Friday, October 14, 2011
Friday Rant: Generation Screwed
In my June 21st post, “$100,000 in Student Loan Debt, Can’t Find a Job,” I wrote about Leslie, the young recent graduate of a Masters program who stayed with my wife and me for a few days this past summer during her frustrating search for a job. During our conversations about her situation, Leslie bemoaned that her financial situation and her inability to secure decent employment despite her education was endangering her life’s goals of getting married, buying a house, starting a family and planning for retirement.
As I recounted in my last update on Leslie’s situation a couple of months ago, she had landed a temp position with a charitable organization and was optimistic that it would lead to something more permanent. Not so, unfortunately. Today Leslie is unemployed again. Because she lives in New York City she’s been spending a lot of her time recently attending the Occupy Wall Street protests, and I applaud her for that. She has also decided to join military to help pay off her student loans. This was a particularly agonizing decision for her, because like me she opposes America’s war policies. Leslie’s situation is, of course, hardly unique among the people of her generation, which is no doubt why the Occupy movement has caught on so quickly and spread like wildfire all over the country.
It’s ironic that my father’s generation, those referred to as the “Lost Generation” sandwiched between the so-called “Greatest Generation” and the Baby Boomers, were the ones who actually benefitted the most from the cheap oil era. Those Americans born from the mid-1920s to the early 1940s managed to miss being caught up in the carnage of World War Two and came of age during the greatest period of economic expansion ever witnessed in human history. For these fortunate individuals, peak oil and the impending end of economic growth did not arrive until they were well into their sunset years.
The Baby Boomers were nearly as lucky. Those born from the mid-1940s to the early 1960s grew up with the abundance that resulted from America’s postwar economic boom as cheap oil allowed America to build the car centric suburbs as we know them today. The middle class expanded rapidly and a majority of Americans began living the “American Dream” of a house, two cars, regular vacations, a good retirement and the promise that their children would have it even better than they did. Not until they approached retirement age did the cheap oil party end and the hangover began.
My generation, originally aptly called the 13th Generation, but later morphing into “Generation X,” came along just as the idyllic picture of the American Dream was beginning to fray around the edges. Those born from the 1960s to the early 1980s for the most part enjoyed the same abundance growing up as did the Baby Boomers, unless we were children of blue collar workers whose jobs began being exported overseas in the quest for globalization. For the first time since World War Two, the economic divide between those with a college education and those without began to widen, and working class Gen-X’ers were the first ones to feel it. For us the full blown crisis is now hitting as we enter middle age.
And finally, we come to the Millennials, also known as Generation Y. The oldest of the children born between the mid-1980s and the early 2000s from middle class families are the ones just now graduating from college with huge student loan debts only to find that they now face a jobs crisis even worse than the one that plagued the blue collar kids the generation before them. This is the generation that never had a chance to get started with life before the financial tsunami hit them.
From the time they were little children the Millennials have been told by everyone—their parents, their teachers, the media and even the politicians—that if they studied hard, didn’t make waves and got a good education that their reward would be the ability to live the same American Dream that their parents lived. The propaganda was so strongly instilled within them that many, usually with their parents’ blessing, were willing to take on an insane amount of debt in order to get stamped their ticket to the good life.
And now they are stuck. Like those blue collar kids a generation ago, the college age Generation Y’ers are learning that the game has fundamentally changed and the doors to the life they are seeking have been permanently barred. For what America is now experiencing is NOT just a routine downturn in the business cycle, but the beginning of a long era of economic contraction. The prosperity of the previous era that ran for approximately 60 years from the late-1940s to the first decade of the 21st century was a historical aberration enabled by a brief moment in which vast amounts of cheap oil fueled a boom that will never be seen again.
Given the damage that fossil fuel exploitation has wrought upon the natural world, I do not mourn the passing of our modern industrial civilization. Perhaps if we had used the blessings of modern technology to create a more egalitarian and sustainable society instead of just producing massive amounts of useless fucking junk for the maximum possible profit I might feel differently. In short, I do not deplore the Millennials being robbed of their chance to become middle class consumer zombies, but instead the fact that they have been repeatedly LIED to and sold down the river by the generations before them. EAT THE RICH, says the sign in the picture above. It could just as easily have read, EAT THE OLD.
So this is one Generation X-er who would like to apologize to the Millennials like Leslie, those young men and women of great expectations who have so cruelly had their hopes and dreams wrestled away from them by their thoughtless and greedy predecessors. For they are truly, Generation Screwed.