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Ask A TFI Clinician: Young Adults and the Economy with David Hauser, PhD

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As we gear up for graduation parties, sending our kids off to college, and celebrating new jobs and opportunities, TFI Talks is addressing some of the main issues facing the group who deals with these issues the most: young adults.

One of the most talked about issues for young and emerging adults is the financial burdens many of them face in today’s economy. Things like student debt, the housing market and unemployment impact this huge demographic in specific ways—financially and psychologically.

Today David Hauser, PhD, staff therapist at The Family Institute provides his insights into how these issues impact young adults psychologically, and offers advice as to how to deal with them.


2008 still impacts 2014.

The financial collapse of 2008 remains the most imposing systemic constraint in 2014 that I see in my work with young adults.  In the post 2008 economy, college graduates with quality degrees are having a harder time than ever finding long-term sustainable jobs, they carry more college loan debt than any previous generation, and have inherited the most challenging housing market in decades.   As the New York Times Magazine recently stated, “these days, a degree is merely the expensive price of admission. In 1970 only one in 10 Americans had a bachelor’s degree, and nearly all could expect a comfortable career. Today, about a third of young adults will earn a four-year-degree, and many of them — more than a third, by many estimates — are unlikely to find lifelong secure employment sufficient to pay down their college loan debt and place them on track to earn more than their parents.”


The impact isn’t only financial.

These economic constraints and circumstances can bring about a great deal of frustration, confusion, self-doubt, and even self-blame which places a tremendous amount of emotional and psychological hardship on young adults today. These global economic changes ask young adults to adapt to change at a rapid pace and tolerate great uncertainty with a job marketplace that is so rapidly evolving.  These economic conditions and difficult job market increase the risk of depression, general anxiety, relational stress, and vocational stagnation.

I tell clients young and old, anxiety by its very nature is struggling to tolerate uncertainty.  Emerging adults are being asked to tolerate more economic uncertainty than any American generation since the 1930s.


It’s harder to launch.

Due to economic hardship, one out of every five people in their 20s or 30s are living with their parents, and 60% of young adults rely on some form of financial support from their parents.  This makes it very hard on young people to establish independence and begin building their own lives and families; also potentially preventing them from beginning to separate from their own family of origin.

As a family therapist, one of the primary developmental hurdles I discuss with young adults is the importance of “launching” away from one’s own family of origin and starting their own community and beginning to start their own family.  With the necessary reliance on parents for young adults today, launching into adulthood is a lot more complicated and in many cases delayed, making it hard for young people to begin living their own independent life without dependence on others.


Be willing to explore.

As with any struggle, economic or otherwise, those who withstand and survive will come out stronger on the other side the hardship.  It’s just harder to make your way now than it was in the older and simpler economy.  As young adult researcher and Clark University psychologist Jeffery Jensen Arnett stated, “those most actively involved in the struggle are most likely to eventually find their way, even at moments you feel lost.”

To survive this struggle requires a willingness to face the gravity and robust nature of this problem (not hiding from the problem even though it might feel overwhelming) and begin chipping away at it with exploration, short-term goal setting, and identifying and settling on your long-term goals and needs.  This is often where psychotherapy can be most helpful at this age.


Context. Context. Context. 

It is not helpful to blame yourself or beat yourself up about the particular economic circumstance and challenging job market you are walking into.  It is critical to properly contextualize that getting a good job, in a professional field that is in sync with your needs and goals is far harder than it used to be.  But with innovation and change, as we are seeing in the job marketplace today, also comes opportunity.  Thus it is important to not get bogged down in self-blame (when larger circumstances out of your control are the challenge) or overwhelmed, as these will make it harder for you to cease opportunities that might present themselves and help you chip away at the long-term problem presented to you.

DON’T: Hide your head in the sand because this is a complicated problem

DON’T: Default to self-criticism, self-blame

DO: Contextualize that this is a generational challenge, noting there are global economic circumstances at play, well beyond your control

DO: Think critically about what you want to do for a career, even if it is a struggle to achieve them.

DO: Stay with the struggle!  There is value in the struggle.  Those who ruminate with a problem, yet stay with it despite the discomfort of the problem, will eventually work through the problem.

The plan is the important part.  Setting goals, and working toward them will give you a greater sense of control over your life, even in the face of large and systemically entrenched problems.




David Hauser, PhD, is a staff therapist at The Family Institute specializing in working with families, couples and individuals. He holds a Master’s of Science degree in Marital and Family Therapy from Northwestern University and received his PhD in Counseling Psychology from Arizona State University.


Read Dr. Hauser’s first bio here, and check out his other posts on TFI Talks.

Learn more about The Family Institute on our website.

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