part, it's because they're young and they actually have time to accomplish this. But it's also because generations like the millennials feel they've accomplished good things in the past and that they will again in the future because their parents told them so."

Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a psychology professor at Clark University, is also struck by the optimism of the young adults that he studies. "I think the main reason for their optimism is that dreams are cheap in emerging adulthood. That is, their dreams haven't yet been tested in the fires of real, adult life. And who knows, maybe they really will find their dream job?"

In general, young people are taking longer to assume more traditional adult responsibilities and young lives are unfolding in a less predictable sequence, Arnett says. He views the twenties as a new and distinct life stage and classifies it as "emerging adulthood."

According to Arnett, this stage generally starts around the age of 18 and continues until an individual is in his or her mid-to-late twenties. While the category itself is fluid, "emerging adulthood" refers to a time during which young people are relatively free of obligations. But many 20-somethings, like Malik, are increasingly delaying adult responsibilities because they can't secure a job stable enough to allow them to take the steps necessary to establish an independent life.

As such, even youthful optimism has its limits. Despite a general proclivity toward positive thinking, analysts say current circumstances are weighing down this generation of 20-somethings.

"The mood for young people definitely isn't as optimistic as it's been in the past," says Carl Van Horn, a professor of public policy at Rutgers University. Last week, he and his colleagues released a study titled "Unfulfilled Expectations: Recent College Graduates Struggle in a Troubled Economy." It polled young people who graduated from college between 2006 and 2010. "You expect people to be optimistic when they're young about their ability to get ahead," Van Horn says. "It's pretty clear that this group of college students are feeling very much like their opportunities have been stunted."


Since moving home, the highlight of Malik's weekend involves walking to the edge of her mother's driveway on Sunday morning and retrieving the hand-delivered copy of The New York Times. She's on a $15 weekly budget and getting the paper delivered is a rare indulgence.

Last Sunday, Malik accompanied her extended family to a pancake breakfast to support the local firehouse in the nearby town of Sellersville, Pa. Without traffic, it's about a 20-minute drive from Lansdale.

As her family and some of her mother's friends waited for a table, Malik carved out a tiny space where she sat and read the paper in silence. She wasn't up for answering the questions that usually follow -- about what she was up to, or how the job search was going. She mostly just needed a break from the constant inquisition.

"I spend a lot of my time trying as best I can to appease everyone and show them that I'm in good spirits and putting forth all this extra effort," says Malik. "Every once in a while, I just need to be by myself. They know what I'm going through."

Even the relentless optimism of millennials is straining under the depth and length of the current recession. A poll released in April by AP-Viacom indicated that among Americans between the ages of 18 to 24, there was skepticism about the notion that life would improve with each passing generation. Four in 10 of those surveyed predicted difficulty in raising a family and affording the lifestyle they felt they deserved.

Like homebuyers who took on outsized mortgages they couldn't afford, either out of ignorance or because banks cajoled them, in order to realize the American Dream of home ownership, many students and their parents have taken on crushing piles of educational debt in order to realize another part of the American Dream: a college education.

Andrew Sum, a 64-year-old economist at Northeastern University who's studied the college labor market for the past 30 years, thinks the current economic slump is giving both recent graduates and their parents a rude awakening. Sum grew up in Gary, Ind. with a father who worked as a welder. While he says that he and his four siblings were able to achieve a better life than their parents, for the first time in recent American history, the majority of the young people he studies are not.

"Every generation ought to try and leave behind a better world for the next generation," says Sum. "And until recently, it's generally been true that the next generation exceeded the living standard of the current one. But over the last decade, that's no longer the case."

One of Sum's pet theories is the "age twist effect." He says that over the decade from 2000 to 2010, the younger someone was, the more likely they were to get fired or be otherwise left without a job. Historically, and in every decade since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics began compiling such data, it's been the exact opposite. Sum's findings conclude that 7 million more young people under the age of 30 would be working today if the labor market behaved as it did only a decade ago.

Sum and his colleagues predict that underutilization and underemployment will leave an indelible mark on this generation. In the near term, Sum finds college graduates moving home, and staying there. And while college degrees matter, they only matter if young people are able to then convert them into a job -- hence, generating the considerable college premium.

"If you can manage to do that, you can do well," says Sum. "But if you end up outside, you'll only do marginally better than someone who has a high school diploma and those losses stay with you for a lifetime."

For Malik, both in terms of her current and future income, the longer she's out of work, the more dire the consequences will be. Being unemployed is always worse than working, but it's ultimately the type of job she gets that will affect her future stability. For instance, should Malik secure yet another job outside the college labor market -- working again as a nanny or as a clerk in a retail shop -- the chances that she'll regain a more permanent economic toehold will grow ever more unlikely.

The impact that the job she lands will have on her future wages is likely to be staggering.

For the public at large, Sum finds there's a 73 percent gap in the annual earnings of college graduates that have a college labor market job versus those that work in a job that doesn't require a degree -- say, the difference between working as a paralegal and a receptionist in a law firm. Bachelor's degree holders between the ages of 22 to 64 that have a college labor market job make an average salary of $52,873. Those working outside the college labor market earn $30,503 -- or a difference in salary of more than $22,000 a year. 

But many 20-somethings, like Malik, are also struggling with what is likely a case of bad economic timing. Graduates of 2009 were hit especially hard. A study conducted by the  John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers indicates that 50 percent of 2009 graduates are either unemployed or working in jobs that don't require a college degree.

Lisa B. Khan, who studies economics at Yale's School of Management, recently conducted a study that looked at the long-term impact of graduating into a weak economy. Khan examined young people that graduated from college during the peak of the recession that occurred in the 1980s. In their first three years on the job market, Khan found they made about 30 percent less than classmates with more advantageous economic timing. And their subsequent salaries, even a dozen years later, were between eight and ten percent lower.

This means that it might take Malik, who graduated two years ago during the beginning of a particularly brutal recession, up to a decade to recover the wages she might have earned had she sidestepped the downturn altogether.

Paul Oyer, an economist at Stanford University, concedes that young people who start work when times are tough not only get behind, but generally have a tough time catching up. But Oyer also thinks that luck plays a role in the making of any successful career, good economic times or bad.

What does concern him is that some historical trends seem to be withering in the current economy. Although wealth in America has increased from generation to generation, Oyer isn't convinced that the current generation of 20-somethings will enjoy the rewards of a similar phenomenon. He attributes the shift to globalization and the number of available jobs. Because of these factors, he doesn't think it makes much sense for young people to pile on educational debt to attend elite schools when they have less expensive alternatives -- unless, of course, their parents are willing to go on the hook for it.

Parents exert a powerful shaping force on their children's decisions to go to college, as well as which college to attend. In addition, they are often caught up in the emotional rush that a college education entails, further complicating an issue that has already become a financial minefield for the middle class.

"All along, I was going to make it work," explains Marilyn. "If I had to take out loans, I was going to do that."

Once Sabrina and Omar were admitted into the colleges of their dreams, Marilyn saw it as her personal responsibility to make sure they could attend -- even when it meant taking out additional loans in order to finance it. And while Marilyn says she doesn't regret her investment, she assumed that a $120,000 degree would at least translate into a decent-paying job for her daughter.

"One thing that terrifies parents more than budget deficits or a weak economy is job security for their kids. They're afraid they won't be able to pass along their middle class status to the next generation," says Anthony P. Carnevale, who directs Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce. "In raising a child in America, the fear of failing is just enormous. Sending your kid to college used to pretty much guarantee their future success. It no longer necessarily works that way."

And, of course, what if this generation simply doesn't value the same things their parents' generation did? John Della Volpe, who directs polling at Harvard University's Institute of Politics, spends much of the year gauging the thoughts of young people. His company SocialSphere recently conducted a study of 5,000 millennials between the ages of 16 and 24. It asked them to think about the next five to seven years of their lives and to rank the importance of what they hoped to achieve.

His findings indicate that many young people aren't focused on becoming famous or making piles of money. On the contrary, their hopes for the future revolve around making a contribution to society and staying in close touch with family and friends.

"There's a potential for this younger generation to have an economic reset," explains Della Volpe. "It's now okay to stay in your hometown."


When it's your decision, returning to your hometown is one thing. Being stuck there feels like something else entirely. 

Malik says her days are an exercise in resilience. She has yet to shake her loneliness and general feeling of isolation.

Most weekdays, she gets up by nine o'clock and immediately forces herself to get dressed. After breakfast, she typically positions herself on one of two floral upholstered couches in the sunroom, where, with laptop in hand, she begins the daily chore of scouring websites for job openings.

When not job hunting, Malik helps out around the house -- taking out the trash, doing the dishes, going grocery shopping, walking the dog, or making dinner a few nights a week. In some ways, the chores remind her of being in high school. Before her mother remarried and she and her brother headed off to college, it was just the three of them helping out around the house. Growing up, when her mother made dinner or when the house needed cleaning, the two siblings alternated chores.

"Now that I'm back, I do those same kinds of things and it feels like the least I can do," explains Malik. "It doesn't feel like a task or a chore. I'm just helping my mom out, like I've always done."

But now, Malik is a grown woman. Part of her yearns for her own place where she can come and go as she pleases, and where the rules are hers and hers alone. On visits to see her boyfriend, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. and works for a private art collector, she sees glimpses of the independent life she expected to be living by now.

Until she can land her ultimate gig of working as a curator in an art gallery, or begin a long trajectory of jobs that might eventually get her there, she's looking for something to pay the bills. She's looked into working as a clerk in a local retail shop and selling hot water heaters.

Businesses in Lansdale are inundated with swarms of recent colleges graduates looking for any job they can get. Locally, there's the option of working for a big pharmaceutical company, Starbucks or Walgreens, but not much else.

When things start to feel overwhelming, Malik finds it helpful to make lists of things to accomplish. The current two-page iteration lists everything from big to small stuff -- like getting a job and someday opening an art gallery to straightening her hair and eating fewer bagels.

A recent addition, which has yet to be crossed off, is that Malik aspires to be less hard on herself. Namely, that for the time being at least, it's okay to allow herself to feel sad sometimes.

"Right now, it's a battle of trying to remain levelheaded -- and I don't know if it's trying to stay optimistic, or become more realistic, or just learn to be okay with going through the motions," she says. "It feels like a lot of pressure. I want to make everyone proud. I want to blow everyone out of the water with everything I've accomplished. And I just can't get there." 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story referenced a study that said 85% of college graduates are returning home to live with their parents. That statistic was picked up by reports in Time Magazine and subsequently in HuffPost. PolitiFact debunked the widely cited number. A Pew study in December 2011 found that "39% of all adults ages 18 to 34 say they either live with their parents now or moved back in temporarily in recent years," including 53% of those 18 to 24. While educational status didn't appear to impact living status for those under 30, it did make a big impact after that age. All of this is far better than the purported 85% of college grads returning home, but these number aren't exactly low. A sobering statistic from Pew: one-in-ten college educated adults between the ages of 30 and 34 are living at home.