I am in a beautiful Seattle hotel room with a view of the Public Library across the street, getting ready for my speech tomorrow night at Town Hall. Here are some notes for the opening. Comments welcome...
My book is called Generation Debt: Why Now is a Terrible Time to be Young. I didn't actually choose the subtitle of the book; it was meant to be controversial, and sure enough, people have come out swinging right at it from both sides. On the one hand (shaking my finger): Stop whining. It is always a wonderful time to be young. You are healthy, and strong, and you have your health. Get some perspective, for chrissakes!
On the other hand: Stop whining. It is always a terrible time to be young. Why I walked uphill to school both ways five miles in the snow. Get some perspective, for chrissakes!
And both of these criticisms, though they are contradictory, I will concede do have some merit. But when I talk about the first part of the title, why I call my generation Generation Debt, I hope that you will become a little concerned about what is actually different for us now, at this time in history.
First, Generation Debt refers to the student loan debt that we incur on the way through college. This debt is now at a level unheard of in American history, and unique throughout the world. Two thirds of us are borrowing an average of $20,000 in order to get a BA.
Second, Generation Debt refers to the credit card debt that we rack up in the years during and immediately after college. Again, the actual legal possibility of incurring large consumer debts while still young and financially dependent is unique to this American generation, and unique throughout the world. Seven out of 10 25-34 year olds are carrying an average of $4,088 in credit card debt. The sheer ability to owe this much was previously available perhaps only to rakish young princes, with gambling habits.
And finally, Generation Debt refers to the politically uncomfortable subject of federal deficits and unfunded liabilities: an $8 trillion national debt, and a $53 trillion long-term shortfall, by some calculations, in Social Security and Medicare. And this topic is uncomfortable because it has to do with my generation living out the consequences of earlier generations' decisions to borrow an awful lot of money and then um, kinda run out and stick us with the check.
So I'll leave this uncomfortable topic for last, and first let's talk about college.