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On a Lost Decade for Young American Workers

by paving Wed Sep 2nd, 2009 at 04:18:14 AM EST

An interesting link was recently posted in the Salon that captured something that is very rarely discussed in the US media.  The notion that for young workers, this is a lost decade resonates strongly with my personal experience.

I'm a 30 year-old American who has been in the workforce since 1998.  Everything in that article rings as absolutely true.
Speaking entirely for my age group (and anecdotally but with education):

  • Most people continue to live with their families after age 18.  They either stay home for a 1-3 years while attending local community colleges/state schools or stay home while working to earn enough to move out on their own.  In the parts of the country with lower cost of living this is on the lower end and in almost all cities this is on the higher end.  It appears to me that this has become even more common in the years since I left home.

  • For those who move away to attend 4-year colleges easily 50% spend at least 6 months back home with their family immediately after school.  Others "helicopter" back home for 6-18 months at some point within the next 3-4 years, usually after a city relocation or job goes bust and they need some time to get back on their feet.

  • Earnings, on average, have not improved at all in the past 10 years.  Someone who is working a good job, with years of experience and with actual responsiblities is making basically the same amount of money they made 10 years ago and often slightly less when adjusted for inflation.  It is a small percentage, 10-20%, who have seen the kind of income growth one might've expected in previous generations.

  • Job stability is very low.  Since 1998 I have worked in six different jobs, all "professional" by nature.  I have rarely seen people promoted up the ranks in any meaningful way.  In the US you typically leave your position for another company if you want a significant promotion or a meaningful raise (ie more than inflation).

  • Outside of cities/regions with declining populations and the South there is little expectation of home ownership.  The majority of people under 35 who purchase property are doing so with family assistance.  Most people, even educated, reasonably successful professionals with years of work experience cannot afford a 2br apartment of their own to rent or even a 1br in cities (LA/NYC/SF/DC) where salaries are better.

  • Most people with college degrees have at least 20k in student loan debt and 5-10k in credit card debt.

All of these realities crystallize and are key drivers for the opinion trends you find in political surveys and last year's elections.  

  • Younger people are concerned about health insurance because they can't rely on their employers to provide it.  

  • They have little expectation of being "in charge" at work (or particularly well-paid) and instead tend to seek out work that is more fulfilling as consolation.

  • They don't feel they are represented at all by the political establishment.  There are no decisions made politically in the US that seem to benefit us in anyway.  Obama at least paid lip service to this hence his massive victory in my age group.

  • The banks/corporate CEO's and other villains are stand-ins for many people for the Baby Boomer generation.  Their living standard is much higher on the whole and they are everybody's boss.  

It strikes me as strange that many people's parents/that generation is willing to give the younger people hand-outs (paying their rent, car insurance, etc, well into the 20's) but not willing to give them the opportunity to earn it on their own.  

Anyone who can do math can see that their living standard will be much lower than that of their parents generation.  I think the lack of economic opportunity is a huge reason why they are so interested in public service, political activism, climate change/green living and other ways to make an impact in their society.  They simply feel there is no other way to make a mark.

Comments >> (43 comments)

Another way to address the "burqa situation" in France

by paving Tue Jun 23rd, 2009 at 03:56:14 PM EST

I think I missed out on the burqa conversation yesterday but I wanted to offer a way other than a ban that this issue could be addressed.

What the French want to do is to prevent girls and women from being forced by their various religious communities to wear a certain dress.

A very American solution would be to focus on protecting the rights of girls and women to opt-out of these requirements.  This could be achieved by levying major penalties for discrimination against women who ignore the burqa rules, etc.  Consider making persecution of those who choose not to dress in this manner akin to a 'hate crime' which is really just about increasing punishment for special circumstances.

Further you would need to invest deeply into outreach, providing paths out of the most restrictive cliques and being heavily engaged in those communities to counter the negative/restrictive lessons the society fears they are being taught with more optimistic opportunities elsewhere.

The best way to break a reclusive, cloistered minority is to enrich it and infiltrate it.  

In addition the French can adopt the cultural symbols and adapt them.  The burqa can be a nice fashion item and it should be co-opted as such in service of assimilation.  Further the ban on wearing them within schools should be reinforced.  Classify "hats" (which are typically banned to be worn in class) as "head coverings" and go from there.  In consideration also ban and enforce displays of cross necklaces, etc.  Get one catholic whining in the press about religious persecution over their cross and you'll neutralize the whining on the other side about the ban on headscarves.

As young people grow accustomed to not wearing the garments at school and find a society actively engaging their community to be less restrictive when they get home they'll find it more acceptable to wear these items as often or not as they please. One of the best ways to achieve this will be to find Arabs, North Africans, Persians and others who have chosen not to wear the garments (celebrities would be best) and show them as happy, successful and independent women role models.  They don't need to openly advocate their position, just get their faces out there, smiling and happy, and let human nature do the rest.

Only isolation of these communities from the greater French society can maintain these rigid rules in the midst of a modern and open country.

Comments >> (38 comments)

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