The energy, vitality and exuberance of youth will generally insulate a young person from the ravages of life and in this difficult economic environment these will be essential. I remember my own condition at age 18 when contemplating the course of my life on the eve of completing my public education. There were many roads to take with virtually little consequence in taking a wrong one. I had options for study , fulfillment and careers that ranged from the money-making practical option such as a trade to engaging an existential existence in pursuing the question of what was my purpose in life.
Contemplating higher education as a method for life fulfillment was a norm. The two pursuits were complementary, insepable and the basis of one was found in the other . There was little concern about potential consequences for following the heart and then proverbially, “getting stuck.”
Fast forwarding today as a parent I am struck by the hard realities for my children and students everywhere in this nation. Young people today are growing up in what will be known as “The Great Recession.” Whereas for generations people in their twenties had opportunities to initiate their careers and productive work lives, today 20 to 24-year-olds are faced with the highest unemployment rate than any other group. That number was pegged at a high of 17 percent in 2010.
Unemployment among new college graduates is signficantly higher than older ones too. Record numbers of 20-year-olds are “stuck” in dead-end, part-time jobs with little opportunity to jump start their careers. Low starting pay or part-time pay will have cumulative effects that will impact capital markets as investment is curtailed and savings rates will be insufficient to support a vibrant economy.
The developing social norms of living at home with parents longer and delaying marriage and starting families and making purchases of homes for 20 somethings are all materially changing the very fabric of our society and the consequences will be long lasting and in some cases permanent.
Coupled with the astonishingly high cost of education creating triple digit debt for many college graduates inevitably will force this generation to distance itself from the pursuit of ideals ( ie. saving the planet,, finding the cure for cancer) .The economic forces bearing on this generation will inevitably create a shift that will compel increasing numbers of high school graduates to consider only practical choices for higher education; namely pursuing those programs and courses that lead to a sure job.
We are on the cusp of a mindset change that is harmful to our society as intellectual curiosity, passion, idealism and the intrinsic quest of the human spirit to break the shackles of our spiritual and intellectual limitations are no longer viable reasons to enter a college or a university.
Public policy must address these conditions by examining especially the cost of education and imposing restrictions on the current unrestrained rate of escalation. There has to be a standard which strikes a balance between cost and effect or cost and benefit. These ratios have never been so far out of balance. Secondly, business and economic policy must be directed to establishing a valuation of young workers and graduates that is far better than the current one; a source of cheap labor.
Awareness of the plight of our young people must be the basis for reflection and deliberate public debate. An appropriate response to correct the injustices imposed on this generation that were largely caused by the excesses of the previous one is warranted.