Americans–Eating Their Young

by Matthew Payne on June 16, 2013Comments Off

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Francisco de Goya ~ Saturn Devouring His Children (a Metaphor for Today’s Youth) c/o Wikimedia

One of the enduring myths of the Lesser Depression is that older and more prosperous employees have been devastated by the economic turndown by selfish and better-trained wunderkind.  That slacker hipster youth are simply sponging off their parents and refusing to acquire the skills needed for today’s vicious labor market is a persistent charge.  A prime example of such generational slander can be seen in this vapid Time article (click through at your own risk).  By the way, a brief check of the author, Joel Stein’s, biography indicates the 42-year old “journalist” (who acts as periodic pet commentator on the completely ridiculous I Love the 80’s and got his start with Martha Stewart) is as much a representative of a “Me, Me, Me” ethos as any person on the planet.  Problem with this mythology is that it is total crap.  Unemployment data for May indicates the jobless rate is 13% for the 20-25 age group, 6.9% for 25-34 year olds, 6.3% for 35-44 year olds, 5.6% for 45-54 year olds and 5.0% for 55-64 year olds–i.e., your job prospects get better with the age.  Now, remember this is the measure of those actively seeking work–so none of this crap about these young people preferring to sit in basements playing video games, if you please.  The recent figures for education and age are even more stark.  The jobless rate for college-educated 20-24 year-olds quickly jumped to double digits in the Great Recession and have stubbornly hovered around 10%.  For Mr. Stein’s demographic the number is less than 4% and even for the oldsters (college-educated 55-64 year olds), allegedly the demographic being hammered by the Great Recession (actually, as boomers, the loudest generation), the unemployment rate is under 4%.  Yeah, the kids are not lazy–they’re unemployed.  And, of course, let’s leave out of the equation that thanks to the shameless exploitation of higher education (an industry every bit as crooked as banking, as NYU is proving), these college-educated are carrying heavier debt loads than the traditional big categories of the consumer society, car loans or credit-card debt (and they are having more difficulty in paying this debt off than mortgage holders–which is saying something in this “housing bust” economy).

One of the things you hear about this situation is that we have a “structural unemployment” problem, i.e., a lack of fit between skills and job offerings.  Let’s leave aside the fact that Krugthullu has repeatedly destroyed this fabulism on a macro-level, detailed studies have proven that no gap between skills being produced and skills needed actually exists.  Just because an ignoramus (or, more likely, tool of the oligarchs) like Bill Clinton keeps saying it, doesn’t mean that it is true.  In fact, a recent study by Demos shows the continued hammering of young workers, even in the service industry–five years into the Lesser Depression, young people (and btw, my demographic–but at a far lesser rate that 20-25 year-olds) are still losing jobs (note that the kvetching Mr. Stein’s age cohort and the endlessly bitching boomers are doing just fine).

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Youth Unemployment for May and 2013 vs. other Demographics (c/o Demos)


Looks like a long, hot summer for youth!  As Demos points out:

Looking instead at employment as a share of the population reveals a more complete picture of the trend. This employment measure declined in May, wiping out any gains for the age group made so far this year.  The employment-population ratio of 20 to 24-year-olds dropped from 61.6 percent in April—the high in 2013—to 60.8 percent last month.  Just 61 percent of people in their early 20s are working at all, leaving more than 2 million 20 to 24-year-olds unemployed and 6.6 million out of the labor force altogether.

“Wiping out any gains for the age group made so far this year.”  25-34 year-olds are doing a full ten percentage points better than their little brothers and sisters in labor participation and the younger generation is clearly being sacrificed on the alter of “austerity.”  As Demos points out, “As a share of the young adult population, employment is even lower now than it was at the recession’s official end in June 2009” (their bolding).  Four years into the age of Obama, this is an epic fail for one of the Democrats’ most loyal constituencies.  Thanks, Obama.  Thanks, libs. Frankly, someone would have to explain to me why young people shouldn’t vote their wallets and turn to the GOP–at least under bad ol’ Mr. Bush youth labor participation was nearly 10 percentage points higher (in May 2007).  The despair out there is real and the suffering profound and the best the 2 million unemployed 20-24 year-olds and 6.6 million who have dropped out of the workforce all together can hope for is lectures from Martha Stewart alumni.

Of course the fatuousness of official rhetoric concerning our children’s needs is stunning.  In a country where child poverty is at a scandalous level for the industrialized world (hey, at least we beat Romania according to UNICEF!) we are told to slash budgets for the sake of future generations.  And, of course, the “slashing” leads to increased subsidies for rich farmers and agro-business and demanding cuts in food assistance (47% of whose recipients are hungry children).   Yeah, apparently we can forget about pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, time to pull yourself up by your Crocs, you slacker preschooler.   And keep in mind that plenty of uber-liberals, like Al Franken, voted for this monstrosity.  So much for the legacy of the New Deal.  We say we are concerned about the cost of education but the U. S. Department of Education has become one of the biggest loan sharking operations in the land.  In fact, the Department of Ed made $51 Bn on the massive student loan portfolio it holds (total student loans last year rose to $100 Bn) and is about to double its vig (a state of affairs which seems to be getting much less urgency than dragging young people into yet another Middle Eastern War).    The nation’s real priorities for its young people are pretty well illustrated by the decisions taken in Pennsylvania (aided and abetted by liberal politicians like Mayor Nutter in Philadelphia), where public schools are closed but funding is certainly available for more prisons.   Mark Twain famously observed that “Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a prison.”  America’s political classes seem to take this as a recipe for good government.

So, on Father’s Day spare me the pieties–the parents of this country, especially its most powerful “Daddies,” are doing real damage to their children.  My own opinion is that this is a deliberate ne0-liberal strategy to suppress wages and increase profitability and productivity on the backs of a large “labor reserve army” of deprived children.  And no, this is not a conspiracy theory–it is what economists call (and are calling for across the industrialized world) “internal devaluation.”  Krugman calls it The Road to Wigan Pier, which seems about right to me.  But ok, let’s take the non-cynical view that, despite all the evidence of slaughtered school children, shuttered schools to fund taxpayer subsidized sports arenas, child hunger, back-breaking debt and hopeless unemployment, the “Fathers” in this benighted world actually care about the “Children” (true fact, in Russian Turgenev’s classic novel was titled Fathers and Children, not Fathers and Sons–because, you know, Russians also give a shit about their daughters).  That’s a stretch for me, since I see only the GOP Daddies and the Dem Daddies concerned with snooping, war and corporate handouts, but hey, lots of people are more trusting than me.  But I’m calling bullshit–it’s put up or shut up time, my friends.  How about a reasonable educational repayment plan?  Hiring new teachers and building schools instead of prisons or arenas for crappy 4th-rate college basketball teams?  How about sitting out a war and another opportunity to slaughter young men and women?  How about feeding hungry children?!!

American fathers have to recognize their children are not Oedipus clones (which is the underlying anxiety of these “lazy kids” meme in the media), but they just might be living by the code of Saturn.