Hang around enough people in their mid-twenties and you will hear them lament their severely diminished prospects post graduation from college. You will hear all of the statistics about obscene levels of college debt, and reduced employment opportunities caused by corporations concerned more with “profits than people.” The American Dream is dead for them, they say, replaced by a future of permanently stifled expectations. Since most kids fresh out of college are dependably liberal politically, they normally blame some sort of conservative Republican, big business, Koch brothers, anti-union, cabal for their troubles. Although the Occupy movement has fizzled out, I expect it will make a comeback as more and more French Poetry majors graduate and discover fewer and fewer jobs available or suitable for their skill sets.
On some level, I have sympathy for kids about to enter the job market right now. My generation, the famously narcissistic Baby Boomers have been an abject failure in government. The decisions we have made have indeed screwed up the country in ways great and small, and this fact isn’t the fault of our kids. They are just the ones who will be forced to live with our failures. However, before I have to read any more sad-sack, woe is me hand wringing from the twenty-somethings, a little perspective is in order.
When my father came of age in the 1940’s, his prospects included an economy still reeling from the Great Depression, and his government requesting his assistance fighting a two front war for our nation’s very existence, not exactly the fast track to fame and fortune. Yet, somehow he managed to get married, start a family and thrive. My brother, who is ten years older than me, became an adult about the time when his college contemporaries were getting gunned down at Kent State and either burning their draft cards, or being shipped off to Vietnam, a future just slightly less murky and troublesome than our Dad’s. Then there’s me.
When I graduated from the University of Richmond in 1981, I did so with close to $25,000 of college debt, a terrifying sum of money back then, adjusted for inflation. When I got married a couple of years later, as part of her dowry, I inherited my wife's college debt of nearly $12,000. Again, adjusted for inflation, it compares favorably to the “mountains of debt” I keep hearing about these days so, cry me a river. Speaking of inflation, when Pam and I started having kids and needed something bigger than a two bedroom apartment; our first house came with a 12.75% interest rate mortgage. The Jeep Cherokee I bought to carry around the two car seats cost me 16% to finance. Oh, and incidentally, there was no such thing as “no money down” financing. But, somehow I managed to pay back my student loans, although it took over ten years, and we ate beans and franks for dinner many a night to make ends meet, but meet they did. We had no choice, if we wanted to build a life.
The point I am trying to make here is that every generation that has ever lived has faced daunting challenges. There is nothing new under the sun. Kids entering the work place today face challenges as well, but there is nothing uniquely debilitating about their lot that comes close to justifying such doomed expectations. Cheer up, guys. Face life with excitement and great expectations. You have cell phones in your hands that bring the wisdom of the world to your fingertips. This is an advantage that no generation in the world has enjoyed. Make use of it.
I, unlike most of you, expect tremendous things from you guys. In fact, I’m counting on it!