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Economy hands Gen Y rude awakening

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TESS VIGELAND: They graduated, they came, they conquered. That was the typical path of the so-called "Millennials", or Generation Y. But those 20-something-year-olds are also mockingly referred to as the "Entitlement Generation," coddled children who grew up to be demanding employees. In the first quarter of this year, they were hit with a 5 percent decline in jobs. The biggest of any age group, according to a Merrill Lynch survey.

Gigi Douban reports on how recent graduates are adjusting their expectations and their egos.


Gigi Douban: Erin Melaney is 26 years old, and career-wise, she's exactly where she planned to be. She's in a management-level position, she gets three weeks vacation and her daily commute? Two miles.

Melaney works as the development director at a non-profit agency in Birmingham, Ala., serving low-income girls. She landed this job six months ago after what she considered a surprisingly long search.

Erin Melaney: I felt like, you know, I've had two years of experience, I now have a master's degree, and you know, I probably sent out 30, 40 resumes in the area. I had one person tell me that they had 110 applicants for a development director position.

Now that she has this job, she's not about to do anything to rock the boat.

Melaney: Am I going to go to my boss and say you know add an extra week's vacation, I need a raise? No. I think everybody recognizes that now's not the time to mess with your job security.

But wait a minute. What ever happened to the so-called "Entitlement Generation"? They're the recent college grads who grew up with their parents praising every little accomplishment. They were told they could be anyone they wanted. Once they got jobs, they expected big raises and flex time and corner offices.

Actually, Melaney is so uncertain of her economic future that she started a side business designing fliers and newsletters from home.

Melaney: And all of that money is going straight into savings.

She's also traded expensive dinners and drinks with friends for game nights. One weekend a month, she and several friends get together at someone's house. First, they eat a spread of hot dogs, chips and MoonPies. Then they play Pictionary, girls against boys.

In spite of the small sacrifices, Melaney feels fortunate. After all, many others are still in search of their dream job.

Islara Vazquez is 26. She majored in music technology, but she's found it tough to find a job at a radio station or record label. So she took a job as a support analyst at a software company, mainly for the pay and health benefits. But there was just one problem: She dreaded going to work everyday.

Islara Vazquez: Coming in at 7 a.m., getting up before the sun is up to me is depressing.

Almost two years into the job, Vazquez had been itching to leave. So last month, she says, her boss asked her if she really wanted to be there. Vazquez said "No," and she was terminated. Now she's back to square one, networking and sending out resumes.

Vazquez: I didn't think I would find the job of my dreams quickly, but thought I could at least find a job to where I could at least work my way up to the job of my dreams. That has definitely not been the case.

Experts say this economy has been a rude awakening for 20-somethings. And that's not such a bad thing according to Jean Twenge, a psychology professor and author of the book "Generation Me."

Jean Twenge: It does seem like as the recession drags on, that more and more young people are having to adjust their expectations.

Twenge says that's partly because the younger generation now has a reputation for demanding too much too soon. But if you want to see an ego that's been seriously deflated by the economy, look at Islara Vazquez.

Vazquez: I'll work my way up. I don't care if I'm buying coffee and doing people's dry cleaning. As long as it's in the field that I want and as long as I get paid decent.

If the recession drags on for a few more years, Twenge says, we might see a real attitude shift in the Entitlement Generation.

Twenge: On the other hand, I sort of suspect that as soon as we're out of this, the expectations and these attitudes toward wanting all of the perks and the praise and the time off, is going to come right back.

Twenge says it's a pretty deep-seated thing.

In Birmingham, I'm Gigi Douban for Marketplace Money.

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