The State of Young America: Stories

The State of Young America: Stories

November 2, 2011
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These stories are a cross section of the experiences of young people entering adulthood in a time of uncertainty, as relayed to Young Invincibles by the young people themselves.  

These stories reach through the data to reveal the real, human impact of recent economic trends.  Their voices express both the challenges faced by this generation and their opportunities and constraints for facing these challenges head-on to build a solid foundation for their adult lives. 

 

The Stories


Etienne grew up in a bad neighborhood outside of Palo Alto, California. Things were tough from the start. The dysfunctional schools in his area were discouraging and by age 16 he had dropped out of high school to join the family construction business. They managed to make ends meet until the stock market crashed in 2008, taking the construction industry down with it. Etienne’s family lost their house along with their business. Amid severe economic stress Etienne found himself at odds with his father, who kicked him out. At age 19 Etienne was homeless with no job and only a GED that he had earned in 2005.

With the poor economy, no one was hiring, and Etienne had another strike against him: like many young men from tough neighborhoods, he has a criminal record. A couple of arrests for minor offenses during his youth have forever scarred Etienne’s employability. Even after acing interviews, he says, he has been repeatedly rejected from jobs for which he is qualified, all because of his background.

Facing these extensive employment barriers and desperate for options, Etienne knew he needed to add to his credentials and he enrolled at a local community college in nearby Los Altos Hills, California. His first attempt at higher education ended—with debt—when tuition became overwhelming, but his continued unemployment sent him back to campus once more. It’s unclear how his record—and the recession—will affect his employability when he graduates, but for now all he can do is work hard.

Erin has $130,000 in student loan debt after graduating from a top art college in 2010, where she got a bachelor’s degree in advertising. She never thought her loans would be a problem because her professors, friends, and even lenders assured her that she would find a high-paying job straight out of college. After more than a year of searching, Erin was still unemployed and made barely enough money through freelancing to survive. Because she could not afford rent, Erin slept in her car or at different friends’ homes to get by—but this was the least of her concerns.
 
Since graduation, Erin has not been able to pay back any of her student loans. Collectors and lenders call Erin on a regular basis, and refuse to accept partial monthly repayments. Her credit rating and finances have been severely damaged, and Erin is afraid she’ll never be able to buy a car or home in the future. She recently landed a $10/hour internship with an advertising firm and hopes that this will lead her to a full-time position. Because her current salary still can’t cover the cost of rent, let alone Erin’s student debt, she continues to live day by day without a home, health insurance, and most other essentials.
 
Erin hopes that one day she’ll be able to finally make a decent living and afford rent, but she remains pessimistic about her future. She’s engulfed in debt before she can even start her life, she says, and the interest rate and late payments from her loans just keep piling up. She’s afraid she’s made a mistake that she will never be able to outlive.

When Isbah was 18 years old, she started to have symptoms of fatigue, making it hard to concentrate or complete her schoolwork. In the same year her father transferred jobs and her family had to find private insurance coverage. But the new insurance company denied her coverage based on her history of fatigue. She was left with no options, so she limited visits to the doctor and hoped that her health wouldn’t get worse. She went uninsured.
 
A year later, she began losing weight uncontrollably and other symptoms appeared. Soon after, she was diagnosed with Lupus, a chronic auto-immune disease that can result in hair loss, joint pain, loss of appetite, and much worse if left untreated. Her father transferred jobs but the new insurance again denied her coverage because of her pre-existing conditions. She bought generic drugs instead of prescribed brand-name drugs, and limited doctors visits.
 
Like many young people, Isbah simply could not afford her medical care without coverage. But like many young adults, health coverage was difficult to come by. As a student now at the University of Texas, she turns increasingly to her parents for financial support as she struggles to continue her studies, and to deal with the emotional stress of a chronic disease and the monetary stress of the high cost of care. Things have begun to look up for Isbah though. Her father’s insurance finally covered her and she will stay on that plan due to the new dependent coverage extension until she turns 26.