About a fortnight ago, I circulated a somewhat incendiary Esquire article on "The War Against Youth" amongst some family and friends, hoping to hear thoughtful perspectives on what's going in the world and what it means for us young folks. I've been kicking around for a while now the idea that our changing world -- mounting debt, fading opportunity, technological advances, and the changing nature of work -- demands a "new social contract" and wanted to hear what other folks had to say.
The Esquire was nothing if not provocative and my hope was that its style and poignant data would generate some good comments:
In 1984, American breadwinners who were sixty-five and over made ten times as much as those under thirty-five. The year Obama took office, older Americans made almost forty-seven times as much as the younger generation.
The practice of not paying young people for their labor has become so ingrained in the everyday practice of American business that we've forgotten how bizarre and recent the development is. In the early 1980s, 3 percent of college grads had had an internship. By 2006, 84 percent had done at least one.
The federal government spends $480 billion on Medicare and $68 billion on education. Prescription drugs: $62 billion. Head Start: $8 billion. Across the board, the money flows not to helping the young grow up, but helping the old die comfortably. According to a 2009 Brookings Institution study, "The United States spends 2.4 times as much on the elderly as on children, measured on a per capita basis, with the ratio rising to 7 to 1 if looking just at the federal budget."
With those trends in mind, here are the questions I posed:
1) How do the trends articulated in the article compare to what's happening in your life and the lives of your family and friends?
2) Do you agree with the claim that the basic "deal" underpinning American society is fraying if not broken? Why or why not?
3) What do you think will be the ultimate impact of these trends on our generation?
4) What can youth do to transcend these trends?
5) Where do you see potential to give all generations a square deal?
I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the responses I got, most of which were exceedingly thoughtful (though I suppose considering the sample space, I shouldn't have been surprised). And also much more... in depth than anticipated:
"Anyway, that’s my… I would say “two cents,” but that seems to be a bit short on things. So that’s my $50."
In the next article, I'll lay out choice tidbits from the comments. Noticeably the reactions, although all over the political map and with their own unique theories, did not break down along generational lines. Spoiler alert: no one called for an "age war".
And although there were common threads, in many ways each response was sui generis. Which actually makes a lot of sense: these sorts of big questions about the relationship between the individual and society are ultimately eminently personal: products of values stemming from family, education, religion, and other formative experience.
Yet it is important to contextualize those experiences within the data to provide a common frame of reference, so here's the recessions impact on employment by age group (courtesy of ZeroHedge):