So many college students and recent graduates are heading to where they least expected: back home, and facing an unfamiliar prospect: downtime, maybe too much of it. To a high-achieving generation whose schedules were once crammed with extracurricular activities meant to propel them into college, it feels like an empty summer — eerie, and a bit scary.


Numbers provide the backdrop to the story — not just the grimly familiar national unemployment rate, 9.5 percent in June, but the even scarier, less publicized unemployment figure for 16- to 19-year-olds, which has hit 24 percent, up from 16.1 percent two years ago. Internships available to college students have fallen 21 percent since last year, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Across the country, there are countless tales like that of Morgan Henderson, a student at the University of San Francisco, who, along with friends, planned a big road trip to Las Vegas this summer. With so few of the friends finding jobs, they downgraded plans to a road trip to Reno, then to no road trip at all. They’re spending time watching DVDs at one another’s houses.

Or Kathryn Estrada, a high school senior in Hialeah, Fla., who has no summer job after Circuit City, which employed her during the school year, went out of business. She is finding that even this early in the summer, attempts to while away the hours playing Scrabble and Cranium have grown stale. “We all just wish school would start so we would have something to do,” she said.

Or Will Ehrenfeld, a political science major at Tufts, who worked at a think tank last year and this summer was aiming higher: a White House internship. When the White House didn’t come through, and neither did the State Department or dozens of companies he applied to, Mr. Ehrenfeld, 20, moved back home to Vernon, Conn. Even the local Boston Market had no work.

Mr. Ehrenfeld, a top student who has always held leadership positions in clubs and academic groups, loafs through days, rolling out of bed around 11 and reading or playing trumpet or guitar. Nights, he sometimes meets up with friends who also have nowhere that they have to be in the morning, and they share a few cheap beers. “At worst, misery continues to have company,” he said.

While young people in earlier decades might have cherished the chance to goof off and sleep in for a few months, the current generation, experts like Mr. Alsop are apt to point out, “have always been told they can achieve anything they can put their mind to.”

“They were always given trophies just for showing up,” he said. “Now, they’re being told ‘no’ when they really want a job or an internship.”

To them, a staycation at Mom and Dad’s can feel more like house arrest.

If the only problem were tedium, students might find a recessionary summer unpleasant but endurable. But some expressed concern that the economic gloom might be a preview of harsh career realities that await.

“The worst thing about this summer is the lack of hope felt by so many kids,” Lydia Wiledon, a Barnard undergraduate, wrote in an e-mail message. “College students ready to thrust themselves into work find nothing, and those most in need are edged out by older, more skilled individuals who are overqualified for such foot-in-the-door opportunities. I worry about how this employment drought will affect my generation in the future.”

--Alex Williams, Say Hello to Underachieving

Alex Williams, let me tell you about Scrabble, tedium, and house arrest.

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