The Economy Turns Generation Next into Generation Vexed

August 14, 2011; Source: Los Angeles Times  | There is an unfortunate tendency in most of the press—and probably here at NPQ—to fail to make distinctions about the differential impacts of economic conditions on various population groups.

This article from the Los Angeles Times about young people with life plans undone by the recession grabbed our attention for a particular reason. The first person profiled in the article, a 20-year-old woman, had planned for a career at a nonprofit to be followed by marriage and a home purchase. While it wasn’t clear that she had given up her nonprofit career plans, the implication was that she had to pay more attention to the day-to-day challenges of money and survival than to prospects for following her dreams and desires. Relying on a survey released by the nonprofit Generation Opportunity that found that three-quarters of respondents aged 18 to 29 were going to put off career or purchase choices due to the economy, the Times referred to this cohort of young people as “Generation Vexed.”

“Vexed” is right. Some young people interviewed by the Times said that the economic decisions being made by Washington policymakers don’t have their interests in mind. A 21-year-old St. Lawrence University college student, John Glass, was one of 100 student-body presidents who signed a letter issued by the “Do We Have a Deal Yet?” coalition to the effect that the current generation of young people “is going to take the brunt of the force of the debt crisis. . . . mean[ing] fewer jobs, higher interest rates, more debt.” Glass added, “We’ll have to sacrifice. This is a raw deal for our generation.”

The nonprofit sector spends a lot of energy thinking about creating career paths to attract and retain young people in the nonprofit sector. Will those efforts be undone simply because young people are watching their parents’ incomes and 401(k)s shrink and disappear, leaving them feeling that nonprofit careers are impractical?—Rick Cohen