Tuesday, October 13, 2009

under 40 in america

According to this article, less than a third of adult Americans under age 35 earn enough money to be fully self-supporting and a third live with their parents.

When Ben Bernanke says the recession is "very likely over," it is just another perfect example of how a technical term like "recession" fails to explain anything real about the "real economy" or about life in America. By many criteria--including increased student loan obligations and fierce global competition--the average 20 or 30 something in our country has it worse than previous generations, and yet for some inexplicable reason, it seems as if this same generation has been exposed to higher expectations in regard to careers and life choices.

Where do these expectations come from? Can we blame it all on Hollywood film and TV advertising? Could it be that even the parents, teachers, coaches, and other "leaders" of our young adults are getting their information from the same flimsy sources or televised news? Are political leaders participating in this national ignorance by recognizing that pessimistic expression is rarely a vote getter? To what extent does our cultural rite and obligation of "optimism" obfuscate reality? If we tell our children to become nurses and engineers are we solving the problem of generational underemployment? What should we say to anyone under 40? Do the parents of these grown children owe them an apology or at least a place to sleep? The above article also reports that 60 percent of grandparents provide some financial support to their children with children. What will happen if and when these wells run dry?

When I graduated from college in 1991, the unemployment rate was around nine percent, about a point lower than it is today, and I met a lot of college grads with good degrees (Swathmore, UPenn, solid state schools, and other competitive universities) feeling fortunate to be employed with full health benefits at $6.25 per hour for a national bookstore chain. Return to the same bookstore today, and I can't tell you if the workers are commonly in possession of a four-year college degree, but I can tell you that very few of the new hires receive full-time hours or health benefits. The wage itself is higher but has not kept up with the rate of inflation.

The push for health coverage is an important one, but the push for jobs is more immediate and more critical. Although the goal is to insure more Americans, a real success of any legislation that passes will be that it creates jobs for Americans. If it creates jobs... and, of course, if it passes.

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