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A Generation Lost in Space: Overeducated and Underemployed in America

Posted February 23, 2011 | 10:46:41 (EST)

A Generation Lost in Space: Overeducated and Underemployed in America from Nick Padiak on Vimeo.


A word from Amy Langdon:

"What do you do?"

While it seems like an easy enough question, those four words haunt me on a daily basis. And my answer changes just as often.

Sometimes I say, "I just finished grad school." (It's been three months but who's counting?)

If I'm feeling confident, it's "I'm a journalist." (A stretch...)

When at a bar, I lie -- "I work for the State Department, but I can't tell you anything else unless you have Top Secret Security Clearance." (Hey, it works.)

Whatever comes out of my mouth, my mind is saying, "I don't do anything." At least not anything relating to my new graduate degree or the hundred thousand dollars of debt that I'll shortly have to start paying back. What do I do?

The only consolation I have during this post-graduate state of limbo (other than beer) is the fact that I am not alone. I found this out during my final quarter of graduate study at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

My partner Nicholas and I were given 10 weeks to film and edit a short documentary. The topic could be anything we wanted. And being members of a generation of twenty-somethings obsessed with both ourselves and sharing our every emotion, we chose a subject matter that was constantly on our mind and about to become deeply personal -- the growing population of overeducated and underemployed young people in this country. In short, us at the end of the 10 weeks.

A word from Nicholas Padiak:

During and after my undergraduate years, I worked in numerous restaurants. I was always struck by the number of highly educated people in the service industry. At many restaurants, the question to the wait staff wasn't if they went to college; it was where they went and what they studied.

There is an entire generation of young people whose parents told them to just go to school and get a degree. This was the path to getting a job. Just get your degree -- it doesn't matter what you study. The degree was the important thing. Well, a huge group of that generation is now educated -- with the debt to show for it -- and unable to find work.

There aren't really statistics to back this up. Sure, you could look at unemployment levels, but that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about underemployment. People who can talk to you at length about literature, history, philosophy, theater and sociology while they serve you burgers.

We wanted to explore this generation and raise some questions. We wanted our film to generate discussion. What is the worth of a bachelor's degree in today's society? Is this overeducated and underemployed generation bitter? Angry? Apathetic? Lazy? Who are we when our tax return says "Waiter" but our soul says "Poet" or "Writer" or "Artist"?

The film looks at four individuals in various states of unemployment or underemployment and through these young people, we glimpse the reality of the situation. While some people are frustrated, others are hopeful. While some accept their situation, others make the best of it or try to break out of it. As for Amy and me, we're still deciding which side we're on.

But what do we do? We're bloggers for the Huffington Post. What do you...

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