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Gen Z struggles as it enters the workforce during COVID, and with student debt at historic levels – News Opener

The pandemic upended work life for most people, but for those in Gen Z who graduated from college during COVID, it might have changed the most. Some of those graduates have only ever experienced remote work, and others had a year or two in the office before work life was turned upside down.

Anyone born between 1997 and 2012 is part of the Gen Z generation, according to the Pew Research Center. Zoomers, as they’re sometimes called, are under unique pressures as they enter the workforce.

The pandemic is one factor that has contributed to those pressures, but researchers see another in the overall cultural shift to living one’s life on social media.

Despite being faced with a better job market fresh out of college than their millennial counterparts, Gen Z has its own challenges.

“They do want to do mission-driven work, but they have so many financial obligations,” Wall Street Journal reporter Callum Borchers said on last week’s Best New Ideas in Money podcast. “They’ve got crushing student loan debt in a lot of cases. We are living in inflationary times. The cost of living, cost of housing is very, very high.”

Terry Nguyen, a reporter who recently wrote about Gen Z workers for Vox, said that because Gen Zers entered the workforce during the pandemic, many of them describe feeling disillusioned and disconnected from their work.

“So many of these workers also started working remotely,” Nguyen said on the podcast. “Many of them have never physically met their coworkers in person. That kind of overall contributes to this [detachment] to work… Many people have tried to divest from making work their entire identity.”

Researchers think that many of these workers are looking to reframe ambition as just one of life’s goals, rather than a total identity. And possibly the idea that your identity and ambition is tied to your job may be lost forever. 

“I don’t dream of labor, but I wanna get up in the morning and work. I want a purpose,” Hannah, a Gen Z interior designer in New Mexico, said on the podcast.

Learn more in last week’s podcast. And tune in every week to MarketWatch’s Best New Ideas in Money podcast with Stephanie Kelton, economist and a professor of economics and public policy at Stony Brook University, and MarketWatch reporter Charles Passy. Each week, they explore innovations in economics, finance, technology and policy that rethink the way we live, work, spend, save and invest.

You can listen to past episodes here.

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