Friday, January 11, 2008

An apt name for us

Today's news was full of interesting things today. After reading a beautifully written piece about snowfall in Iraq (see previous post), an article about my generation having a dramatic impact on the upcoming election in the USA caught my eye.

As a Canadian, I'm very interested in the politics of our southern neighbours - mainly because American politics have such a powerful impact on our own. If I had the opportunity to vote in their election, I'd probably go with Obama. Apparently I'm in the majority for our generation, as the journalist writing the article found that he is very popular with people aged 18-29. He just seems to be more of an ordinary, real person - who cares about issues like health care in a way that makes you believe it's not just a selling point for voters.

But what really caught my attention was the description of our generations worldview: the reality of debt and a fiercely competitive job market after being raised to believe we had all of the opportunities in the world.

The article has all kinds of cute names for us, the children of the baby boomers: generation y, the "millennials" and (most accurate in my opinion) "generation debt".

"At first, the Millennials were the Children of the Rising Dow. They grew up during the greatest period of wealth creation in modern history, but watched their elders consume resources and run up deficits as if the party would never end. Then came the dot-com crash, terrorism, war, climate change. Epic uncertainty informs their worldview. When asked to name the issues they care most deeply about, bread-and-butter concerns such as the economy, health care, and education routinely rank high. In an October Pew Research Center poll, 80 percent of voters aged 18 to 29 cited the economy as a "very important" concern, vs. 61 percent who felt the environment was a major issue — a telling finding given all the campus activism swirling around global warming these days."

"Millennials walk the economic high wire. If nothing goes wrong, they will make it safely to the other side. The slightest disruption — a layoff, an illness — and they are off the wire and falling hard," Warren added.

...A more apt name for people like her may be Generation Debt. No group has ever started life so deeply in the hole, due mainly to mounting college costs, dwindling financial aid, and credit-card debt. The average college student now graduates with $20,000 in loans. Drew University sophomore Dominique Wilburn, 20, works three jobs — at a bookstore, as a resident assistant in a dorm, and at the school gym — to support herself and pay off her $41,000 debt. "In today's day and age, you have to have a degree, a graduate degree, to be competitive," says Wilburn.

This is the first time I've read anything about politics that so closely tied to my own concerns. Apparently some of our preceding generation HAVE noticed that their kids are dead broke and inheriting a world full of economic and political uncertainty. I have two university degrees and am literally getting buried in debt because I can't find a job with a salary high enough to pay all the bills. When my mother graduated from teacher's college, she had a job practically waiting for her. She's never had to write resumes, cover letters, complete portfolios, or compete with others to get work. And this is typical of people in her generation. I have more schooling and more experience coming into the workforce, but less chance of getting a job.

Putting aside how pathetic it is that my generation can't afford to get sick because the majority of us have no health benefits (I got sick a couple of months ago and had to fork over $60 for medication) and no pension plans, it's still a sad state of affairs when somebody with 5 years of post-secondary education has to scramble just to make ends meet. Of the people I know, only 3 couples have a house and are paying into the principal of their school and credit card debts. Every single other person I know is drowning in interest payments, rent, and other bills, has no doctor, no health plan or benefits, and doesn't know when they'll ever have the money to get married, get a house, or raise a family.

I'm not saying "poor us, pity us!" here - but this is getting pretty ridiculous.

Right now I'm battling with 3000-4000 other applicants for supply teaching jobs here in London (that is the only way to get into the school board) - mainly people in my age demographic. Why so many? Because Ontario decided that allow RETIRED teachers to stay on and work after they have retired.

I totally respect people for wanting to continue receiving paychecks and for not wanting to leave the profession they (and I) love. But this practice means they will get paychecks from the board, take jobs away from people like myself, all the while still collecting their pensions (and teacher's pensions are among the top in Canada).

What a great world: the baby boomers get to stay on and teach while their children's generation get to work at McDonald's and hope they can afford to buy groceries after paying all of their bills while we wait for them to finally retire so we can work in our field and no longer be trapped in a minimum wage, dead-end job.

So what happens when they finally all do leave their jobs and retire FOR REAL? What happens when our generation has to start caring for our aging parents after years of inadequate paychecks and mounting debts?

Ironically, our generation (or at least the people I know) have accepted their circumstances and against all odds seem to have hope that we'll someday be financially comfortable and able to live like we did when we were little and still at home. The family trips, multiple vehicles, mountains of Christmas presents, and other middle-class trappings are just a sweet memory for us. Our reality is collection agencies, car leases (or owning 10-year old broken down vehicles), scraping by to have a night out, and budgeting every penny we earn because we can't take the chance that we'll lose our jobs or get sick and not be able to work. Yet we do it, joke around about it, and find creative ways to get ahead. We want stability, pensions, families and houses, and maybe the chance to take some vacations like we did when we were little. I don't think that's too much to ask for...

Every time one of us succeeds is reason to celebrate.

I hope that the governments elected in the USA and here in Canada start to take notice that we are due to start taking things over - and that rising tuition costs, a overly-competitive job market, and inflation are going to need to be managed properly if "generation debt" has any chance of bringing back the world we knew as children.


  • At 10:29 AM, Blogger Jai said…

    You're great you know that? Thought I'd share just in case you didn't know.

    You and I have talked about these issues a few times in the short time we've known each other. As people of the "Baby Boom Echo", we're basically screwed until we're in our 40' least. And those of us who make it then are going to be the ones who didn't get stuck or succumb to the dichotomy of an internalized state of perpetual transience, because we're stuck at our McJobs, and the "Full Time" is a rare beast. My hope is that once we ARE in positions to make changes, the elimination of free agents and enforced casualization are first on the agenda. If we do anything, I hope it's fixing what the last generation did, for the next generation.
    I hate how I just sounded like a Papsi commercial there =)

  • At 7:24 PM, Blogger Melinda said…

    You're such a sweetheart Jaimi!

    And yes, even though it does sound kinda like a Pepsi commercial, our generation and the one to follow will be responsible for setting things right again.

    I want my kids and (more realistically) grandkids to be able to attend university and find a job without going into thousands of dollars in debt. Hopefully we can figure out a way to get there...


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