Friday, August 13, 2010

Generation Fucked

(Sorry if an expletive in the title header offends any of you.  I could have censored or "bleeped" it, but chose not to.  One of my great pet peeves is reading an account of something in the paper, of someone saying an expletive or several of them, and the paper will print it as "f---k" or "s--t" or something like that.  I mean, you already gave us half of the letters, virtually everyone can probably make it out for themselves, so really, wby not just print the whole word?)

This is a good article from MSNBC on the ongoing economic crisis facing "the Milliennials", those born in the 1980s and the 1990s.  I don't much believe in generational labels, but in any case, I just missed it, having been born in 1979, but I'm in the same boat as they are.  I have talked about this enough, and the article does a decent job of summing up this quite significant problem, but I just wanted to make a few observations. 

When I was coming of age, society had several ingrained so-called "truths", and it looks like that things haven't really changed that much in 10 or 15 years.  One of them is this expectation that everyone must go to college, "or else".  This is probably a bad example, but I recently was watching this television show in which the mother is telling her 17 or 18 year old daughter that "you better go to college", or something along those lines.  I could see this conversation taking place all across America, so it probably is appropriate.  Another of these "truths" is that having a college degree is essential, since "studies" show that the average college graduate earns roughly a million dollars more over their lifetimes than someone with a high school degree. 

This might have made sense at one point; in a prior post, I talked about the ratio of high school students attending college having increased from something like 1 in 5 (due to the fact that we still made things in this country and had a manufacturing industry, college was not as "essential" then) to 4 in 5.  When 1 in 5 HS graduates attended college, that theory probably held water.  But it'd be a pretty educated guess that things would have to change when nearly everyone graduating high school these days has to do the "paper chase".  How can a college grad earn a million dollars more than a high school graduate when the job market is faced with a tidal glut of college graduates, and a growing amount of white-collar jobs (which many college grads want) are being outsourced to India and other countries?  On top of that, these days, a bachelor's degree does not seem to open a lot of doors, so maybe just a high school diploma is not such a bad thing.  Also, it's free, at least the high school graduate is starting whatever career he has with a clean slate, and not choking on student loan debt that will take half of his life to pay off. 

The sad part, to me, is that it doesn't exactly take a genius to see where this was going.  How can one with a degree expect to be worth so much more than one who doesn't when virtually anyone who wants to can apply to college, as long as they are willing to shoulder a significant debt load (on average, $23,000).  The worst thing our government did in this area was providing loans and grants for students to pursue secondary education.  I know that their intentions might have been good, but the unintended consequence was that as a result of making it easier for kids to attend college, the cost of tuition and every other thing skyrocketed at most every college and university.  I'm sorry for being lazy, but you can easily Google all of this stuff.  I know that the cost of a college education is well above inflation. 

Another interesting thing I got from the article is that many graduates, upon seeing the dismal job market, decide to go back into college and go for their Master's.  Of course, the article points out how foolish this is, as a Master's Degree costs even more than a B.A. and there is still no guarantee that their job prospects will be significantly better with the higher degree.  However, I do see that being a growing trend, at least until the whole house of cards falls; higher education is a bubble, like real estate before it.  It'll be like the military, when someone "re-ups" for a few more years. 

Finally, it's hard to see how the general economy won't be a casualty, partly because of this.  Sure, there are other factors behind this which I have discussed before.  But the U.S. economy is largely dependent on "consumer spending."  How much room will "the Millienials" have for discretionary purchases when they're busy servicing their student loan debts, while working at Mcjobs?  Say bye-bye to the real estate market too. 

No comments: