A NEW “LOST GENERATION”?

BLOG #40, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
A NEW “LOST GENERATION”?
October 2, 2013

The most famous “Lost Generation” was the post-World War I generation who came of age in the war and Jazz Age that followed. The term was coined in a letter Gertrude Stein wrote to Ernest Hemingway, “You are all a lost generation.” Hemingway then incorporated it into his 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises, that captures the attitudes and life style of the hard-drinking, fast-living, hedonistic, and disillusioned young expatriates living in Paris (authors such as Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, e. e.. cummings, Archibald Mac Leish, Hart Crane, and others).

These writers considered themselves lost because the unbelievably brutal so-called “Great War” had stripped them of their illusions, turned them away from religion and spiritual values, and left them in a twilight world in which nothing made sense. Not surprisingly, it segued into theater of the absurd writers such as Pinter, Ionesco, Brecht, and Beckett, who wrote plays in which little or nothing made much sense.

On the front page of the weekend Wall Street Journal (September 14, 15), was a jolting article by Ben Casselman and Marcus Walker titled “Help Wanted: Struggles of a Lost Generation.”

In it, the writers postulate that the economic meltdown of the last five years has created a group of young people who have come of age during the most prolonged period of economic distress since the Great Depression. Only this time, unlike the earlier “Lost Generation,” today’s young people are lost because the economic underpinnings they assumed their education prepared them for, are no longer there now that they have graduated and are looking for such jobs.

They are worse off in another respect: they are saddled with student loans that, in good times, they could gradually pay off, but in bad times (think no job at all, minimum wage, or part-time jobs), they don’t see how they can ever pay them off! The writers note that the unemployment rate for Americans under the age of 25 is two and a half times higher than the rate for those 25 or older. But even that rate ignores the hundreds of thousands of young people who are going back to college, enrolling in training programs, or just sitting on the sidelines.

The writers, backed up by Pew Research studies, feel that today’s young people are likely to suffer long-term consequences for their current inability to get full-time decent-paying jobs: “Economic research has shown that the first few years after college plays an outside role in determining workers’ career trajectories: about two-thirds of wage growth, on average, comes in the first ten years of a person’s career. In weak economic times, graduates are likely accept lower wages and work for smaller companies with fewer opportunities for advancement. And in many cases, they never move off that second-tier track.”

They also note that our weak economy is leading to potentially seismic societal changes: “An
entire generation is putting off the rituals of early adulthood: moving away, getting married, buying a home and having children.” 56% of 18-24-year-olds are living with their parents.

In earlier times, young people could at least look forward to a strong recovery, however all the current projections are for a long weak economic recovery, and by the time it finally does happen, the bloom will long since have been gone from the degrees of untold thousands of young people caught in the backwash of today’s global fiscal collapse.

In Europe, it is even worse today for this age-group: “Over 23% of the European Union’s workforce under age 25 is unemployed, and youth jobless rates in the worse-hit European countries approaches 60%.”

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Although Casselman and Walker’s economic study contains plenty of doom and gloom, it appears to me it is nowhere near as bad as the generation that graduated in 1929 and had to face the Great Depression when things were so bad life could be summed up in that generation’s six-liner: “Brother, can you spare a dime?” (A dime could get you a simple meal back then.)

Perhaps we shall need to re-evaluate the entire educational construct. With four years of college now costing $100,000 – $200,000, it may be necessary to come up with an entirely new method of preparing our youth for their adult life and careers.