Friday, December 11, 2009

Young people, economic contraction, and intergenerational "warfare"

In my last blog post, "Surviving Peak Oil on a Budget", I linked to an article in passing about a young, recent college graduate, who graduated "magna cum laude" (top of her class), from George Washington University, who applied to 60 businesses without gaining employment. It was to reflect how bad things were getting out there, and was a kind of "Exhibit A" or "B" or "C" as to why you should educate yourself on the facets of this new economic reality that we're living in, and try to adopt a new paradigm (or, to put it simply, a "plan B") rather than cling to the old one and hope for the best, even while it's becoming more and more obvious that things are taking a big turn for the worst every day.

Now that I've taken the smile off your face, let me continue. Anyway, while I did mention the article in passing, I found the article (upon a 2nd reading) to be of enough substance to merit a blog entry of its own. Between articles on the dire outlook for gainful employment among our young college graduates (including yours truly), and reading forums and message boards, stories like Melissa Meyer's are becoming a dime a dozen. People went to college in droves over this past decade (and got in debt, sometimes financial ruin, thanks to the easy loans provided by our government, but that's a whole other can o'worms for another blog entry), with high expectations that a well-paying job would await them soon after graduation. Between the rapid outsourcing of many white-collar jobs and the (now) clear widespread error that there could be close to enough office jobs for a massive flow of college grads (good economy or not), these expectations have been dashed in a big way. While college enrollment is currently surging, it is my prediction that as it becomes clearer and clearer to many that the good times are gone and never to return, it will also become clear that the value of a college degree has become wildly inflated. When a halfway smart person calculates the future value of a degree (in other words, what the degree will give them in wages and benefits vs. the perceived value of a degree based on tuition, interest, and all the other visible and invisible costs of a degree) and determines that it simply is not worth the investment, the college system (for lack of a better term, forgive me, I'm sleep-deprived) as we know it will collapse. In this, I am not even considering the earth-shaking event I have blogged about many times known as Peak Oil (PO) and its impact on the college system.

So, as we can already tell based on present stories that we are reading about, economic reality does not care if you graduated "magna cum laude" from GWU, or graduated with a 2.0 GPA from Bumfuck U., your circumstances probably will not be that different. But I have talked about this before, albeit not to this length, I believe. What I have not talked about, and what I found interesting towards the end of this article, and what it strongly hinted at as a glimpse into many households, is the possibility of intergenerational conflict. I don't mean literal battles between our elders and our fellow whipper-snappers, in which the former try to beat the latter unruly mobs off with their canes and walkers. I am talking about something much more intricate, and that shows itself in a family like Melissa Meyer's. In the near-future, I believe that with our steady economic contraction, the dream of the average twentysomething to leave home and pull up roots of his or her own will become steadily more difficult to do. Obviously, if well-paying employment becomes scarce and harder to obtain, it'll be harder to buy a home or rent an apartment. So, it's quite possible that multigenerational living will become more common than it has been. It actually was quite common in the U.S. until the post World War II period. (From anacedotal knowledge, I believe it's actually common in most other parts of the world, or at least, living home with the folks doesn't carry the stigma it does here in the States).

Anyway, I'm digressing, big-time. I feel that as more and more children move back home due to the staggering costs of living, or never leave home at all, tensions will run more rampant among the old and the younger of the households. Older people will feel a resentment towards their children for dashing their own dreams of retirement, and sharing an "empty nest" without their kids. They will be financially pulling the load for what they perceive to be their useless brethren, and will not respect them while wondering, "why couldn't they achieve the dream like we did?", while not realizing that they are living in a time warp and in that the world they are living in is one in which traditional notions of economic growth will no longer be possible.

In turn, younger people will resent their parents for this reason, along with a heavy amount of self-loathing that their standard of living is much, much lower than their parent's was. They will spend a long time blaming themselves, as well as each other, while it's really neither of their faults.

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