Friday, August 28, 2015

Millennial malaise and the vicissitudes of history

The above article is more or less a laundry list of all the challenges that today’s young people face.

No, my purpose here is not to dismiss the entire story as the whining of an entitled, mollycoddled generation. To be sure, today’s young people do face economic challenges.

But that has quite often been the case.

Consider the challenges that young people faced at the following junctures during the past 100 years:

  • 1917-18: Young men could be drafted for service in WWI
  • 1929-39: Young people enjoyed very few employment opportunities during the Great Depression.
  • 1941-1945: If you were a young man, you were probably at war (WWII) during most of this period.
  • 1951-3: Young men were drafted for service during the Korean War
  • 1965-1973: Young men were drafted for service during the Vietnam War
  • 1972-1984: More than a decade of very anemic economic growth: recession, oil crises, stagflation. The unemployment rate in 1982 was 9.7%.
  • 1990-1992: The post-Gulf War recession. (I was a college graduate during this period. It was not a good time to be looking for a job.)

Now for the other side of the coin: Has there ever been a particularly promising time to be a young person starting out in the world?

Sure. If you graduated from college between 1995 and 2005, you enjoyed far more opportunities than the cohorts who graduated before or after this period.

The boom of the mid- to late-1980s was an auspicious time to be in the job market as a young person.

There were also many economic opportunities for the young during the 1950s—especially if you were a (probably male) veteran who had managed to survive World War II with your body and mind intact.

But as you can see, where you happen to show up in history is (and always has been) the luck of the draw.

Today’s young people certainly face a poor job market. But if you talk to fiftysomethings who graduated during the 1970s or very early 1980s, they will tell you a similar story.

What happens today has usually happened before, in one form or another.

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