Friday, December 25, 2009

Book Review: Generation Debt, Why Now Is A Terrible Time To Be Young

I just finished the book Generation Debt: Why It Is A Terrible Time To Be Young.  Honestly I think if you are 18-35 or have a kid in that age range you should read this book. Here are some interesting snippets of the book:

-In 1970 the nations largest employer was GM and the starting wage was 17.50 in today's dollars. Today the largest employer is Walmart and wages start at $8.00.

-One in 8 adults has worked a McJob at McDonald's at some point. Overwhelmingly before they turn 30.

-Roughly 30% of jobs in the US require a 4 year college degree.

-In 1960 roughly 3/4's of grocery store workers were full time and they earned a livable wage and benefits. The other 1/4 were teenagers, moms who wanted to make a few bucks and the like. Now it has flip flopped.

-"It is simply not possible today to work enough to cover college expenses without taking a heavy toll on student academic performance." -Some study by an official organization (TOR notes: forgot to write down who)

-That the majority of young people in this country are wasting years of their lives in low wage, low skill jobs is an economic and moral disaster.

-The cause is not a temporary recession but structural changes in the economy. In income and occupation prestige, young adults are behind where their parents were at their age.

-The new reality is postindustrial, nonunion, service-oriented, highly competitive, highly flexible and technology-dependent.

-Today what is considered a basic standard of living has crept upwards.

TOR here: Lets just for a minute work under the assumption that we aren't going to run out of oil or suffer high altitude EMP blasts or a serious Pandemic or have something else happen which will lead to us all fighting our neighbors for our very survival in a small regional/ clannish structure of post apocalyptic America. Think Mad Max but with a few more bullets and no gas. Even if we aren't bayoneting Mr. Smith from down the block to death in order to keep the last box of Crispix on our street things are not looking great for us.

For a variety of reasons (mainly corporate cost cutting) good jobs have became mediocre jobs and formerly mediocre jobs have became dead end low paying jobs. In 1960 roughly 3/4's of grocery store workers were full time and they earned a livable wage and benefits. The other 1/4 were teenagers, moms who wanted to make a few bucks and the like. Now it has flip flopped. By and large this fairly representative of a significant change in our society. Jobs that 30 or 40 years ago would allow a guy to get married and support a family will now barely pay the rent.

Broadly speaking unions are going the way of the dinosaurs.  The day a nice young man could walk down to GM (our nations largest employer not too long ago) and immediately start earning a livable wage with great benefits for doing a job that could probably be done by a well payed monkey are over. Sorry to say but they are not coming back.

Increasingly these middle class union or union like manufacturing/ miscellaneous jobs are slipping into minimum wage no benefit dead end jobs. The way things are going the two real options are low wage service jobs and the knowledge economy. The lack of a middle ground is leaving a lot more folks slipping backwards instead of going forward. It is not that there are more good jobs or more great jobs but that there are less decent jobs.

I don't think it is fair to call all folks in this age range adultessents or brand them as lazy or shiftless or whatever. I also don't think it is fair for us to just idly sit back and blame the economy or anything else for our situations.

Part of it is our expectations. We want a job that is interesting, emotionally fulfilling and pays well. Realistically we can probably get 1 or 2 of the 3 and we are lucky of pays well is in there.

For this age group who for whatever reason do not have a Bachelors degree the picture is bleak. The traditional 'get a job at the bottom, work hard and go up' which got so many non college grads of my parents era into reasonably comfortable decent paying positions with benefits are few and far between these days. For the older folks you must realize that what worked in your day doesn't work so well now.

I definitely have some thoughts about the future of my generation (again assuming I am not bayoneting the neighbors to keep my cereal) but will leave that for another post.

[Edited to include: I received compensation for last link]


Joseph said...

"For this age group who for whatever reason do not have a Bachelors degree the picture is bleak."
Maybe, but if people try the traditional path you mention then yes. People need to start thinking outside the box and look to other things to succeed in today's world.

For example most go-getters would make more money picking up metal to recycle (old a/c units, metal buildings being tore down, etc) than working at a comfortable job in an office building taking help desk calls. There are so many options but people need to think outside the something different.

cryptical said...

I've read some interesting stuff lately with some ideas about making in the future economy. John Robb over at Global Guerrillas writes some interesting stuff:

theotherryan said...

Joseph, You have a good point. Part of the issue which I forgot to touch on is security. Even people now making good money don't have the security they used to which often prevents them from taking those traditional steps of getting married, having kids and purchasing a home.

Cryptical, I will have to check that out.

Anonymous said...

I'm almost 39 years old. I grew up in a mill town in northern New England. Back in the 60's and early 70's a man could easily graduate from public high school, walk down to the mill, get a good job with good benefits, get married, own a nice home, have a wife and 3 kids with a hunting camp to boot and still have extra cash in the bank. That's not possible anymore. It's just not.

My husband and I have 4 year degrees from pretty nice universities. We have chosen not to have kids. Why? They cost too much money and sometimes we can barely provide for ourselves. We feel it would be irresponsible to have a kid if we can't properly provide for him/her.

Jack said...

I think the best job of the future is the same as the best jobs of the past - in the skilled trades: plumber, electrician, carpenter, mechanic, etc. - no one wants to do blue collar jobs any more so there's little competition, these jobs can't be outsourced, and they can't really be done by unskilled labor = good pay & job security. Young people today should buy a small house on a small plot of land and get a job in the trades. But most people keep pushing that all kids should go to college, where they learn to push paper and go into big debt before they even graduate. Formal education is way over-rated, I've got a master's degree, but I never learned anything I couldn't have found out by reading some books.

theotherryan said...

7:40, Things are sure changing and I wouldn't say it is for the better.

Jack, I can't disagree with you. Then again a lot of what used to be middle class livable wage construction jobs have been taken by illegal immigrants or otherwise low wage workers. The more skilled trades (electricians, plumbers, etc) will do well but the need for them isn't increasing.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, many of today's college "graduates" are functionally illiterate due to government mandates and politically correct requirements.

I speak from experience having employed some of these folks. Although they may have a degree (in some cases even masters degrees) many can't write a simple, correct sentence, and most can't solve simple math problems.

Unfortunately, many of these people got their degrees under "special" programs that offer little or no practical business skills. Consequently, today's degrees don't mean nearly as much as they have in the past.

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