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Why are some millennials choosing less pay and underemployment?

Updated: Jun 3, 2020

By Lauren Hennessee, Studio M staff // 

When it came to searching for a job after graduation, Daniel Carter considered what he valued most — and, surprisingly, it wasn’t salary.

Daniel Carter, 23, shakes the hand of Tennessee Technological University president Phil Oldham during commencement on May 5, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Carter)

Carter, a 23-year-old native of Rock Island, Tennessee, recently graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a degree in Agriculture and Business Management. Before he graduated, he had several job offers that potentially promised more money and better health care benefits than the position he accepted. But, as he put it, “it wasn’t about that for me.”

Ultimately, Carter landed a job in agriculture equipment sales as a parts associate.

“I was familiar with the surroundings, and I’m 30 minutes from home,” Carter said, adding, “I took the job because of convenience. I didn’t take it because of the money.”

Carter also credited convenient work hours that allowed him to spend time with family and friends as another attractive characteristic of the job he has now.

A 2016 survey conducted by Accenture found 51 percent of millennials reported being overqualified for their jobs after graduation. While this may seem startling, some graduates are proactively choosing to accept positions with less pay and lower qualification standards in order to fulfill higher-valued priorities.

Carter prioritized more traditional values and searched for a job that benefitted his lifestyle, not his bank account.

“I’ve had a lot of people ask me when I was going to get a real job. I’ve got a real job,” he said, adding, “I’m happy with my job. I don’t feel like I settled, I just didn’t take the same route that everyone takes.”

Madison Mason, 20, is a pre-med student at Tennessee Tech University. Mason goes to school about 50 miles from her hometown of McMinnville, Tennessee, and already knows she wants to move back closer to home after she graduates.

“I like knowing that I will be closer to home than I am now because family is really important to me,” she said. Mason also added she is not worried about what sacrifices she could be making professionally to move back. “Yes, it’s less money but the benefits are worth it.”

Michelle Roberts, 22, recently accepted a position as a full-time nurse not far from where she grew up just outside of Murfreesboro. For Roberts, moving away from her family “was not an option.”

“When I started looking for a job, my main priority was being close to home,” Roberts said. “I was willing to sacrifice on a lot of things to make that happen.”

Roberts, who is a registered nurse, said in order to work in her hometown she had to accept a position that a licensed practical nurse can do for the same pay.

“I went to nursing school for four years when I could be doing the exact same things with a two-year degree,” Roberts said. “For me, the pay was never important. I have flexible hours, and I never have to miss anything at home.”

Before graduation, Roberts met with a career adviser at from her university. She feels the career center at her university supported her decisions to take the route she did and not pursue the money.

Dusty Doddridge, the Assistant Director of the Career Development Center at Middle Tennessee State University, believes the underemployment of recent graduates has been a continuing trend but says “statistics don’t always tell the full picture.”

When it comes to student priorities during career planning and job searching, Doddridge says it is important to consider a few things.

“What are your values? What’s important to you? What’s going to be rewarding? Where do you want to live? For most people, that’s really important,” he said. “Consider proximity to family, friends, or particular lifestyle. We talk about those things a lot.”

When reflecting on his career choices, Carter said he felt like the path he chose will lead to a more rewarding future.

“(Agriculture) is a very evolving industry, and if I stick with this for 10 years, I think I’ll be further along than if I chased after money,” he said.

Lauren Hennessee is a political science and journalism student at Middle Tennessee State University.

Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at MTSU, allows student journalists to be published statewide and nationwide. It’s made possible through grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

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