In all of the relentless boosterism about the economy, which is truly bizarre in the face of the hard evidence that things are definitely not ok, there is a huge population that is slipping through the cracks. There is a population that is not getting nearly enough attention not just in terms of discussions about current economic problems, but also in terms of discussions about the long-term ramifications of the current economy. A population that is growing increasingly restless and angry around the world, even as it also becomes increasingly more marginalised, increasingly frustrated, increasingly hopeless and depressed.
We are creating a youth underclass and it is going to back to haunt us, just as previous lost generations did. It is already haunting us, but most of us cannot see it, because we are so bound up in the narratives being fed to us about the economy and progress. The youth underclass has been in the making for many years now; the shift started to happen and people didn’t notice because the economy was bouncy and happy, and then the economy tanked, and no one wanted to talk about the consequences for youth.
Many young people are not going to be able to afford to go to college and seek a higher education. In a society where college degrees are increasingly required, this creates an extreme disadvantage. These same people may not even be able to afford to go to technical school to receive training that might result in jobs with reasonable pay and benefits. They face a very limited future; no chance for advancement, no hope at pursuing their dreams. We, as a collective, face an equally limited future through the destruction of the professional classes. We are already developing nursing shortages, for example, and other professions are going to be experiencing shortages as older adults leave the workforce and there are no young adults to replace them, because they were not able to access the education and training.
Other young adults are able to go to college, but face a substantial debt burden on graduation. Costs for college attendance have been creeping steadily up, while grants, scholarships, and other financial assistance remain static. In fact, in some regions, financial assistance is actually on the decline because colleges and universities are losing their endowments. Graduating with debt might not be such a big deal when you view it as an investment in the development of a career, but it’s a big problem when you are paying hundreds or thousands of dollars in debt service every month and have no realistic chance of climbing out of the hole. When you take out credit cards to cover basic expenses, only to realise that you will never be able to pay them off, will be stuck with the minimum until the end of eternity.
And it’s an even bigger problem when you can’t find a job. The writing has been on the wall for people who could read it for years now. Those trend pieces about young adults moving back in with their parents? They weren’t about a nostalgia for a prior era or a fondness for living at home. They were about a steady decline in employment opportunities for youth, leading to situations where people were forced to move home because they had no opportunities. To a situation where people were hoping their parents’ homes weren’t foreclosed on, because then everyone would be homeless. Going home can turn into an admission of defeat on the job search front, but it’s about so much more than that, when you look at skyrocketing unemployment rates for youth.
Hit hardest? Youth of colour and nonwhite youth. Youth who were already poor to begin with. Disabled youth. Transgender youth.
Funny thing about long-term unemployment. You start to believe you will never get a job and you leave the labour pool. As your opportunities dwindle, you experience depression. One by one, the things that matter to you dwindle away because you cannot afford them, cannot focus on them, cannot do anything with them. The mockery of youth who are living with their parents erases a very real issue; they are the beginnings of the new lost generation. They are the people who will pass unseen and unremarked.
There are people with tremendous potential in the lost generation. Great scientists and creators and educators and historians and politicians and who knows what else. And this is a potential that will never be realised because of what we, as a society, have created. Because of what we, as a society, have tolerated. The slow eating away of benefits that is starting to accelerate, now. The valuation of corporations and millionaires over human beings and members of the lower classes, the priority of ‘saving’ Wall Street over rescuing very real human beings in very real need.
Investments, we were assured, that were vitally necessary for the ongoing survival of the economy. Investments that directly contributed to the creation of a lost generation. We don’t know, we will never know, what we lost through the creation of a youth underclass around the world. We will never know if those investments might have had better returns if the money had been used in a different way, although many of us believe those funds were misapplied, could have been much better spent. Could have saved not just Wall Street and the precious need to make money by pushing pieces of paper around, but could have saved an entire generation of people who are fading away before our eyes. Could have saved, perhaps, society.