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
MeganBrian Finke

When Megan Bressem’s grandparents emigrated from Greece in the mid-1940s, “people told them California was the land of opportunity,” she says. Her grandfather, a factory worker, bought a house in Sacramento in the mid-1950s and over 
the years added an orchard and made his own honey and wine. When 
Megan left home for college in San 
Diego in 2005, she and her parents and her younger brother and sister were living in the house, which passed 
to her mother when Megan’s grandparents died.

Then, in 2008, while Megan was away at school, it all came crashing down. Her mother, a merchandiser, took out a loan on the house but then couldn’t make the payments. Megan, one of Aura’s roommates at the time, was at a college baseball game with friends when she received a call from her father, a construction worker, telling her that the house was in foreclosure and they had only a few days to gather decades of possessions and move out.

Megan flew home and helped her parents put everything into storage. It took months to find an apartment for the whole family, but as Megan began her senior year, she thought they were finally settled. Then, a few months after her 2009 graduation, her parents were once again in financial trouble and unable to pay their rent. This time, she went back to Sacramento for the long haul. “I’m the oldest,” says Megan, 25. “I felt a responsibility to take care of the family.”

After temporary gigs at fairs and a restaurant, she finally landed a job as an office technician at the local utility company. Like Aura, Megan majored in human development, hoping to work as a counselor or a teacher, but now she is thrilled to have a stable job that pays $3,600 a month before taxes and provides benefits. The work itself is also engaging, and she can envision spending 
her career at the company. “I like logic, and that’s what my job is,” she says. “It’s problem solving, critical thinking and logic … There are so many things going on all the time that you have to be on top of it, and I like being busy.”

The family later moved into a house on the same street as their old home, and Megan was proud that she was able to help. “I value the experiences I received because of this,” she says. “Many people my age don’t know how to live in the real world. I feel like I’ve gained so many more resiliency skills by being able to live in the real world, to have responsibility.”

By spring of this year, both of 
Megan’s parents were working and were planning to buy the house they were renting. And Megan has signed a lease on her own apartment five miles away. For the first time in her life, she is living alone.

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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.