Gen Z Faces Uncertain Futures Amid Global Turmoil and Economic Struggles

Class of 2024 graduates share their perspectives on navigating this turbulent landscape.

Gen Z is inheriting a turbulent world. Columbia University and The University of Southern California have canceled main commencement ceremonies as students protest the Israel-Palestine War, particularly Israel’s relentless attacks on Palestinian civilians. (Other schools across the country have been faced with escalating violence towards protestors from police.) The declining job market and inflation have been the subject of conversation for years. Job seekers are dealing with the scarcity of job positions and the cost of living skyrocketing. It’s a stressful time to enter adulthood, much less the world of employment. As they push for social change and accept today’s severe economic challenges, Gen Z is hopeful about what lies ahead. 

The general public has asserted that a college degree is no longer a surefire way to land employment. In a 2024 article for The New York Times, one new grad called the job search “demoralizing.” It seems especially hard for those looking to enter the arts and entertainment industries. “It's definitely difficult,” says Kyla Evans, a senior at Spelman University. She is set to graduate this month and wants to work in publishing. Houses have faced criticism for not having a substantial number of Black staffers and not taking on the stories of Black authors, which is the premise of the Oscar-winning film “American Fiction”. The tide began to turn in 2020, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, bringing in more Black employees and storytellers. There remains progress to be made. 

Additionally, there are only five major houses, something students think about when applying for jobs. “Publishing is a difficult industry to crack into because it's so small,” Evans says. “I'm fortunate enough that I did have an internship so that I know people and I'm able to put my name back on their desk as I've been going through this application interview process. But it's not a quick and easy industry to get into.”

She holds on to her optimism, saying, “[It]'s just about staying motivated to where you know you want to be because it's not easy.”

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Marcus Scott Jr., a graduating philosophy major at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NCAT), has dreams of becoming a statesman. He’s reluctant to say “politician”—he believes it has a negative connotation. His resume is stacked. This past year he was homecoming royalty (his Instagram bio reads, “The 17th Mr. NCAT”), an opportunity that led to celebrity mingling at “The Color Purple” premiere, he was chosen as an AT&T Rising Future Maker, and he was a keynote speaker during an event for Aggie men looking to build personal brands. His role as HBCU royalty allowed him to be a student advocate, furthering his ambitions for the U.S. Senate. At the time of our conversation, he was awaiting the final say on a Capitol Hill internship. He views it as a potential step in the right direction while understanding how much of his future is in the air. “My outlook on the road ahead, not even going to lie to you, it really seems uncertain,” he says. Even though I've applied to plenty of things, even though I have all of the opportunities that I can hope for being in this position…nothing in this world is promised.” Scott leans on his faith to stay focused.  “I'm just putting it all in his hands and no matter what the future holds, I know that I'm going to change the world and be intentional with my impact.” 

Fellow NCAT senior Yakira Chapman is looking to break into sports merchandising. She says attending a non-fashion-focused school may have impacted her network and industry access and notes that out of the twenty jobs she’s applied for, she’s only gotten interviews for two. “I would say my experience with competitiveness and issues in the job market really came in last year when I was trying to fulfill my internship requirements,” she explains. “Connections get you a lot farther [sic]. I mean, obviously you need the talent, but your connection gets you farther. And there's a big difference between going to a STEM school and getting a fashion degree than going to an art school and getting your fashion degree.” 

Chapman is the first person in her family to pursue a creative career. She thinks of the experience as an opportunity for her and her loved ones to learn what it really takes to get a foot in the door. She’s learned to be keenly aware of brands that say they want to work with diverse talent but ultimately select non-Black people, citing her past with internships. 

“A lot of times it would be I'm applying, there's a lot of brands that are like, Okay, we want to be very diverse and we're trying to push our diversity, equity, and inclusion, because as we know, that's becoming a lot more popular within companies…and then I wouldn't hear anything. And then they post their internship class on LinkedIn [and it’s] non people of color who went to SCAD, FIT, Parsons, all the major fashion schools. Not to diminish their talent or anything, but it is kind of telling when you have people telling you, Oh, we want your talent, we want to be more diverse and then the internship class is not showing that.” The internships reflect the grim reality of the business at large—in fashion design, less than eight percent of designers are Black. 

While Gen Z’s career journey has been less than ideal, being excited about graduation is a nearly meditative practice for some. “I don't have too many expectations at the moment. I'm trying to focus on gratitude with everything, especially just getting a degree regardless of how my career takes off after I get the degree,” Chapman says. “Going through four years of college is a great accomplishment. So I'm trying not to be too hard on myself about not hearing back from this company or getting rejected from this team or anything like that. I'm trying to make sure that I remain proud of myself despite the circumstances.” 

Hopefully, a positive outlook makes a difference. Gen Z surely deserves it

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