Sydney Burroughs gasses up her car every morning at 5:30 a.m. to be fully-fueled for a half-day’s work. She’s an Uber driver, albeit reluctantly, and when she’s done roving from one destination to another, the remainder of her afternoon is dedicated to a second job as a barista at a small coffee house in Central Los Angeles. At 28 years-old, Sydney is in constant motion for nearly 13 hours every day. But juggling two service jobs wasn’t part of her original plan. When she graduated from college in 2006, her eyes were set on a career in corporate advertising. Now, 11 years removed from recieving her cap and gown, she wonders if a time will come when she can finally put her degree to use.
“When I gather my passengers during the morning rush, many of them are my age and on their way to work,” she explained. “If one of my passengers is dressed a certain way and looks friendly, I’ll ask what he or she does for a living.
“Some work in the corporate world, others in fashion and I often get people who work in computer design or engineering. I once picked up someone who does what I want to do [advertising], and I probably drove him crazy with all of the questions I asked. This job, at least, allows me to live vicariously through the people I meet—it’s both fascinating and extremely depressing.”
Sydney earns roughly $900 a week driving for Uber (excluding fuel costs and maintenance). She earns an additional $500 every two weeks (before taxes), working part-time at the coffee house. With these combined incomes, she can afford to pay rent for her cramped studio apartment in Gardena, as well as cover other personal expenses. The money she has leftover goes to essentials like groceries and laundry detergent.
“I’m currently on a Ramen noodles diet,” she joked. “I’m still eating like a college student even though I graduated more than 10 years ago. Maybe I’ll have money for grown-up food when I’ve cleared the rest of my school debt.”
Despite her efforts to be self-sufficient, Sydney occasionally relies on her father’s generosity to help pay the bills. “He’s my safety blanket.” This dynamic in their relationship is symptomatic of a “failure to launch” among young adults between the ages of 18 – 32, otherwise known as the millennial generation.
Several challenges continue to hamper the progress of this demographic, including a lack of employment, affordable housing, and the ever-looming presence of school-related debt, especially for African Americans.
In 2013, the most recent period for which unemployment data are available by both race and educational attainment, 12.4 percent of Black college graduates between the ages of 22 and 27 were unemployed. For all college graduates in the same age range, the unemployment rate stood at just 5.6 percent. Today, 36 percent of Black millennials live with their parents, while 17 percent live with a spouse or partner. Less educated young adults are also more likely to live with their parents than are their college-educated counterparts — no surprise, Pew notes, given the financial prospects in today’s economy.
These obstacles aren’t going to simply disappear, but they can be overcome with a sufficient amount of preparation, planning and foresight. Here are a few steps to help Black millennials get the ball rolling.
1) Apply for scholarships that benefit African American students (avoid owing thousands in the long run)
Affordability is a concern for all college-bound students, especially African Americans. Fortunately, a number of scholarships and financial aid opportunities are earmarked specifically for their demographic. Several organizations offer even more specific aid opportunities, such as scholarships for African American women.
According to a report from Demos, African American students borrow money more often to complete their bachelor’s degree at a public college than Whites. Around 84 percent of African American graduates used Pell Grants to finance their education and only 60 percent of White students did the same. Additionally, nearly one in four Black borrowers drops out of college, leaving them both in debt and without a degree.
Scholarships do not need to be paid back, making them a desirable alternative to student loans.
2) Attend a historically Black college (HBCU)
Black graduates of these colleges and universities are significantly more likely to have felt supported while in college and thrive afterwards than are their Black peers who graduated from predominantly White institutions, according to a Gallup-Purdue University study.
“Although HBCUs are struggling in a number of areas, their overall success in providing Black graduates with a better college experience than they would get at non-HBCUs needs to be examined more closely, and potentially modeled, at other institutions,” the researchers wrote. “The profoundly different experiences that Black graduates of HBCUs and Black graduates of non-HBCUs are having in college leave the HBCU graduates feeling better prepared for life after graduation, potentially leading them to live vastly different lives outside of college.”
3) Seek employment with a Black-owned business
One of the most effective strategies for reducing Black unemployment is to support Black-owned businesses. This is because two out of every three workers employed in those businesses are Black.
In 2007, the Gazelle Index conducted a national random survey of 350 CEOs of African-American owned businesses. The survey determined that 64 percent of employees in Black-owned businesses were Black.
4) Take advantage of new mortgage loan programs for low-income families
Fannie Mae has recently undertaken steps to promote access and sustainability in the housing market. For instance, under its HomeReady program, borrowers can get into a home with as little as a three percent down payment and mortgages with less stringent guidelines. For example, borrowers can use income from a non-borrower household member – like a parent or another relative – to obtain mortgages with a debt-to-income ratio of up to 50 percent, above the normal DTI limit of 45 percent. Observers say these changes are of particular benefit to minority communities.
5) Vow to always save money – no matter what your income is
Don’t be one of those people who says “I’ll start saving money when…” The problem with telling yourself that is “when” never comes. You should always be saving money. That’s one of the best strategies to make sure you are always moving forward. If you don’t have enough room in your budget to save money now, then the answer is to increase your income, lower your expenses, or both.