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Noah Smith

Burned-Out Millennials Need Careers, Not Just Jobs

Mapping out a professional path has never been harder as old-line work vanishes.

Millennials need help finding a career, not a job.

Millennials need help finding a career, not a job.

Photographer: Rafa Elias/Moment RF

At a time when lots of attention is being paid to inequality, poverty and the travails of the working class, it might seem callous to worry about the problems of the educated elite. But there are important reasons to be concerned about the fates of recent college graduates. First, a healthy economy needs to make optimal use of talent — if smart people are funneled into useless or counterproductive tasks, their skills and the resources spent educating them will go to waste. Second, when educated people’s expectations are frustrated by a dysfunctional economic system, they can turn their formidable talent and energy toward disrupting that system, leading to social unrest.

So when educated millennials talk about being fed up with their careers, policy makers ought to listen. A recent essay by Anne Helen Peterson gained attention for characterizing the millennial experience as one of “burnout,” describing the author’s own frustrations with a stymied academic career and crushing student loans.