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Question 7

Has your vision for the future changed because of the economy?

This is a special election-week essay for Generation Stuck. Emilie Haertsch is 26 years old and voting for President Obama. Read also: Samantha Bilotta is 23 years old and voting for Mitt Romney.

Emilie Haertsch says she is better off than she was four years ago.

One of the main questions the Mitt Romney campaign has been asking of voters is whether or not they are better off today than they were four years ago. Romney asks this question because he assumes that the answer for most people — especially my generation of Millennials — is no.

Well, guess what? I actually am better off. And I am not some venture capitalist from a blue-blood family. I am a 26-year-old woman with a middle-class background working as a writer and editor.

I graduated from college in Philadelphia in May 2008, just a few months before the recession hit. But the recession did not affect me much that fall because I was already living in poverty — voluntary poverty. Upon graduating, I decided to do a year of full-time service, so I joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. In 2008 and 2009, I lived in Raleigh, North Carolina, and worked as a community organizer for a national nonprofit.

I worked full-time receiving only a tiny monthly stipend, but together with my roommates, all fellow volunteers, I got by. Even though I didn’t make any money during my service time, I earned real-world job experience, which proved invaluable to me. I also learned how to live on very little money, and that also became useful in later years.

When I completed my service I enrolled in a graduate program in writing, my true passion. This might seem like an impractical pursuit, but both of my parents were writers — my mom taught writing and my dad worked in communications — so a career in this profession didn’t seem impossible to me. I believed that if I underwent rigorous study and really improved my abilities, I could write for a living.

Now, my parents had a rule for me. I could live at home rent-free only if I was in school and putting my money toward that, and I still had to contribute in other ways, like cooking, cleaning, and errands. So I moved in with them, and was lucky enough to get a job in administration for a Philadelphia arts and culture nonprofit. I put my job earnings toward my tuition and was able to earn my degree without too much debt.

But I’m not going to lie, those were a tough two years. Working full-time and going to school full-time is brutal. Still, I’m glad I did it, because when I finished I was only three years out of college, with a Master’s degree and three years of full-time job experience. Having that work experience, even if I wasn’t earning very much while I was getting it, has helped me a lot.

While I was in grad school and working, I also got engaged to Mike, a wonderful man I had been friends with since high school. Mike graduated veterinary school at the same time as I received my graduate degree, and we were both interested in furthering our careers. Mike wanted to do a veterinary internship and I wanted to move to a city with more opportunities for writers and editors so I could get a job in my field. We ended up in Boston.

Mike completed a year-long internship in an emergency hospital that sometimes required him to work eighty-hour weeks, while paying very little, and I struggled for months to find a job. I did some freelance writing work, and got a part-time job at an upscale dog-walking and boarding facility while I continued to apply for full-time work. I got to know my new city on foot and it was wonderful exercise, but I still felt frustrated that my job essentially consisted of cleaning up dog poop. I wasn’t using my mind at all for most of my working hours. Still, I was grateful for the income, and I liked spending time with the animals.

I applied for jobs constantly, which, as many say, is a full-time job unto itself. Finally, after eight months of being sure I was a failure and struggling to make ends meet, I interviewed for two separate assistant editor jobs, and both places made offers. I was absolutely overjoyed. Today I work as a content development editor for a Boston cultural institution. The main functions of my job are writing and editing, and I couldn’t be happier.

I did work hard for the past couple of years, and throughout school, too, but I don’t believe that I earned the place where I am today by myself. Like most people, I owe a lot of my current situation to a combination of luck and the generosity of other folks. I graduated from undergrad debt free due to scholarships and the money my parents saved up for my college education. The fact that my parents let me move back in with them during graduate school and put my earnings toward tuition rather than rent was a wonderful gift.

Thanks to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, I was able to stay on my parents’ insurance while I was without full-time work, when I likely would have been without insurance otherwise. Most importantly, I had the support of friends and family who didn’t think I was crazy for wanting to pursue writing as a career, and who listened when I cried about not amounting to anything.

Today Mike and I are married and very happy. We consider ourselves incredibly lucky. We both have full-time jobs in our dream fields, and, for the first time, we make middle-class earnings. We have chosen to live below our means so that we can pay off our student loans more quickly, so we still scrimp a bit, but we are no longer worried about making rent.

I’m thankful for the gratitude and empathy that came out of this experience. I could never have become self-supporting without the help I had. Now that I know what it’s like to be without a full-time job, I will never take it for granted again. And I feel for those who are still struggling and do everything I can to support them, whether it’s passing along job information, offering to recommend someone, or simply listening to their frustrations over a cup of coffee.

Is our generation ever going to have the easy wealth or opportunities that others have known? Probably not. But things are looking up for us Millennials. I see it among my compatriots. Many of my friends who were unemployed or underemployed a few years ago are now working full-time in their chosen fields. Slowly but surely things are improving due to the help of many people, from parents to government, and I am very grateful for that. Now let’s continue that upward trajectory.

Are you a twenty-something voting for President Obama? What is driving your decision on Election Day?


  1. Emily at 2:02 pm, November 5, 2012

    How did Obama impact the outcome of your life? The only relevance I see
    is the healthcare? I think your parents are basically the big players in
    this story. Did Obama’s policies get you a job? I just don’t see how this fits into Obama making the country a better place for Twenty year olds.

  2. Anonymous at 2:06 pm, November 5, 2012

    If you live in Massachusetts, which you do, you could have stayed on your parent’s health care before hand. Yup, big change there…

  3. Jana Deren at 9:55 am, November 7, 2012

    She only lives in Massachusetts *now*. She went to school in Philadelphia when she was living at home with her parents for grad school, so they are most likely from PA, which doesn’t abide by the same rules as MA. So, yes, the ACA DID in fact help her.

  4. Jana Deren at 10:00 am, November 7, 2012

    Does any president’s policies help every person to find a job directly? I would probably say that, with the money the administration has made available for things like roadwork, that’s probably a field where you can see the direct effects (more funding for projects leads to more roadwork leads to more demand in workers). You’d probably have to put the question to whomever hired Emilie – did the government play any role at all in the availablity of her position? Was the position a new position or an old one that they were filling because someone left? I think Emilie does a great job with the question “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” – which is what she’s answering. She has a job, she’s out of school, and her loans aren’t crushing her.

  5. Jackie at 11:23 am, November 7, 2012

    She claims to be a writer and this is the worst writing I have ever had to endure as a reader. No wonder why she couldn’t get a job!!

  6. Anonymous at 1:31 pm, November 10, 2012

    Jackie – Worst writing? You have to be kidding. This is nicely written and you are simply mean and bitter. I’m guessing you don’t share her political views. Perhaps you should try a little kindness or say nothing.

  7. M Auer at 1:54 pm, November 15, 2012

    Her parents are forced to help her. So now people being forced in America is a good thing? Sounds like fascism to me.

  8. M Auer at 1:55 pm, November 15, 2012

    She is still in her 20′s and has no clue of the real world. Maybe in another 10 years and I dread to think what this nation will look like then.

  9. Jana Deren at 4:28 pm, November 15, 2012

    Her parents could very well have *not* helped her. It only allows the option for people up to the age of 26 to be on their parents’ insurance; it doesn’t mandate parents (who have the option of eliminating anyone on their plans during open enrollment every year) to keep their kids on until 26.

  10. Luke Franklin at 1:31 pm, November 19, 2012

    I am certain that in most cases 20+ years of life is certainly adequate to give one a “clue of the real world.” Seems to me that community service, maintaining a family (moving back in with your folks post-grad is not necessarily a cake walk) and building a new one, working and embarking on a career, and being aware of one’s blessings constitutes quite a bit of day-to-day “real world.” Perhaps the “real world” doesn’t begin where youth ends, but rather it ends where Fox News begins.