I finally got around to reading The New York Times Magazine piece on the aimless 20-something, and as a somewhat aimless 20-something, it strikes me as a little blinkered. For starters, outside of a few nods to the recession, there isn't much of an effort to understand why financial independence is so hard to find. But the truth is that the recession has wrecked havoc on job and career prospects for 20-somethings. Last year, for college graduates with bachelor degrees, the unemployment rate was 7.6 percent -- lower than the overall rate, but not by much. When combined with with the lower-than-typical earnings that come from graduating during a recession, it's not a shock to see that many college-educated 20-somethings are a ways away from financial independence.
That said, my main problem with the piece was simply the fact that there wasn't much of an attempt at making class distinctions. It delves into the "extended adolescence" of relatively sheltered graduates from major universities, but what about the mass of 20-somethings who either didn't go to college or pursued degrees at community colleges and local universities? I graduated from a high school of roughly 2,400 people in 2005, and judging from the Facebook profiles of those I graduated with, many of my former classmates have built fairly adult lives for themselves. Most have jobs and live independently of their parents. Some have spouses or long-term partners, a few have children. For those who do live with their parents, it has less to do with maturity and more to do with the terrible job market. Obviously, anecdotes can't substitute for statistical data, but I'd wager that the above is true for many 20-somethings of modest means.
One last point: I'm not convinced there is an extended adolescence, but insofar as there is, I think we should consider it the product of economic changes decades-long in the making. A generation or two ago, you didn't need luck and a college degree to get a job with decent pay and benefits; with a high school education -- or less -- you could get a union job or learn a trade. You wouldn't be rich, but you could start a family and a build a stable life. The absence of those jobs goes a long way toward explaining the purported rise of late-onset adulthood.
-- Jamelle Bouie
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