The state of our youngest workers: Working in retail. Looking for flexibility. And earning more in Seattle.

A joint study by PayScale, Inc., a provider of on-demand compensation data and software, and Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and management consulting company, looked at the state of the Gen Y worker — people between the ages 18 to 29.

According to the study, more than 63 percent of Gen Y workers have a bachelor’s degree, but work in jobs that don’t require a college degree

I am well acquainted in this age group, having two children who fall within it boundaries. So, I hear a lot about the job market — or lack thereof — for Gen Y.  I may have to advise my rising college senior to consider Seattle after seeing these findings.

According to the official release:

The study highlights that Gen Y workers — by and large — are not employed in large numbers inside America’s biggest companies. Their preference is for smaller firms that allow for more flexibility, an opportunity to embrace their entrepreneurial ambitions, and the opportunity to use social networks at work without strict corporate guidelines.

The report findings indicate, though, that big technology companies where innovation is prized, salaries are higher and workplace programs and culture are more flexible are environments where Gen Y workers find significant satisfaction as well.

“This report confirms that Gen Y is an entrepreneurial group, highly versed in social media, and prefers freedom and flexibility over big corporate policies,” said Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding, Gen Y expert and bestselling author of Me 2.0. “While they are the future corporate leaders and change-makers, they are suffering in this economy by having to work in retail jobs over professional ones. A bachelor’s degree can no longer be traded in for a job.”

Additional highlights from the report include:

1. Over 63 percent of Gen Y workers have a Bachelor’s Degree, but the most commonly reported jobs for Gen Y don’t necessarily require a college degree. Gen Y workers are more likely to hold the following positions than other U.S. workers: Merchandise Displayer (5.36x more likely); Clothing Sales Representative (4.63x more likely); Cell Phone Sales Representative (4.03x more likely). This is a strong indicator of the underemployment issue in the U.S. today.

2. The best companies for Gen Y are all technology companies. The top five – ranked on Gen Y pay, percentage of Gen Y employees, Gen Y job satisfaction, Gen Y job stress, meaningfulness of job for Gen Y workers, Gen Y schedule flexibility and green score – are (1) Qualcomm, (2) Google, (3) Medtronic, (4) Intel, and (5) Microsoft.

3. Most of Gen Y isn’t working for large companies. The highest concentration of Gen Y workers are at small companies with less than 100 employees (47 percent), followed by medium companies that have between 100 and no more than 1,500 employees (30 percent), and the fewest work in large companies with more than 1,500 employees (23 percent).

4. The most common Gen Y job skills center around online marketing and social media. The five most commonly reported job skills for Gen Y workers, relative to all U.S. workers, in order, are (1) Tableau Software, (2) Blogging, (3) Social Media Optimization, (4) Press Releases, and (5) Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Analysis.

5. Gen Y is embracing science and entrepreneurism. Gen Y is more likely to choose the following college majors, relative to all U.S. workers: (1) Neuroscience (1.95x more likely); (2) Bioengineering (1.86x more likely); (3) Entrepreneurial Studies (1.82x more likely).

6. Seattle is the best large metro area for Gen Y workers. Of the 20 largest metro areas in the U.S., Seattle comes out on top for Gen Y, due to strong wage growth (4.4 percent increase between Q2 2009 and Q2 2012), high median pay for Gen Y ($44,000) and a strong presence of tech firms, which are top employers for Gen Y.

“Millenials are arming themselves with skills and educational training focused in technology and social media, two areas with great growth potential,” said Katie Bardaro, lead economist for PayScale. “However, the shaky economy has forced many of them into a world of underemployment nonetheless.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

16 comments Add your comment


August 21st, 2012
9:07 am

Maureen, I know I am being picky with this question but can you provide a link for this release? I ask that because in #4 above they are referring to job skills yet lists a software company. I wonder the context of that listing since I am very familiar with them and wonder if the skill referenced is for the software they manufacture. It seems odd not to include the specific skill.

I’m not surprised about Seattle being a destination because it is a nice area, once you get use to the overcast days. It is near Redmond, Microsoft’s HQ and many businesses have been generated because of its presence.

Maureen Downey

August 21st, 2012
9:14 am

@ernest. I will email you the full release.


August 21st, 2012
9:44 am

People with good numeric skills are in demand, people with soft skills are in oversupply. Whatever your major, take as much math, statistics and probability course work as you can, that is where the demand exists and will continue to exist. Accounting and finance are good too, at least until the tax code is simplified, then look out below.


August 21st, 2012
11:11 am

Why is “Generation Y” always 18-29 every year? According to this CNN report on the same topic at minute marker 0:57, Generation Y (or Millennials; they’re used interchangably) was born from 1976 – 2001, which would put them at 11-36:

Why not just use “young adults” instead of a specific “generation” that’s ill-defined at best? Isn’t that what it’s all about? The press trying to “figure out” the “young adults” for the benefit of readers largely over the age of 40?

Another view

August 21st, 2012
11:27 am

“More than 63 percent of Gen Y workers have a bachelor’s degree, but work in jobs that don’t require a college degree.” What is not being said here is that these jobs are usually given to high school graduates without BA or BS degrees, which means that their unemployment numbers are way up as the unemployment record shows. In the new globalized economy, the 4 year degree is a ticket to a job, but not to a job that requires the skills for the degree nor the compensation for its cost.

Howard Finkelstein

August 21st, 2012
12:20 pm

“Their preference is for smaller firms that allow for more flexibility, an opportunity to embrace their entrepreneurial ambitions, and the opportunity to use social networks at work without strict corporate guidelines.”

In other words, do as little as possible while continuing to blame societies “ills”, participate in the occupy stupidity and stockpile their excuses for a later time when they find the working world has passed them over.

Howard Finkelstein

August 21st, 2012
12:22 pm

Social media like FaceBook which has lost 50% of its stock value? LOL!


August 21st, 2012
1:24 pm

Seattle and Portland (Ecotopia’s leading cities) are appropriate escapes for the sentient youth of Dixie. It is well-advised that sentients “Head West, Young People! To Ecotopia!”

No Chikkk Fil-A’s, Nascar, etc., so others need not come.

Pride and Joy

August 21st, 2012
1:35 pm

It’s this part that concerns “and the opportunity to use social networks at work without strict corporate guidelines.”
How does one use social media while working retail?
Is the rep standing there with his Iphone texting his friends while he should be helping customers? How does that work?
There are some desk jobs where the employee is not facing the customer all the time and can use social media but retail isn’t one of them.
Want low pay? Tell your boss you want to text and twitter while you work.

bootney farnsworth

August 21st, 2012
3:45 pm

this is simple, if people will actually look at it

1-Georgia is at the very bottom in growth and recovery. jobs are more plentiful in Mississippi for Gods sake.

2-funny to see people crapping on entrepreneurism. thought that was what built the US economy to begin with.

3-if you can make more in a job which doesn’t require a degree than you can in one which does…?

4-social media is here to stay, or at least until somebody pulls the plug on electricity.

the market landscape will even out. it always does. myself, I’m impressed with their take on the world and win approach. tells me maybe, just maybe, the socialist states of America may not be here just yet.

what a lot of people on both sides are refusing to do is acknowledge a very simple economic fact.
the landscape has changed. adapt or get run over


August 21st, 2012
5:27 pm

Seattle wouldn’t be good for my astro-physics daughter–too hard to observe the stars.

bootney farnsworth

August 21st, 2012
7:21 pm

not a good place for her to work on her tan, either :)
the one time I was there I never saw Mt Rainier, much less the sun.

Atlanta mom

August 22nd, 2012
1:19 am

What is ” Entrepreneurial Studies”?

Truth in Moderation

August 22nd, 2012
8:49 am

Fact: A 25 year old with a supervisor position at a big box store (including “cadillac” health insurance)
who went to work there right after graduation from HIGH SCHOOL, has more disposable income than a 25 year old Georgia Tech B-school grad. How? He first lived at home while working at the entry level big box store. Using Christian principals of frugality and clean living he was eventually able to save over $10,000 for a down payment on a home. He did move out from home after a few years, but was able to rent a NICE 3 bedroom house with two other co-workers for about $350/month. He was able to continue to save while paying for a car, and due to his hard work, was promoted to a low level management position which increased his salary. He spent a year shopping for a house in the foreclosure market and recently scored a new SIX BEDROOM home in a new new swim-tennis subdivision in an up-and-coming area. But that’s not all. His two other roommates moved with him, (each having two huge bedrooms for themselves) and now pay him the $350/month each. They get a great deal, and he gets part of his mortgage paid by someone else.

Meanwhile, the Tech grad did get some Hope scholarship and money from generous grandparents to cover his four years at Tech. He graduated at the top of his class and scored an entry level management job with a starting salary of about $60,000/year. Because his company is in a high rent district, and he was not near friends, he initially had to pay premium rent for an apartment by himself. He also bought a new car. He had no initial savings, and his higher cost of living precluded him from saving much more than the Big Box store manager/ paycheck. Of course the high school grad had the four extra years to save, so he was ready to take advantage of the forcelosure market. The Tech grad still has a ways to go for a downpayment, and when he is able to look, the homes in his area are at least twice the price.


August 22nd, 2012
1:39 pm

Is there any surprise here? When I graduated from UGA following Jimmy Carter’s handling of the economy, there were not many companies looking for workers. I got hired because I told my prospective employer that I was ready and willing to work. It was not my “dream job” but it was a foot in the door. You gotta pay your dues and kids today don’t want to play that game. I don’t remember alot of flexibility either and the pay was low but I was working. I changed jobs/careers over the years and now am living the American Dream and boy is that changing daily. If you don’t get a real degree today, you get what you deserve. How many Comparative Studies or Militant GLBT Studies do we really need?


August 25th, 2012
8:58 am

Well, every generation has had its hurdles to overcome. Underemployed? Yes, but not in the way you are thinking. With all that social media exposure and skill and command of mobile technology, these kids are born salespeople. It got Obama elected. It could also significantly boost sales for the smart company that figures this out.