As time moves on, we get new things to consider in United States social organization. Three articles, one each from May, June, and July, point that out.
The first, “How to Raise an American Adult,” by Nebraska U.S. Senator Ben Sasse on May 5th in The Wall Street Journal, talked about “how he and his wife are encouraging their own children to become fully formed, independent grown-ups.” That was a good idea, but the rest of the subtitle, “many young Americans are locked in perpetual adolescence,” not so much. It is true that the shares of those under 35 living with parents, and not getting established in careers or marriages, are still rising. Sasse cited the percentage of those aged 25 to 29 still at home being up from 18% in 2006 to 25% last year, and, of a wider age group, the portion of those 18 to 34 living with parents now exceeding that “living with a spouse or partner in their own household.” All of this, though, was in the first 500 words of the five-page story, which went downhill from there and did not recover. Sasse disposed of the overwhelming reason for these trends by saying “the economy has something to do with it, of course,” but then blamed technology, prosperity, and “our reluctance to expose young people to the demands of real work.” He said, 180 degrees from reality, that “too many of our children simply don’t know what an adult is anymore,” and seemed to recommend imposing artificial difficulty to “embrace the pain of work.” True, personal responsibility is critical, but it is more important to realize that people consistently choose the paths available to them, which has explained every difference from the success of the “Greatest Generation,” many of whom were forced into heroism and then greeted into careers with open arms by a country with massive pent-up consumer demand and a clear path worldwide, to the slow-growing Millennials, who in their teens and twenties were consistently unwanted in the job market.
The second piece, the strangely titled “Trump is not destiny. Here’s what is,” featured Robert J. Samuelson telling us, in The Washington Post on June 11th, that social capital, which he called “an obscure academic term” (either in error, or he never heard of Bowling Alone), is weakening. He cited a recent Joint Economic Committee report which found Americans were less inclined to join with others in “family life, the workplace, religion and community.” The figures he named were a mixture of new and old, valid and questionable, and did not address recent trends, but did succeed in showing that many quantitative proxies for social capital, since about 1970, are still way down. For example, from that year to 2015 the percentage of American children raised by one parent has gone up from 15% to 31%, while single mothers’ share of births went from 11% to 40%. He also stated that the 70% members of a church or synagogue has now become 55%, though I would like to know how increased Southern nondenominational megachurch attendance, without affiliation in the conventional sense, is reflected here. To no surprise, those having much confidence in civic institutions are in the minority, with Congress bringing up the rear at 6%.
We don’t know where we are headed with the lack of social capital, but one thing is happening that rates to help. That is the emergence of Generation Z. Those in and around each age cohort have sought to avoid the excesses and mistakes of the last. Baby Boomers, who grew up in the most child-centric time of our country’s history and often chose college majors which did not help them find good jobs, were followed by Generation X children who were ignored, and became the most careerist cohort to date. The parents of Millennials saw this neglect and bubble-wrapped their progeny, who became, instead of a group rife with loners, generally outstandingly cooperative. And now Generation Z, lacking an agreed-on definition but likely to be born from roughly 1999 to 2019, are starting to reach workplaces. In contrast to their older brothers and sisters, they have received few delusions about being special, and are willing to start at the bottom, pay their dues, and move up – much like early Baby Boomers or those in the Silent Generation preceding them. This is one of two main ideas in “You Need To Treat Generation Z Well And Loyalty Will Be Your Reward,” by Nick Morrison in Forbes on July 3rd. The other is that those now approaching age 20 will expect and need good training programs, to help them develop their skills. Per Morrison, they will be more likely to stay with employers than the job-hopping Millennials, but will need their abilities to be used. That sounds like a fair deal to me. It is too early to tell, but it would logically follow that Generation Z (which needs a better name) people will leave their parents’ homes earlier, if they are sanctioned to support themselves, and, with their marriages being earlier, will become the best young sources of social capital we have seen since the Silents. Possibly they will make my 20-year-old prediction, of people coming to value in-person interaction and activities more than the online kinds, which may be seen as inferior or at least dully ordinary propositions, finally come true. That would be a good thing for the United States, and, if they and their children can get hired in large numbers, or prosper through guaranteed income or unpaid ventures, may spell the end of suggesting any special ways of raising American adults. That may be as well as we can do, so let’s watch the next 20 years – and hope.