|Alfred Lubrano, MCT News Service|
Throughout the presidential campaign, each of the candidates has invoked the American Dream.
The venerable notion that hard work leads to prosperity — and that every generation does better than the previous one — has long been a rallying cry that tells us who we are and pulls us forward as a nation.
But for young people these days, the American Dream is imperiled.
A forever-altered economy, combined with a seemingly unending recession, is impeding the path to adulthood and prosperity for the "millennial generation" — about 80 million people ages 18 to 34.
Young adults struggle with the high unemployment rates and with unprecedented levels of college debt.
High school graduates and dropouts face lives of diminishing prospects; college graduates clutch somewhat sturdier umbrellas against the storm.
Although college has never been more vital to success, degrees aren't worth what they were a generation ago: There are 80,000 bartenders in America with bachelor's degrees.
"I was the first in my family to go to college, and it made me feel invincible," said
"Then I was laid off from a medical-caseworker job. Now, I'm going for jobs like snack-bar attendant and not getting them. Seriously. I get a little scared.
"Maybe my generation expected too much, but are we not supposed to expect anything?"
Like a water-main break that shows just how weak the infrastructure below the street is, the recession blew a big hole in the economy, exposing the underlying cracks that have developed in the past 30 years.
Globalization and new technologies have shifted much of the U.S. economy from the production of vital goods to a service-based collection of jobs like selling clothes, foaming milk for coffee, and tending to the hygiene of the elderly.
Years of swamp-stagnant wages and the systemic erosion of unions — which historically bumped the working class up a notch or two — have taken their toll. Men with only high school diplomas in 2010 actually made less money than their counterparts in 1980:
In previous generations, a blue-collar job could easily propel a family into the middle class — with a house, a yearly vacation, and the chance to eat steak in a restaurant on a Saturday night.
But all that is infinitely harder these days for people facing what
While U.S. unemployment is 8.2 percent, unemployment for 20- to 24-year-olds is 13.2 percent.
Since 2010, just 54 percent of young adults ages 18 to 24 have been employed, the lowest level since 1948, when the government began keeping track, federal data show.
Unlike their parents, millennials — also called Generation Y — are starting out with greater responsibility for their own health insurance and retirement. Young adults, in fact, remain the most uninsured group in
And if they decide to go to college, millennials must face a new reality.
As devalued as diplomas are, they're also infinitely more expensive to attain. In the past three decades, tuition and fees have tripled (after adjusting for inflation) for all public and private nonprofit colleges and community colleges.
The result: Students have to borrow a lot of money. Along with their diplomas, two out of three graduates are handed a staggering load of student-loan debt, averaging
Like mortgages lugged around for life, the total cost of all student loans is nearing
"By the time I'm done with law school, I'll have
The only thing more onerous than student debt is student debt without a diploma. That worst-of-all-worlds scenario constitutes everyday life for many of the unfortunate 43 percent of all four-year college students who start school but never complete it.
Even for those who graduate, loans aren't easy to pay back. That's because finding decent-paying work these days is "a disaster," according to
"Parents … are calling each other, asking if they know of any jobs for their kids," she said. "But for legions of college kids, there's nothing. What's distinctive is that so many kids with good college credentials can't get jobs. Graduates move into their parents' basements after spending
Living at home is becoming more commonplace for late-launch young people compelled to curtail dating and postpone marriage, children and all that it means to be an adult.
Meanwhile, Mom and Dad must be financiers, hoteliers and cheerleaders, as many parents sacrifice their own financial well-being to keep this generation afloat until it can advance on its own.
"It looks like this is the first generation in America worse off than the previous one," said
"One of the most dramatic changes of this generation vs. others is this: It's a longer haul to becoming an adult. And I can't see this pattern changing in the near future."
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|Source:||Advance Publications, Inc.|