Meet the Downsized Generation: Millennials Who Are Rewriting the Rules for Success

They graduated as the economy tanked, forcing twentysomethings to rethink their (and the country's) future.

By Barbara Kantrowitz for Reader's Digest Magazine | July 2013
AuraBrian Finke


Her parents, immigrants from El Salvador and Guatemala, always told her that a college degree was the key to a better life. But in 2009, when Aura Perez, now 25, graduated from the University of California, San Diego, that no longer seemed the case. Aura majored in human development, planning to pursue a career as a preschool teacher. After graduation, she moved back in with her parents in Los Angeles, where the only job she could find was as a cashier at Kohl’s. She took it because, like so many of her peers, Aura graduated with substantial debt, and she was determined to meet her obligations. “My deferment on my college loans was about to end, and I needed to start making payments,” she says.

Between shifts on the cash register, Aura continued to hunt for more rewarding work, and after six months, she found a job at a tutoring center. Finally, in March 2011, after nearly two years of searching, she landed exactly what she was looking for, a position teaching at a nonprofit preschool in Encino. Still living at home, Aura is also working toward her master’s degree in early childhood education at California State University, Northridge, adding to a loan debt that now totals $24,000. “It was always in the back of my mind to go to grad school,” says Aura, who values education above all. “During breaks at Kohl’s, I would study for the GRE.”

A professor at Northridge has encouraged Aura to pursue a PhD. “I was shocked that she saw that in me,” Aura says. “It was always a goal of mine, secretly. I didn’t want to tell anybody.” But, Aura says, “if she sees the potential in me, then I think I can really go for it.” Ten years from now, she says, “I see myself as a professor. I see myself as being completely financially independent from my parents. I will be able to afford to live in my own apartment. I also see myself helping out my parents financially, instead of being a burden.”

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  • Your Comments

    • Emily

      I’m fine with people living how they want, if they can afford it. If you make a million dollars, have the big house. If you want to live with no table, fine by me. Several of the people in this article are living with parents or working multiple jobs to pay off debt. This too is okay. My problem here is with the first woman, Elizabeth Kurtz. It is not okay to say you want to work for only $12,000 a year because you don’t need material things if your income is being supplemented by the US taxpayers. She’s right, she doesn’t need a huge home or luxury car, but you are not doing it by yourself when you receive food stamps. This is why some of this generation, as the article states, is sometimes “portrayed as lazy, self-absorbed, and 
immature.” It is not responsible to say, “I don’t need money, but I’ll take yours.”

      • rileymom08

        Emily, I am so with you! It seriously makes me question Reader’s Digest editorial staff for including her in this piece. Since when is it not only ok but lauded for her “downsizing” while she is taking tax payer’s money? MY money in fact! And she’s a saint for not taking her parents’ money, too? She is educated and able bodied. Seriously?

        • disappointed

          Seriously?! Yes. Think of the people that she is helping through Americorps. I guarantee you that those people are infinitely grateful that she is financially capable of devoting herself full-time to helping them. Americorps is actually a government program to begin with, so technically all of her money comes from the government, who is paying her for WORK DONE. She doesn’t necessarily WANT to work for $12,000/year. Obviously that’s not enough to get by on–but that’s what full-time work in community service is paid. Sad story.

    • Jake Robinson

      ” Her financial aid was calculated on both parents working full-time”

      Then her mother losing a job should have made it MORE likely that she would receive further financial aid. It’s not based on both parents working but parent’s annual income. Since the mother lost her job, the family received less income meaning the girl is more likely to receive financial aid. Strange.

      • Natalie Talbot

        I thought the same thing!

      • Bob Dole

        Yes, but the aid was already calculated for that year… Meaning her parents no longer have the money to contribute.

    • Greg Razzano

      It’s awesome to see these folks’ passion for life shine through.