This month's issue of The Atlantic contains a long thoughtful and downcast article about the possible effects of long-term unemployment on the American national character.
One section in particular is very much up my alley: about how the shifting job market and how it might affect the Millennial generation. Graduating into a recession, it turns out, can afflict your income for a lifetime. "Seventeen years after graduation, those who had entered the workforce during inhospitable times were still earning 10 percent less on average than those who had emerged into a more bountiful climate."
As my sister Kezia, a 2009 Yale graduate, commented on Buzz: "UM....scary for peeps my age :(" And her friends chimed in , "Schnikies." " i had this article mentioned to me today during a job interview. needless to say, there was no real job being offered."
The article argues that Millennials are especially ill-equipped to deal with this unprecedented era of long-term joblessness because of their (supposed) crippling high-self esteem, and because they don't understand the meaning of hard work. It also argued that there are widespread socially negative effects of long-term joblessness--especially for men--include depression, alcoholism, and broken families.
But...I think there's a hole in this logic. It crystallized for me yesterday when I was part of a panel (including this technologist, this simplicity expert, and this social media maven) speaking to Professor Kyra Gaunt's Anthro 101 class at Baruch College. This was a very diverse group of 19 and 20 year olds and we were talking to them about hacking their way through the system to get what they need.
I realized that it's exactly this generation's unreasonable optimism that gives me the most hope for our future. Millennials aren't full of despair if we don't get the "perfect" job right out of college--our expectations are already adjusted. Young men are free from the demand that they automatically be breadwinners. Young people are learning to cultivate other values outside of work, and to take risks to seek work that meets their values. All that time we're spending inventing and building social networks and new ways of communicating with each other will translate into social capital and will serve us to build a society that doesn't depend on income to buy happiness. We will increasingly turn to each other to get what we need and to make what we want.
Yes, we still need to figure out better ways to get people health care and housing and education. The legacy problems of an economy in decline are not going away any time soon. But I have confidence that past performance does not have to guarantee future results. And this generation might just be the perfect people for this time.