Western youth are not what they used to be. Richer, better educated, more independent-minded than their forebears –they were once equipped for all conceivable futures.
But now, what future can they conceive?
These are the young men and women for whom the forward march of the generations has halted. Social normalcy was once defined as things only getting better. But now, not. What mixture of circumstances, what global alchemy, can put them back on that track once more?
For us in the older generations (40 years old and up), it is heartbreaking, even guilt-making, to hear of friends’ sons and daughters failing to find or to keep work. We see some of this firsthand, as increasing numbers of young people rely on or move in with their families, sometimes by preference and often out of necessity. Richard Settersten, a professor of human development at Oregon State University, says his research shows the young are:
“not hooked into jobs that provide decent wages, that provide insurance, that are stable and secure … the need to provide for growing adults is placing new and significant strains on a lot of American families, even middle-class families.”
One couple I know, medical researchers in London, have their early- and mid-twenties son and daughter at home. Two of their kids’ friends have also joined them, caught homeless when they could no longer afford an apartment and could not live with distant parents if they were to keep up the unpaid internships they hope will be transmuted into paying jobs.