AUDIO: A Lost Generation?

October 4, 2011

The jobless economy is not easy for anyone who’s looking for work. For America’s rising generation of the young, it can be particularly bewildering – and rates of unemployment are double that of older adults. Where do they put their first foot on the ladder? Where’s the ladder? The October 3 edition of the public radio show On Point looked at America’s young in these tough times.

“We haven’t seen anything like the levels of unemployment” that under-30 year olds are seeing now, said economist Andrew Sum. The drop in employment for this group is higher than the overall drop in unemployment during the Great Depression, according to Sum. And it’s not about money for movies and fun, it’s about job training, early work experience and training  that tend to have long-lasting  impacts on careers and wages.

Highlights from the Show:

Young people today have it rough. The recession has hit them particularly hard. They’re unemployed, or underemployed; they’re moving back home to their parents homes in greater numbers and they’re putting off marriage, childrearing, and home buying as they wait things to improve. All of this has led watchers to call it the “lost generation,” a characterization finds support in the data.

Andrew Sum, Director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, said that past generations have been deeply effected by economic swings. “Over the past decade, the average young American family has seen their annual income fall by 20 percent,” Sum said. Adjusted for inflation, that means that the average young American family earns only as much as a similar family earned in 1959.

“It is not sustainable,” Sum said. “Young people have been left behind.”

That bleak economic picture has contributed to political non-participation by young people, further compounding a societal response to the problem.

“People are so consumed by trying to get by, by trying to pay rent, by trying to pay off debt, by trying to pay for groceries that all of the sudden political engagement and civic participation feels like a luxury,” said Matthew Segal, who heads Our Time a non-profit that advocates for American under the age of 30.

Having advanced degrees but remaining unemployed not only “kills our confidence but it’s kind of a broken promise” says Segal. We leave college only to return back home to live with our parents ... “it’s incredibly demoralizing.”

Yet Millennials remain optimistic because we’re very socially connected and feel we can create change and communicate to get things done faster than ever before. We also feel helpless in the face of so few economic opportunities.

“I often think of a little plane trying to get off the ground and constantly having to return to the runway to try to build up enough speed to take off,” said Patricia Snell Herzog, postdoctoral fellow in the Kinder Institute and co-author of Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood.

Guests:

Andrew Sum, professor of economics and director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.

Patricia Snell Herzog, postdoctoral fellow in the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University and co-author of Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood.

Matthew Segal, president and co-founder of OUR TIME a national non-profit advocacy group that speaks for people under 30.


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