It's Harder for Your Generation

By Mary Ellen Slayter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 26, 2006

Tamara Draut does not think frustrated young adults are "whiny." Or "lazy." Or "spoiled." Or any of the other insults that are routinely tossed at them by their elders these days.

"Most young people aren't having crises of self-actualization," said Draut, director of the Economic Opportunity Program at Demos, a think tank in New York. "They're having crises of 'how am I going to put food on the table and support my family and still better myself through education?' "

Where many pundits, career coaches and authors see an epidemic of entitlement, Draut sees a completely justifiable sense of unease. "The path to adulthood for today's young adults is a full-blown obstacle course of loop-de-loop turns and jagged-edge hurdles," she writes in "Strapped" (Doubleday, $22.95), her effort to explain why things are so tough for young adults today and what we could do to fix it.

To her, the problems are institutional, not personal. "Far too often, social critics place the blame squarely on our shoulders, maligning everything from our work ethic to our spending habits. If only it were that simple."

Draut, who is in her 30s herself, does not rely on anecdote to prove her point. Instead, she points to the numbers:

· Inflation-adjusted earnings for males age 25 to 34 with a high school diploma dropped from $42,630 in 1972 to $29,647 in 2002. Their college-educated peers saw their earnings slide from $52,087 to $48,955.

· Median rents in the nation's biggest cities, the very places young adults are likely to launch their careers, rose more than 50 percent from 1995 to 2002. The median percentage of their income that young adults can expect to spend on rent jumped from 17 percent in 1970 to more than 22 percent in 2002. It's no surprise to Draut, then, that so many "boomerang kids" find themselves back in their parents' homes long after they have graduated from college, much less high school.

· Almost half of all temp workers in this country are age 18 to 34.

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