We’ve talked about this before in these parts, but I wanted to mention that the phenomenon of underemployment among the Millennial generation hit close to home this week. I had a conversation this week with a friend who is watching three of her four adult children — all in their twenties or early thirties — struggle to find jobs that can do more than just pay the rent. All these kids have good educations, and all the advantages that come with being raised in a middle to upper middle class American home, with an intact family, in a solid community. And yet, it’s hard. One of them is working very long hours in a hard job that doesn’t pay well, and offers no chances for advancement — this, while he looks for something with a brighter future. One of them is preparing to start grad school this fall, for lack of anything more remunerative to do. My friend said that in her state, starting salaries in her daughter’s field are … about what I started at 23 years ago as an entry-level newspaper reporter, which never has been a profession known for its generous salaries.
Said my friend, “The other night, my husband and I said to each other that there’s no way our kids are going to have the salaries we did.”
“How will they ever buy a house, or save for anything?” I said.
“God knows,” she said.
I know, I know. This is not news. Still, when it’s people you know well, it hits especially hard. I thought about how unless something changes, my friend’s kids will always live on the edge of radical insecurity, one minor financial disaster (e.g., an illness) away from catastrophe. This is called downward mobility. Talking to her the other day, I realized how little I really think this is going to happen to my children. But that, of course, is a complete illusion. Later, I thought about what the American businessman I met and had drinks with in Paris told me about what the last few years living and working abroad had told him about America’s political culture: that none of us, Republicans or Democrats, have grasped the decline that the younger generations will live through. Neither party is prepared to be honest with the American people about our condition, and that’s because, in his view, the American people don’t want to be told the truth. “In America,” he put it, “it’s always 1945.”
I don’t have anything new to add to any of this. It was just sobering to hear from my friend about what she’s seeing in her own family.
Also: a conservative friend phoned the other day and mentioned that his elderly father in Germany had been diagnosed with a couple of severe illnesses. While he wishes that he could see his dad regularly now, he said, “I thank God that he’s in Germany, where he can afford medical care.”