Today's young adults are very likely to be the first generation to not surpass the living standards of their parents. Our nation's future demands that we take seriously the economic plight of America's young.
Today's young adults are very likely to be the first generation to not surpass the living standards of their parents. Evidence of their declining economic opportunity and security abound, from widespread debt to lower earnings in today's labor market for all but those with advanced degrees.
While this new generation is intensely engaged in the 2008 primary process, their pocketbook concerns remain on the margins of our political debate. A candidate visiting a college campus throws in something about the need for good jobs and lower tuition. But the stump speeches and debates are aimed primarily at middle-aged voters, using broad phrases like "strengthening the middle class" and ignoring the extreme economic insecurity of the young.
Victor and Eloise represent the new face of debt in America. Together, they've worked in a series of low-wage jobs that include stints at fast-food restaurants, small factories, and hotels. Technically, they are not poor according to the government's official definition of "poverty," but the economic vulnerability of the working poor and the near-poor are increasingly similar. The couple, whom I interviewed for my recent book, live in Montgomery, Alabama, with their two children, aged 4 and 14. They own their own home, which they bought in 2000 after their second child was born.
Generation X has grown up. Its members and their personalities consumed our nation's attention in the 1980s, when it seemed this generation would go down in history as a group of spoiled slackers. Then in the late 1990s, the generation written off as a bunch of yahoos became the generation behind Yahoo. Now age 26 to 40, the generation that once was the subject of so much self-righteous finger-wagging is the core of America's young families.