Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

Another Generational Head-Scratcher

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Robin Henig wrote a long piece in the NYTimes Magazine about why today’s 20-somethings have yet to reach what she describes as “adulthood,” in words that evoke a similar rant not too long ago.

Again, I note that she spent far more time describing what people wear than the world they inherit: Plenty of time with psychologists but not with economists.

Well, let me give a little bit of insight. What has historically stopped people from leaving their parents’ home? What has historically pushed back the age of “settling down,” getting married and starting a family? Why can’t these 20-somethings start a career?

It’s the economy, stupid.

In times of recession, kids don’t leave home – not because they’re not adults, but because they can’t afford to. The average age a kid left the nest in 1975, during the recession, was 25. We’re none too different now.

In times of recession, it’s almost impossible to start a career, because none are to be found. That’s why the average 20-something today has seven jobs in ten years. Nobody can truly expect to hold a job that long. Who the hell has job security nowadays?

And if you don’t have money, how the hell are you supposed to start a home? It’s not a state of mind indicative of a creche culture in the modern society, it’s cold hard facts of money.

The subject of the economy got a scant three sentences in a ten page article. Robin Henig should spend less time noting the details of our day to day lifestyles and more time acknowledging the 400lb gorilla in the room.

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  • Published: Jun 15th, 2010
  • Category: Society
  • Comments: 3

Generation “Me”

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Not terribly long ago, Judith Warner and Lisa Belkin whined on the New York Times that Generation Y, the Millenials, born from 1982 onwards, have an inflated opinion of themselves and are spoiled brats who are incapable of putting their noses to the grindstone and work in today’s economy.

Ironic position: A couple of boomers who work for a dying industry giving reactionary vitriol. It’s like physically watching someone lose relevance.

But because it strikes home, what with me being an under-employed 20-something with a massive ego and all, I’m inclined to fire right back, so here goes: Women, you’re dead wrong not only about my generation but about the economy my generation is so “haughtily” rejecting.

  • We do not job-hop. We are forced to move jobs constantly because promotion within the office is practically unheard of and job security is non-existent. With 35 years of de-unionization and the most severely depressed job market since the Great Depression, there is no guarantee that, five years down the line, the office will be loyal to you, so there is no incentive (and indeed very much a risk) for you to be loyal to the office. Every recession since boomers became politically prominent has resulted in a drop in employment. Every recovery has not seen a corresponding rise in employment. When those offices found they could still work with a smaller workforce, they learned not to hire. When they realized that massive unemployment means anybody will jump at temp work, they stopped offering full-time jobs with benefits. We’re a generation of freelancers not out of choice, but out of necessity.
  • We do not reject good work. There is no good work. Skilled blue-collar jobs have almost entirely dried up and most white-collar offices hire legions of unpaid interns, depressing the job market in just the sorts of entry-level positions the young and newly-educated require, thus forcing those of us who are independently wealthy into a form of modern indentured servitude while forcing those of us who are not independently wealthy into other professions (mostly of the severely underpaid pink collar variety). We cannot afford to work for less than a living wage, so it should come to no surprise that if we’re to work for work’s sake, we would expect there to be intrinsic benefits involved – that the work pleases us politically, for instance, or that it interests us intellectually.
  • We do not oversell ourselves. Our generation has paid more for education than anybody in the history of mankind and received less training than every previous American generation. The boomers could expect to have government-subsidized tertiary education which they could use to study liberal arts with the assumption that the future jobs they held would train them (and pay them!) on the spot. Our generation has saddled themselves with more debt than any other and then applied for those same jobs, except now those employers expect all training to be done on the applicant’s dime prior to employment. If we seem inexperienced to the travails of the market according to boomers, perhaps it’s because there’s no means to gain it and pay for our education.

Now, neither Warner nor Belkin have specifically mentioned this in their topics of complaint, but it’s on the same line of reasoning:

  • We are not politically apathetic. We’re just prematurely cynical towards a political climate that’s stuck on boomer issues, filled with aging boomers that have been in the beltway since before we were born and known most of all for having given themselves tax breaks while raiding the budget put in place by the generation before them (thanks, Reaganomics!), on the expectation that our generation is to be comparatively “austere.” (That term’s getting popular. Who wants to bet some marketing company was commissioned to replace “budget cuts” with “austerity” in order to soften the lexiconic blow?)
  • We are not socially apathetic. We just express our outrage at the current culture differently than that other ignored generation (Remember Generation X? Specifically, remember why it was called Generation X?).  They tuned out. We’re more sneaky. There’s a reason social satire is more common now than sincere speech.

Simply put, we’re not haughty. We just refuse to supplicate ourselves to the rules of a generation that has given us the corporate consumer culture that so threatens to eat us alive on the argument that they meant well some 40-odd years ago. You made this bed, ladies. You can’t complain when we sleep on it.

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