Some Gen Zers are disconnected, but perspective and resilience could help


In a stunning report about Generation Z, some of its members were described as “disconnected youth” — desperate and dejected about their present and future. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that one third of Gen Z, those 18 to 24, have no income and are not counted in employment stats because they have stopped looking for jobs.

Disconnected youth are an even more specific category defined as those who aren’t working and not in school. They represent a staggering 13% — or 8.4 million — of that age group.

“This group has experienced what amounts to two distinct economies relatively early in their lives, one disrupted by a public health emergency and a recession and the other characterized by high inflation and the tightest labor market since World War II,” the report stated.

The other shocker for me was their degree of depression — 12.4 percent, as compared to 8 percent for older adults. Another report declared that Gen Z (overall those aged 12 to 27) has the poorest mental health of any previous generation.


As a Baby Boomer with two Gen Z daughters, that really got my attention. Is there a generation that has had more pressure than Gen Z? Sex that can kill you, crushing debt, mass shootings, social and political disintegration, war, climate change, and crazy social media. Not to mention the pandemic, a recession, and hyper-inflation. It’s easy to see why so many experience depression.

But this should be a call to action. We can’t afford to have a generation of nearly 70 million with so many bereft of hope. Indeed, the Federal Reserve report included a prescription for how society should address this problem:

“Targeting structural barriers that impact young adults — such as mental healthdiscrimination, the criminal justice system, and lack of access to child care and transportation — could improve employment outcomes. Workforce challenges that young adults face include skill-building, job entry and job maintenance. Collectively, support in these areas could help build the foundation for stronger future economic growth.”

On an individual basis, I think we can do more to help Gen Zers become more resilient. I know it seems as though everything is falling apart just when it’s their turn to bat. But as frustrating as that is, all is not lost.

Perspective is everything, something I learned a long time ago. It’s how you look at things that matters most. I don’t mean to be glib about the Gen Z predicament. But I would urge disconnected youth to twist the prism and look for opportunities to change their fortunes. They have the power to master the challenges they face.

Every generation has had to do that. The Greatest Generation had World War, the Boomers had cultural and social upheaval, and the Millennials had the tech revolution. Generation Z has to find a way to pull itself out of the doldrums and redefine who we are, how America shows up in the world, how to make things more equitable and sustainable without resentment, improve public safety and make our political discourse more civil. The Great Reset. I know that is a lot, but the nation’s economic future depends on how these issues are addressed.

Gen Z can start by turning out to vote. They could be a force in electoral politics if only they will show up. Some 8.3 million Gen Zers turned 18 since the November 2000 election and could make up 17% of eligible voters in 2024 and 35% in 2036. That’s real power that could elect representatives that will address student debt, gun violence, racism, climate change, and access to affordable education and housing, among other issues that are top priorities for Gen Zers. We seem to have no problem spending billions and trillions supporting wars. What about dealing with other problems?

Gen Z can affect all that whether they have a job or not. Voting could change their prospects — social and economic — dramatically. This is no time to allow apathy to steal away that opportunity.

Second, rethink social media. While no one is telling Gen Z to get off social media, studies show there are serious consequences. So, take some of that time spent with screens and go out with real people to share meals and experiences. Join a book club or a gym. Go for a walk. Get comfortable in your own head. All that snark and meanness that permeates social media does not promote good mental health. Rather, it feeds self-doubt and insecurity. Spending more time with people who really know and care about you and that provide positive reinforcement can go a long way toward improving outlooks and outcomes.

Third, tap into your creativity. Young people have always been drivers of innovation with a grasp of technology that is a huge advantage. Identify a problem that needs to be solved and get to work. Have the courage to follow through on that idea. Most of us give up between ideation and follow through. Give yourself a chance. And while you’re at it, think about being your own boss, whether that’s becoming an electrician, accountant or a blogger about fashion. There are lots of ways to make money, and it is easier than you might think. You just have to bet on yourself with the right mindset.

Finally, self-care is important. Nowadays, there seems to be a pill for everything. But don’t fall for it. Diet, proper rest, exercise and reducing time on social media can do wonders for your mental health. I’m not a doctor, but reducing stress — especially the fear of missing out — is good for your psyche.

There are no easy solutions to help Gen Zers get out of their funk. For sure, society owes them a better hand than they’ve been dealt. But this generation has the power to shape its own destiny. Be bold. Be determined. Be a difference maker. A lot comes down to how well you leverage your own perspective and resilience.