December 10, 2012

Robert Samuelson laments today the potential for what he calls a lost generation: young people who aren’t having kids or building stable lives because they can’t get rewarding jobs. Samuelson avoids the young-people-are-lazy line to find all kinds of economic factors stacked against them. PostScript is grateful that he didn’t go for intergenerational sniping. We will, instead: Since the Pentateuch, children have been lazy and embittered at how their parents’ lives were easier (“It was a GARDEN, Mom. ALL YOU HAD TO DO WAS NOT EAT SOMETHING.” “Well if I hadn’t, you wouldn’t have been here to commit the first murder on the son I always liked best.”)  

College graduate in debt
Generation Lost? (Jacquelyn Martin via Associated Press)

Anyway, writes Samuelson, the young folk today are stretching their adolescent, no-money, no-responsibility days into their thirties and beyond, which spells big trouble for when they will eventually make up the backbone of America’s workforce. If there is one. The only thing we can count on about the future is that music will get worse. And we will be crankier.     

But in the comments, folk aren’t so sure that the restless Generation Why is particularly cursed or that it’s purely an economic thing.  

erinoconnell says that “losing” your 20s isn’t as limiting as losing your 30s:

Thirty-somethings will be more profoundly impacted as far as family planning is concerned. As a thirty-something myself, the pressures strongly disfavor child-bearing; children are just too expensive when a household is not fully employed. Unlike the twenty-somethings, this somewhat older generation will not be able to “make up” their low birth rates; they will reach infertility without having had children. I would posit that this generation is losing more than the younger generation, which can make up for lost time after the economy finally improves.

njglea says a decade or so of uncertainty and instability isn’t necessarily bad, assuming one gets eight or nine decades:

The generation is not lost, young people simply have more time to get started. Makes sense because people are living so much longer now.

Voice_of_Reason thinks the lack of well-paying jobs is a symptom of diminished power of the employed, a trend that’s been going on awhile:

Even when we have had full employment, wages have not risen for the middle class (although they have, dramatically, for executives). The problem is that even when labor generates substantial productivity gains, labor does not get rewarded for those productivity gains. Why? Because labor has zero power to negotiate wages, so all of the benefits of their work goes to executives and owners.

DOps argues that the older end of the workforce is lost, too:

This has been a lost decade. In addition to the people entering the market and life, we have a whole generation, maybe two, who have seen their retirement savings eroded by two stock market crashes and continue to see that erosion via the political uncertainty and the accommodative Fed policy reducing interest rates to practically zero. Their climb-out will only be made harder by the increased taxes on everything.

Centsorsense says twenty-somes’ decreased birthrate might not just be pessimism, but also due to young people living with their parents:

There is no better birth control in the world than being around your parents.

Prof_Turby is optimistic about his or her son’s future:

My son was married June 23rd of this year.  He and his wife are 24.  She just completed her bachelors in elementary education and is now teaching full time in kindergarten.
My son is 1 class short in receiving his bachelors in biology with a minor in education.
He is working full time at the golf course in grounds maintenance. His goal is to teach biology and coach football in high school.
There are jobs out there for young people if they prepare with an education and don’t get pregnant.  It really is simple.  Education is the key and specializing in a field that has some growth.

But malagasy counters that what looks like a growth field, like nursing did a few years ago, doesn’t have to stay that way:

You seem to be forgetting something very basic- the jobs of both your son and your daughter-in-law depend on the government, i.e. state governments paying the salaries of teachers. With the efforts afoot to massively defund public education, your son and daughter-in-law could well soon find themselves without a job. I know plenty of unemployed teachers because of this very fact, and don’t pretend that the difference could be made up with private schools or charter schools — the whole goal there is to cut costs, and it’s very difficult to find a position.

 jralger feels sorry for the current crop of young adults, because their cars aren’t awesome.  We are trying to figure out if jralger is putting us on, but we love the comment either way:

Growing up in the 1960s, I can tell you that in my neighborhood it wasn’t economic prosperity that influenced the number of kids that people had back then, because when you were as poor as the people in my neighborhood, one more mouth to feed wasn’t that big of a deal. Thing is though, back then we had cool cars. Hot Rods! And we had fun driving them. It was like our entire outlook was based more on the car you drove than your position in life. And there was a kind of passion out there. And my guess here is that what has really changed, for this younger generation of today, is how they look at what they drive. For reports today say that today’s young people are disconnected from it. And perhaps this is where our breakdown in the family starts. As perhaps today’s youth think that a MiniVan is what you are stuck with if you are to have a family.  

For more on this, PostScript urges you to check out Anne Hull’s story about a teenager determined to pull herself out of poverty but finding some rungs broken on the economic ladder.