Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Generations and Opportunities

Good morning!  Rainy here in Eldred, but will dry up soon, in time for my running I hope.  I don't care though if it sprinkles a little, or more, if there aren't any thunderstorms.

There was a good Paul Krugman column in the New York Times on Sunday, called "Wasting Our Minds."  He made the point, which I had made in Work's New Age, that what generations do is often a result of their opportunities. 

In particular, we've heard a lot about the "Greatest Generation," (a bit too much, actually, for my taste), born from roughly 1910 to 1925, and how they fought superbly in World War II, which has stood up as the most significant (with the possible exception of the Revolution) American military victory in history.  True, they did a lot and did it very well, but much of it was forced upon them.  They were either drafted or had great social pressure to enlist, were put in a setting of great cooperation and high standards.  They proved equal to what came at them, yet the opportunity was right in front of them, and almost all but the 220,000 who, to be fair, never came back, had more and more prospects than our current young people could believe.  Want to go to school, beyond any educational level you thought you'd reach?  Go, on the G.I. bill.  Want to work in government?  You'll get preferential placement as a veteran.  Want to work somewhere else?  Opportunities galore, most of which would support a family, even if you took several years off first.   

So whose minds did Krugman say are being wasted?  Those of the Millenials, born from about 1980 to 2000.  They have had lives in many ways opposite to the generation above.  They grew up during the prosperity of the 1990s and bubbles of the early 2000s, which pushed their expectations up to levels future economic times could not sustain.  They had no conscription and nothing at all similar of socially-encouraged national or other service.  They became well educated, and expected, consistent with the previous five decades, that they would therefore easily get into the middle class. 

Yet the reality of the Milennials has been different.  The job market, as we know, has been particularly severe on them - with so many good, experienced older people willing to work at entry-level positions, who would hire them?  As a group, they are totally lacking in direction.  Many live with their parents well past college age, something happening to some extent because of their parents wanting to give them things they didn't have, making their homes more comfortable, but mainly due to their lack of careers.  Part-time at Blockbuster is not enough to move out on - or get married and have children on either.

Now something I can't stand is hearing, as I have from several sources, that they are somehow personally deficient.  People take the paths they perceive as available to them.  We are past the point where all good people can get jobs, if they only look in the right place, improve their attitudes, work harder, or anything else.  There are 32 million Americans wanting full-time work who don't have it, and a large share are under 30.  Only a few can be Mark Zuckerbergs. 

What should the bulk of college-educated Millenials do?  Technical school would work for some, but far from most.  Skilled building trades likewise.  Last I heard even the Peace Corps rejected three fourths of its applicants. 

Tell me what you think!

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