COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | JOHN PATRICK FORD

Diversity in generations

Pity the poor millennials, those born between 1977 and 1997, who are graduating from college and can’t get a job. Or even worse, those with no degree or a skill that used to support the vast middle class of factory workers. Those jobs went overseas.

In the struggle out of the recession, the entry-level workforce has limited options unless they have trained for a career in digital technology, health care or government service. The field is further complicated by their generation being the largest in U.S. history — 80 million.

The millennials’ predecessors, Generation X, are also finding it difficult to live in high-end areas unless they work for Apple or Google. A recent survey by National University reported that the middle class is getting squeezed with the high cost of living and shortage of middle-class jobs in most California coastal zones.

The Gen X group is leaving town and taking its children with them. A headline in U-T San Diego called it “generation exodus.”

While Gen X shrinks in San Diego, Gen Y (the millennials) is forecast to make up half of the workforce by 2020. Let’s hope that they find jobs by then, move out of their parents’ homes and can juggle their student loan debt with their take-home pay under a better economy.

Otherwise, their parents’ generation, the baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964, will carry a huge burden of social welfare subsidy while they struggle to fund their retirement. Unfortunately, the specter of debt bogs down all generations. Student loans at $1.2 trillion surpassed credit card debt of $872,000 billion, but are trumped by the national debt of $17 trillion in recent charts.

Where does it all end? Certainly not on the shoulders of the diminishing Greatest Generation (those born before 1946) that numbered a mere 32 million until a decade or so ago. These were the children of the Great Depression who grew up in a debt-free economy. There were no credit cards, student loans, welfare or high-tech gadgets to tempt young people to end up underwater financially.

Besides the current liberal credit policies, millennials have entirely different work and lifestyle goals. They generally prefer an urban environment where the action is. They don’t consider daily work at a desk to be creative, and expect jobs to give them the freedom to work wherever and whenever they wish. That changes the traditional recruitment guidelines and the workplace environment.

Whether this work attitude or the recession can be blamed for the 37 percent unemployed in the 18-to-29 age group is debatable. Members of this group can’t afford their own home and struggle with student-loan debt. Sometimes tagged as the anti-time-clock generation, the better-educated millennials may have to change to get a better job than food service after graduation.

Work environment and recognition of achievements are not the only aims for these new employees. They show stronger interest is the care of marginalized and underserved hungry people. There is a theory that living with their parents well into adulthood has influenced millennials more to care for seniors and those less fortunate than earlier generations have. Gen X has replaced baby boomers as the Me Generation.

Another phenomenon generated by millennials is social networking. Their obsession with digital gadgets and popular exchange contacts almost eliminates the need for face-to-face interaction, except for Skype or other video devices. That in turn changes the use of traditional language patterns, as texting creates its own abbreviated vocabulary.

The Economist has reported that the high cost of a college education is not exactly the gateway to middle-class prosperity. A sensible choice of career options can generate $17,500 more income annually than a high school degree, according to a Pew Research Centre study. The harder the subject, like engineering, the better the pay.

So is a college degree worth it, the news magazine asked? A chart of 44 U.S. universities and colleges compared the return on the cost of a degree after financial aid to the return on a 20-year Treasury bill, 3.4 percent. The better return on 28 institutions ranged from 17.6 to 9.9 percent, while the remaining 16 institutions showed 1.0 percent or negative return on the cost of a degree.

The top two universities in the survey were the University of Virginia and Georgia Tech; most of the Ivy League colleges, UC Berkeley and UCLA had favorable returns on the investment. That verifies the academic claim that higher-tuition colleges can pay off.


Ford is a freelance writer in San Diego. He can be reached at johnpatrick.ford@sddt.com

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