Friday, May 13, 2011

The Screwed Generation

By Alan Caruba

June is famous for weddings and graduations. Both are filled with great expectations and both are subject to great disappointments.

Today’s college graduates are thoroughly screwed. According to Matthew Segal, the president of a non-profit membership organization called Our Time, “With 85% of college graduates moving back home and an average debt of $22,900 per student, thousands are staring at a bleak economic future.” You think?

Aren’t these the eager, besotted youngsters who, at age 18, voted for Barack Hussein Obama as if he were the Second Coming? In the words of Herman Cain, a GOP presidential contender, how did that work out?

“New college graduates,” said Segal, “are entering an economy with an almost 17% unemployment rate for Americans under the age of 30.” Despite that and other horrible statistics, Segal insists “We know there is still a bright future out there…” Oh, yeah? High unemployment. Having to move back home. Graduating with a huge debt. That’s not my definition of a bright future.

I graduated college in 1959. When I got out, what awaited all able-bodied young men was the Draft. Before I could think about utilizing my precious diploma, I had to get two years in the U.S. Army behind me and to my surprise it was some of the best post-graduate education one could imagine. And it was mandatory.

My “career” didn’t take off until I joined the staff of a weekly newspaper and, since the editor left within three months or so, I became the editor! Here again, the education I received was invaluable. All small towns and cities pretty much have to deal with the same political, educational, policing, and other issues.

I “graduated” to a daily newspaper and, after a few years concluded that there was no real money to be made. In this respect, I was way ahead of my time as the Internet would decimate newspaper circulations, decimate editorial staffs, and affect the writing craft to the point that rendered it a very bad career choice.

For those graduating from high school at age seventeen or eighteen this year, it means they were born in 1994 or 95. They were ten or eleven years old on September 11, 2001; old enough to know that something terrible had happened, killing thousands of Americans who probably thought they were not at war with militant Islam. Since then, this generation has not known a day of peace.

For most young men, though, the option to avoid service—an all-volunteer military—had been made by Congress in 1973. So, Generation X, born 1965-1980, and Generation Y, born 1981 to 1995, and the current generation were largely spared serving in the military. You tend to pay closer attention to what is happening in the real world if it means you may have to fight a war. The miracle is that we have a million men and women in uniform who somehow absorbed the values of earlier generations.

A subject of growing contention is the way the nation’s educational system has been “dumbed down” since the 1960s or the growth of “political correctness” that thwarts addressing issues involving ethnicity, ancestry, religious faith, and gender. Nor is there much discussion of the way colleges and universities have become sausage factories squeezing parents and working students for every dollar, pushing them through, and conferring degrees that, with the exception of the professions, often have dubious value.

This new generation is very “connected” in ways earlier ones could never imagine. Facebook, MySpace, and all manner of other Internet machinery have transformed how they perceive themselves and the world. It has not, however, significantly educated them in the traditional sense of the word.

They will doff their caps and gowns and go home to mom and dad. A friend of mine graduated from Georgetown University in 1982 after working his way through. He recently calculated that it cost $232,000 to graduate today. What teenager could ever take on such a burden and why should their parents be expected to shell out the kind of money that could purchase a second home?

Today’s graduate is not likely to see any return on the money he or she pays into Social Security or Medicare. The dollars they earn will have diminished in value from those of my time or my friend’s.

It can be argued that it was no picnic for earlier generations, but they at least had a Constitution that wasn’t being ignored and dismembered.

They had, despite the occasional short-lived recession, a healthy economy, a rational national debt, and presidents who, with the exception of people like Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, didn’t see their job as plundering the public treasury for so-called “social justice” and environmental programs based on liberal pipedreams.

Welcome to the world of faltering economies from here to Greece and back again.

Welcome to outsourced jobs.

Welcome to rapacious bankers making money on housing loans they knew were bad for those in search of the American Dream.

Welcome to useless pat-downs every time you fly.

Welcome to “reality TV” and vulgar “entertainment”.

In these and so many other ways, this new generation is thoroughly screwed.

© Alan Caruba, 2011


James said...

I hear that loud and clear, sir. I happen to be one of the current crop of college students, and I've already made up my mind about my future as a language teacher. Most other students I know are more concerned about things that don't concern them and that they can't make any impact on, and don't know what they're going to do with their lives after college. Youth is fun, but it can be pretty stupid sometimes. I've said it to people, as you have to your readers: my generation is indeed screwed.

Alan Caruba said...

@James: I am confident you will do well in life, no matter what curves it throws your way.

It took me a very long time to figure out everything about a career, the world around me, the forces at work. I am glad I lived long enough to pass along a bit of that to others.

Tremaine said...

Some of us can't join the military. I can't for health reasons. In an age were even the most basic of jobs requires a degree, college is the only chance some of us have. And we pay dearly for it out of our own pockets.

Travis sez said...

I respectfully state that most people who graduate from college at 17 or 18 have genius IQs and they will navigate this calamity. But I was not one of those. Perhaps you meant graduating from high school at that age? Aside from that, you're right on course, as usual.

Alan Caruba said...

@TRavis: Thanks for spotting that error. I messed up the time lines in this commentary that has since been corrected twice.

Guy in Ohio said...

This situation has been developing for some time. My four best friends from High School went on to college. Only one of them is working in a position related to the degree they received. One got a history degree, and is working maintenance in a nursing home, one got a business degree, and is processing insurance claims, and one got a communications degree, and is working in construction.

The only one who is working in his chosen field got an Electrical Engineering degree and managed to find work in his field. And, this all happened back in the EIGHTIES ...

The promise of huge salaries and promising careers draws everyone into the higher educational system, but what they fail to tell you is that the education is nothing more than a tool. It still requires a lot of personal initiative and hard work to build a good career.

Partying your way through college, expecting to land a great job with a big salary and a company car when you get out, just because you have a degree simply doesn't work. It didn't then, and it doesn't now.

Will Harmon said...

This was excellent, thought-provoking commentary as always, Alan. Back when I graduated from high school, not everyone went to college. There were ‘academic’, ‘commercial’, ‘general’, and ‘vocational’ curriculum options to support a variety of interests and capabilities. Somewhere along the way we’ve been sold a bill of goods that everybody needs a college education. Mostly everyone has bought into it. As a result, colleges and universities have become sprawling expanses of bricks and mortar with armies of administrators and well paid faculty who get paid more and more every year for the same effort and the same results. Education is big business and the students are paying dearly for it. To top it off, the quality of a college education isn’t what it used to be. Colleges and universities are dumbing down like the rest of the educational system. The quality of their output is governed by the quality of the incoming raw materials just like any other business. Some kids don’t belong there. Somebody has to pick up the trash. There’s honor and decency in all honest work. That’s the message that ought to be instilled in youngsters and not that they have to have a college education if they are to be ‘successful’ and amount to anything. There are a lot of successful people in this world who never set foot on a college campus.’ And today there are a lot of college graduates flipping hamburgers who could have saved all that money and opened their own hamburger joint.

Alan Caruba said...

@Guy & Will: Good and valid points. I have college faculty friends who tell me this generation feels "entitled" to good jobs and high salaries. The world, however, doesn't work that way. The geniuses who brought about the current recession have ruined a lot of plans for a lot of people.

Guy in Ohio said...

I don't begrudge college grads their degrees. I went to college for a while, but I left when I stumbled into a job in my field. I understand the value of education, but I never felt I had to be educated to any particular level to be successful. When I had learned what I needed and found the job I was looking for, I left and never looked back.

I do, however, have a problem with "educated" people who think they are better than other people or who judge people by their degrees. Many of them will arrogantly trivialize the opinions or beliefs of others, simply because they've achieved a higher level of formal education.

I tend to thumb my nose at them. Most of them, as brilliant as they may be in their chosen field, can't walk and chew gum at the same time.

Lida Vervain said...

Your math regarding the age of current high school graduates is incorrect. Graduating at seventeen or eighteen in 2011 means that they were born after their graduation date in 1992, in 1993, or before it in 1994. Which means they may have been as young as 7 and only at most 9 on 11 September 2001.

Alan Caruba said...

I suck at math.