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
ElizabethBrian Finke

ELIZABETH: OPTIMISM

Today, Elizabeth is focusing on her work and the small pleasures that she can afford. Like dancing. “I love swing dancing,” she says. “If they are twirling me around, that’s fun. It doesn’t cost that much to dance.”

Elizabeth’s mother, Rev. Kelli Grace Kurtz, takes the long view when she thinks about her daughter’s generation. “I’ve been with many, many people at the end of their lives,” she says, “and I can tell you, whether they were materially well off or not has had nothing to do with their sense of peace and serenity. If Elizabeth and her cohort are learning that lesson now, early on in their adulthood, then they will find that peace and serenity sooner.”

Elizabeth’s car is a 2008 Ford Focus her parents bought for her last year. It has more than 62,000 miles on it now, and Elizabeth treasures the relief it offers. “It has great gas mileage,” she says. “It is my escape. I go for drives when I need to calm down. I don’t need to go anywhere; I just need to drive.” One weekend in late spring, the road beckoned. “I was mentally and emotionally worn out from a long workweek,” she says. “So I drove to Starbucks with my laptop, searched for directions to the closest beach, and two and a half hours later, I was in Pensacola, Florida.”

She spent the day sitting alone on the sand, just thinking about her life, without even her cell phone to tie her to the rest of the world. Later, writing in her blog, she described the sense of peace she’d felt and added, “I am perfectly comfortable being a traveler the rest of my life.”

  • 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.