Let’s face it, the last recession was a doozy. Dubbed the “Great Recession,” the damage from the epic downturn cut across society, hitting retirees who saw nest eggs cut in half; families who lost jobs, homes, and their tenuous grip on the middle class; and young adults, who entered a job market with no jobs.
It’s this last group that gets the attention in “End of the Good Life,” a new book by Riva Froymovich, a business and economics reporter. Froymovich, a member of the demographic known as Generation Y, argues that no group got hit as hard by the recession as the young, and unless we do something about it — and soon — we risk the future.
Froymovich interviews young adults from around the world, examining their plight as they struggle to find the jobs and opportunities that their baby-boomer parents enjoyed. She cites a long list of depressing statistics showing the malignant effects of unemployment and underemployment on workers just starting careers and the consequences for the global economy.
She notes, and correctly so, that this is perhaps the best-educated, open-minded, and forward-thinking generation in history, and to waste all this talent and idealism would be a shame. She attacks budget-cutting austerity policies that have helped drive European economies into recession and held back the US recovery. And she criticizes baby boomers and the politicians who depend on their votes for failing to accept small sacrifices like higher taxes or reduced Social Security benefits that might leave something for their children and grandchildren.
END OF THE GOOD LIFE: How the Financial Crisis Threatens a Lost Generation — and What We Can Do About It
Froymovich has a point. It’s a scandal that youth unemployment exceeds 50 percent in some European nations and politicians insist that slashing spending and laying off workers is the best way to lower joblessness. It’s a scandal that European labor laws and US labor contracts create two-tiered systems that allow older workers to keep generous pay and benefits, while forcing younger ones to accept much less.
And it’s a scandal that our society, pushing higher education as the path to the good life, drives young people to take on crushing debt while colleges and universities raise tuitions at double or triple the rate of inflation, with little or no accountability.
Still, Froymovich fails to make a convincing case that her generation deserves special sympathy. The problem starts with the premise. Certainly, bright, promising college graduates who have to live with their parents or accept low-paying service jobs are miserable, but are they worse off than 50-somethings trapped in long-term unemployment, burning through lifetimes of savings, and watching all they worked for vanish with each passing day? Or poor, working families whose prospects for breaking the cycle of poverty have only diminished?
The book comes across as just so much whining, underscoring the stereotype of Generation Y as overprotected, overindulged, and entitled. Many of the young adults profiled by Froymovich come from privileged backgrounds, having had every advantage and opportunity. Now, facing a real world not to their liking, they sulk like disappointed toddlers.
There is little appreciation of those far worse off by Froymovich or her Gen Y compatriots.
There’s the 22-year-old American with a degree in music business who, after a series of non-paying or low-paying internships, moves in with her parents on Long Island Sound and takes a job as a receptionist at a local spa. She tells Froymovich, “Life sucks at the moment.”
Get used to it. There are many other moments ahead.