America’s New Lost Generation

January 11, 2010

During the most recent Presidential election in the United States I got to thinking that regardless of who won it was going to take years, even decades to pick up the pieces of destruction left by the outgoing Bush administration. This idea has become more evident to me one year into Obama’s term. I’m not really disappointed with what Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress has done or not done in the last year. It would take an incredible amount of daring, visionary leadership to start fixing America’s problems, not just from one politician, but from a whole gaggle of them. That’s something I just don’t expect from most politicians. I hope for it because I always hope for the best, but I know it’s not going to be forthcoming any time soon.

Nevertheless I am glad that Obama is the President instead of McCain. At the very least I expect the harm Obama’s administration can do to this country will be much less than the harm a McCain administration would have inflicted.

So here we are in 2010, a year that sounds like a science fiction year. I am 31 years old, jobless, having daily anxiety attacks about just getting by. I haven’t had a job since March of last year, and I routinely receive rejection letters that reference the pool of 200+ candidates with above average credentials from which the institution had to choose. I am trembling under a heavy load of student loan, credit card and medical debts. In the past few weeks my body has been learning what going to bed slightly hungry every night feels like, and one of my daughters came to me the other night worriedly asking if we were going to have to live on the street sometime soon.

Yes, I pity myself. It’s oddly comforting to hear the new jobless statistics released in the past week. I know my situation is not unusual. Indeed a shocking number within my own extended circle of friends and acquaintances have similar struggles weighing them down – student loan debts, credit card debts, lack of employment opportunities, reduced wages, impossible healthcare situations. I know a lot of bright, motivated, hardworking people who are heavily educated but can’t find an opportunity to prove their talents.

If things continue in this vein for much longer, I fear America’s 20- and 30-somethings will become a new Lost Generation. What kind of damage is being wrought on the lifetime earnings of people who can’t even climb onto the first rung of a career ladder despite their qualifications?

I was thinking this while driving home from dropping the kids off at school this morning. When I got home I looked on the Internet to see if other people are thinking along these lines as well. Well, yes, they are. They even use the same term I was thinking of. The tagline of the article is

The continuing job crisis is hitting young people especially hard—damaging both their future and the economy

The article reflects on the issue the same way that I have been. It focuses on 20-somethings, but in my experience this trend is hitting people in their 30s as well. The situation is very discouraging, to say the least.

So what can we do?

It seems that we as a generation will not reach a level of financial security that the generations recently before us could reach. As individuals, we must look to other means of security. I’m developing my own security in community, simple pleasures, and meditative activities. I’m seeing my peers value a “less is more” life aesthetic, turning to the handmade and homemade. I hope to see more exchange of local goods, with an emphasis on economy at a human level. I’m starting this year clinging to the credo “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” My word for the year is “joy,” which I find creeping into many of my conversations. Some aspects of this evolving lifestyle change I am nurturing in myself include:

– Simple whole foods cooked simply and shared with others because food tastes better when it’s real, and it tastes even better when shared. Another benefit is that it is less expensive; a giant pot of potato soup costs the same or less than a meal eaten out of colorful boxes and disposable trays and can last for several meals.

– Pleasure in the mundane. There is joy to be had in consciously living through the days. Clean sheets, the stars at night, warm showers, proximity to love, the satisfaction of owning my own power drill – these little things count.

– Productive waiting. For example my hands have been constantly knitting the past few months. I knit when socializing with friends, and I knit when I am at home because I can’t afford to go anywhere. It is a meditative activity that results in useful objects.

– Spreading kindness and discouraging negativity. I love the calm happiness that results from genuine smiles to all around me. I have less patience now for disrespectful or unpleasant behavior in others. I choose to give and receive goodness. I don’t have time for selfishness and anger.

As I reflect on my future and the future of the people I care about, I sense that the values and habits of the past few generations will not be relevant to us. Things will not be the same as they were, and we will have to choose different values and live accordingly. The success that I was hoping for when I was younger was moderate, and included the ability to keep a savings account, to own a small home for my family, and to take vacations every so often. I was never expecting wealth and fame. It is a desolation to me that my hopes get smaller every year. But this is where we are, and this is what we’ve got to work with.

In parting, I wish you peace in your struggles and joy in your days. All of you. Yes, even you George Bush.

3 Responses to “America’s New Lost Generation”

  1. stocktonprof Says:

    Thanks for this post. It is lovely and just the kind of thing I need to remember, though I am truly sorry to hear about your situation.

  2. valeda Says:

    this is incredibly honest and eloquently put.

    during these hours & days that pass, i feel that the communities we build are essential – not only for our survival alone, but our ability to flourish.

    further, underneath this sentiment (and action) is where true happiness is born. fortunately for all of us, its root is not material & monetary-based, but from the people, our kindness and the kindness of others, and facing the present moment with bravery, honesty, and open-heartedness.

    thank you for this wonderful post.

  3. layne Says:

    Thank you for this post. I needed the reminder about positivity and little things that matter. So much love to you.

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