Someday, today’s 20-somethings will call their elders to account.
They will say:
“We faced the worst economic shock since World War II – and you accepted it as a problem without a solution.
“You lamented burdening us with debt, even as you refused to consider economic policies that might enable us ever to pay it.
“You worried over non-existent inflation even as we spent years out of work.
“As we lost our start in life, you protected Medicare for yourselves.
“You condemned us to a half-decade of idleness, then reproached us as video-game-playing slackers.”
Of all the things that have surprised me about the economic crisis that began almost four summers ago, the most surprising thing of all has been the indifference of American political and policy elites to the trauma of the generations below them. The elders tell the young what they should be worried about (the national debt) but refuse to listen when the young try to tell us what they actually are worried about: the waste of their first years, the forfeit of life opportunities.
A recent column puts the matter well:
Since the collapse of the mortgage bubble in 2008 and the advent of the Great Recession, the huge unemployment problem that is now dogging the U.S. economy has fallen disproportionately heavily on the shoulders of younger generations. The unemployment rate among teenagers in the United States, after going all the way down to 13 percent at the end of the dot-com era, rocketed after 2008 and remains persistently above 25 percent.
Actually, new graduates have faced dismal job prospects since 2007. Most recent graduates don’t show up in unemployment statistics because they don’t collect benefits. Some have chosen to go to graduate school in order not to be looking for work in an extremely difficult environment, while others have moved in with their parents and taken up part-time or unskilled work. In addition to 8 million jobs lost since the start of 2008, there have also been millions of jobs not created to accommodate the natural rate of expansion of the labor force. In all, there have now been three graduating classes without meaningful work, the Class of ’11 is hardly going to fare better and economists believe that the labor market will remain depressed for another several years. When employers begin hiring entry-level workers once more, they will opt for new graduates rather than for people who had spent years looking for work.
With new employment numbers due at the end of this week, we at FrumForum decided that the time was opportune to listen to the voices of this new generation at risk. Over the next days, we will be featuring a number of their first-person stories in this space. If their experience is yours, we welcome you to join the conversation at Editor@FrumForum.com.
In part 1 of this exclusive series, Luke Johnson argues that contrary to the theory of lazy, responsibility-free “pre-adulthood” twentysomethings, today’s college graduates have to be more adult-like at an earlier age.