The Economy Turns Generation Next into Generation Vexed

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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

  • Paul Botts

    Actually the smart young people I meet who are watching their parents incomes and 401(k)s shrink and disappear are taking a different lesson from it.

    As a career manager in the NGO sector it’s long been true that young people get referred to me by friends and old college roommates and so forth for advice about a career in the sector. But in the last couple of years the rate of such referrals has turned sharply upward as has the level of educational attainment of the young people I’m meeting. These young people now will invariably at some point in the conversation will say something like “my [father/mother/grandparent/etc] worked for years climbing the ladder in [banking/big law firms/homebuilding/whatever] and hating it but they expected to eventually [make the corner office/retire at 60/whatever]. But that’s all ruined now, they were laid off and they feel like they wasted 20 years doing work they didn’t care about. I’m not going to risk that. There’s no guarantee of becoming well-off anyhow so I want to be doing something interesting and worthwhile.”

  • Aaron Andersen

    It’s certainly true that Washington doesn’t have the needs of highly-educated young people in mind, except for entrepreneurs in some long-hoped-for green-economy and as a future component of some amorphous middle class.

    But honestly, SHOULD Washington care more about me than somebody living in poverty? I think not.