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Gen Z workers want mission-driven jobs. A big paycheck would be nicer.

Benjamin Nitzani imagines a future in the legal field for clients and causes he is passionate about. The new law school graduate is a member of Generation Z or, as he describes it, “a generation of social justice warriors.”

The son of immigrants and the first in his family to attend college, Mr Nitzani, 25, says he owes more than $100,000 in student loan debt and lives in New York amid galloping inflation. He has accepted an offer from a major law firm and says he will donate what he can to Jewish soup kitchens and other charities. A lower paying job in the public service is not an option at the moment.

“The most important thing when I picked a company, frankly, was that it was at the top of the pay scale,” he says.

For many workers and recent graduates in their twenties, the sense of mission clashes with the need to earn money. Although they came of age under Presidents Obama and Trump and formed worldviews at the time as powerful social movements, some are changing their priorities or making compromises that they might have criticized before entering. in the labor market.

A stronger focus on money appears in Deloitte Global’s annual Gen Z survey, which the company defines as people born after 1995. (Some others, like the Pew Research Center, say the generation begins in 1997.) Climate change was the top concern, ahead of financial challenges, when Deloitte surveyed more than 8,000 Gen Zers early last year. This year, however, the cost of living overtook the environment as the No. 1 concern in a survey of nearly 15,000 Gen Zers.

Meanwhile, 37% of Gen Zers in the latest survey said they had “rejected a job and/or assignment because of personal ethics.” A year ago, almost half said ethics determined the type of work they were willing to do and for whom.

“It’s not always a simple answer, as to where you work and when and how you decide to take a stand,” says Michele Parmelee, global deputy managing director at Deloitte, noting that a growing share of the generation Z has a job and financial responsibilities. “With a bit of experience, I think people understand that these choices are complex.”

People of all generations have ideals that eventually collide with reality. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 disrupted the early careers of many members of Generation X, the post-boomer generation born between 1965 and 1980. The financial crisis and recession of the late 2001s sobered many millennials who followed Generation X. into the workforce.

Now the pandemic and its fallout are testing Gen Z. They tackle issues like gun control, foreign policy and racism as people who attended school after Columbine, have little or no memories 9/11 and were children when Trayvon Martin’s death helped catalyze the Black Lives Matter movement.

They are entering adulthood as the planet hits the hottest temperatures in recorded history and could soon face some of the most restrictive abortion laws in half a century.

They were brought up in a time of questioning such widely accepted norms as pronouns, representing the national anthem and wholesomeness of Dr. Seuss.

They’ve been telling pollsters for years that all of this – maybe not Dr. Seuss in particular, but social and political issues in general – will be important when they enter the workforce, saying they want to work for companies that share their values.

In a recent survey of about 400 college seniors commissioned by ResumeBuilder.com, however, 54% said they would work for a company they “morally disagree with” for a six-figure starting salary. . (Such tempting offers are increasingly common in today’s job market.)

Monica Tuñez, 25, accepted a meager salary when she joined an education nonprofit after college a few years ago.

“I always thought I would do something that would make a very real difference in the world,” she says. “I grew up in a modest family. People took the time to try to get me to a better place in life, so I always felt this need to give back.

However, working with New York City public school children was so poorly paid that she took an ironic twist to make ends meet: tutoring wealthy kids.

She quit those jobs last year and now makes a comfortable living as a policy specialist for a large corporation in Austin, Texas. Earning more money with one job helps her save, maybe for law school, and frees her up to volunteer outside of work.

However, his newfound stability annoys him.

“There are so many people in other types of jobs who don’t feel that kind of comfort and privilege, and I feel guilty,” Ms. Tuñez says. “I’m really struggling with this.”

Sami Hossain says he would work for a non-profit organization if money was not a consideration. Instead, the 21-year-old software engineer launched his career at a major tech company in New York, a move that arguably empowers him to make a bigger impact. He says he needs a solid salary to help his mother buy a house.

Gen Zers are aware that being a professional benefactor often requires a certain degree of privilege, for example, parents who can afford to pay for their education and babysit an adult child on the family phone plan or the police. ‘Health Insurance.

“If you meet someone who works full-time in a nonprofit, you can usually guess their background,” Hossain says.

Conversations about privilege and public service occur frequently among members of Law Students for Climate Accountability, says co-founder Alisa White. The group has chapters in dozens of law schools and asks members who can swing it financially to sign a pledge refusing to work for law firms that represent fossil fuel industry clients.

Ms White, 26, will graduate next year and says she is committed to commitment, even if it means earning less than her potential. She says she prepared for a modest income by paying off her undergraduate debt (though she will owe about $90,000 in law school) and being “very frugal.”

More difficult choices lie ahead.

“I would love to have kids or a house at some point, and I’m like, ‘Oh, no,'” she says. “It weighs on me.”

Write to Callum Borchers at callum.borchers@wsj.com

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