Lost generations tend to come and go. They generally get lost, find their way and themselves, and move on in life. The most lost, of course, never do find an exit and remain in the Valley of the Lost for most or all of their existences.
At the risk of overly dramatizing the situation, America is experiencing what some are calling a new lost generation, a generation which is unique in that the plight of the affected is not only not of their own making but shows no signs it will end in their lifetimes.
The original “Lost Generation” of post-World War One, the era of the Jazz Age when writers such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Dos Passos and a various others began to express their jaded views of life and society in their novels, was supplanted by various lost pretenders but today we have a unique breed.
They are lost not because of emotional and physical injuries wreaked on them by war or by the drug culture or other factors but by a national economy which has yet to reflect any substantive recovery from what is now being termed the “Great Recession” chiefly as an excuse for the failed policies visited upon them by President Barack Hussein Obama and the Federal Reserve.
Nevertheless, lost or not, the young in entreprenurial America have something going for them their elders do not, their youth from which hope springs eternal.
Ron Brownstein capsulized the root issue of the dilemma facing the new lost generation in his article, “Upside Down,” subtitled, “Why millennials can’t start their careers and baby boomers can’t end theirs” in the National Journal: “It’s hard to say this spring whether it’s more difficult for the class of 2011 to enter the labor force or for the class of 1967 to leave it.” In brief, the Boomers can’t retire so the Millenials can’t take their jobs.
It may be difficult to say but the Baby Boomers certainly have the advantage over not only this year’s graduating high school and college kids but over the graduates of the last decade or two. As a result of the continuing and worsening economy with its attendant collapse of the housing market and severe blows to investments and savings, the Boomers may be stuck in their jobs indefinitely–but they have jobs and careers, unlike the up-and-comers who are beginning to look more like down-and-outers.
Brownstein provides some relevant stats: A current 17% youth unemployment rate and contrasts that dismal figure with numbers from the 1950s when young people comprised 52% of the labor force versus 41% of older Americans which ballooned to a gap of 30% by the ’90s when youth employment began a freefall.
Brownstein writes that, “Since December 2006, the employment-to-population rate for young people has fallen by a dizzying 10 percentage points, . . . much sharper than in previous recessions” and has reduced ”the share of employed young people to the lowest levels in 60 years.” (http://bit.ly/mG9rLZ)
What Brownstein surprisingly fails to mention is the youth underemployment and “involuntary part-time” rates involving untold numbers of young college grads forced to slap up burgers at Mickey D’s or deliver Domino’s pizzas after they and their parents spent small fortunes getting them educated for much bigger things.
To be sure, there are other elements in play in the youth unemployment-underemployment picture including illegal aliens glomming unskilled work and the salutary but job-killing economic benefit of greater productivity in American industry which counts for little to a young person looking for a real job.
A relatively few, lucky, and highly-qualified grads will still find positions today. The best bet for the others, for high school kids today, is a route many are contemplating, chucking the whole idea of spending gobs of money on an over-priced college education and possibly being in debt up to their ears. They’d be better off learning a worthwhile trade or joining a good union and partying at home instead.
Graduating collegians, having learned little or nothing anyway according to recent studies, might consider following suit. They could hope Baby Boomers start dying in droves or they could write a few blockbuster novels as the first Lost Generationers did.