Our generation is getting crushed. Besieged by the intimidating forces of student loans, low wages, and low job availability, we are barely holding down the fort. And none of it is our fault. The economy crashed as we were graduating and it stayed lousy. We’re the most educated generation in history, yet so many of us are reduced to working at menial retail jobs. Everything our parents and teachers told us was a lie. It’s never been worse to be in your 20s.
At least, that’s the impression that I get when I read about Generation Y. Everything is always wrong or disappointing. And yet, my own life doesn’t resemble anything like the hellscape that I read about. I have a good job. Most of my friends have good jobs. The area I live in is full of people who have the time and money to go out and eat, drink, and generally be merry.
Is it really that bad for people my age and I’m just not noticing it because I was more or less insulated from the recession? I don’t think so. Last month, the unemployment rate for people in my generation (25-34) was 7.0%. Sure, it’s higher than what we’re used to, but how high is 7% really?
Let’s hearken back to a better time. Let’s go 8 years back, a time when Bush was still President and the Democrats just massacred the Republican majorities in the House and Senate. Surely everyone can agree that things were much better in 2006, economically speaking, right? At the end of 2006, the unemployment rate for people 25-34 was 4.3%. That’s a rate that economists generally consider “full employment”, as in, everyone who wants a job has one.
Okay, you might point out that the current unemployment rate is 63% higher. But as a percentage of the overall demographic, 7% isn’t exactly that high. If all we’re talking about is 3.7% more people out of a job, we’ve got a problem, but it’s hardly the disaster that the media is making it out to be. So why does everyone think things are so terrible now?
At this point, you’re probably going to say something like “because wages are lower!” In the last 3 months of 2013, the weekly median earnings of people 25-34 was $701. In 2006, it was $621. If you adjust that for inflation, the median person aged 25-34 made $720, or 2.7% more. Even then, with 3.7 points of additional unemployment and 2.7 points less money, is that really enough to go from pretty good to absolutely shitty?
I get that there will always be a few sad stories here and there. And sure, maybe there are a lot more of them since the 2008 recession. But I don’t think life in your 20s is that much worse today than it was during a time when things were considered good. And in some respects, it’s a lot better. iPhones didn’t exist in 2006. Traffic fatalities are down by 25% over the last 8 years. Violent crime is down 19%.
Every significant objective measure of health and wellbeing is better today than it was in 2006 except for diagnosed mental disorders. Maybe there’s something to that. Maybe we’re all turning into hypersensitive pussies. One thing is for sure, it definitely feels like people complain more nowadays.
Yes, unemployment is higher. Wages are slightly down (although I dispute that because I think the way the BLS calculates CPI is fundamentally flawed). But really, the things we have to complain about are minor in the grand scheme of things. You’ll eventually get a job that you like/tolerate. You’ll eventually get out from under your debt burden. You’ll eventually find love. You’ll eventually get married. And all of that will happen in the largest, most prosperous economy in the world.
On a fundamental level, life in America hasn’t changed one bit. It’s still pretty fucking great.