Things have been tough for a long time now, longer for some folks than others, and even with the glimmer of an economic recovery on the horizon, in a grim article titled “ Millions of unemployed may never recover”, the Seattle Times reports that the effects will be long-lingering for a great number of people.  Likely to be especially hard hit will be those who have been out of work for the longest period, and older out-of-workers.  I guess that will be a double whammy for me.  It is thought by some economists that long stints of unemployment erode a worker’s skills and lessen their ability to maintain networking contacts.  Even those economists who doubt that workers in general would lose skills after only six months or even a year or two out of work, agree that long periods of unemployment tend to make it tougher to get re-employed. And, as the article says, “even after getting hired, such workers are likely to experience a sharp and lasting hit to their incomes.”  And many older out of work folk will choose to retire early which means more people drawing Social Security and Medicare, and fewer contributing to the programs through payroll taxes.

I hate to be a gloomy Gus, but I very much agree with a recent article in the Atlantic Monthly, and have said in earlier posts, that this recession  is bound to create fundamental changes in our society that will continue even into whatever level of recovery with which we are blessed. I don’t just fear my own future but the future of the generation that is in or just graduating from college, a group that globally has suffered job loss disproportionately during the recession. 

If you have children in this age group, read the Atlantic Monthly article. It’s a wake-up call.  And if, like me, your children are younger, consider what you can do to raise independent thinking, hard-working, entrepreneurial-leaning adults.  According to one study reported in the Atlantic Monthly article, teens and college graduates who have a hard time finding a job and suffer a lengthy stint of unemployment are more likely to develop drinking problems and symptoms of depression in middle age.  And that’s regardless of whether they eventually do find work.  There is something about not working that takes its toll on one.

A large and long-standing body of research shows that physical health tends to deteriorate during unemployment, most likely through a combination of fewer financial resources and a higher stress level. The most-recent research suggests that poor health is prevalent among the young, and endures for a lifetime.

Consider that the youth of today has been raised with high expectations – they’ve been told they can do and be anything and what’s more that they can have anything (a very materialistic generation) – but since they have also been “trained throughout childhood to disconnect performance from reward,… many are quick to place blame elsewhere when something goes wrong, and inclined to believe that bad situations will sort themselves out—or will be sorted out by parents or other helpers.”

Ron Alsop, a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal and the author of The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace, says a combination of entitlement and highly structured childhood has resulted in a lack of independence and entrepreneurialism in many 20-somethings. They’re used to checklists, he says, and “don’t excel at leadership or independent problem solving.”

Not a good starting point for kids trying to enter the job force during a recession – or in the lingering aftermath of one.  Contrary to the song, parents, perhaps you should let your babies grow up to be cowboys.  If ever there was a profession designed to inculcate the ethos of hard work and independence that would be it!  Our youth will need our help to recover fully and we need them to be productively employed, paying into social programs and replenishing the federal coffers.  

Will there be any possible benefit to our children, having experienced the hardships of the recession?  Perhaps.

A recent paper by the economists Paola Giuliano and Antonio Spilimbergo shows that generations that endured a recession in early adulthood became more concerned about inequality and more cognizant of the role luck plays in life. And in his book, Children of the Great Depression, Glen Elder wrote that adolescents who experienced hardship in the 1930s became especially adaptable, family-oriented adults; perhaps, as a result of this recession, today’s adolescents will be pampered less and counted on for more, and will grow into adults who feel less entitled than recent generations.

If so, I hope to count my children among them.  Interestingly enough my mother, born in 1928, was very adaptable and family-oriented, and ruggedly independent (a label a friend recently tagged me with) as well.  I think the lessons she learned during the hard times in her life, both as a youngster at the tail end of the depression and later as a divorced mother of four school-aged children, and which she imparted to me, go a long way to explaining why I’m able to roll with the punches the last few years have dealt me.  My children were all in orphanages when I adopted them.  I had intended to try my best to make up for that – to give them everything they might have been denied, to raise them full of American self-esteem and the belief that they could do and be anything they could want to be.  I still intend to do that, but just as I did, working my way through both undergraduate and graduate school, they will learn the benefits of earning their self-esteem and rewards through hard-work and perseverance rather than having them handed to them.  They might not be able to have anything they want but I hope they will still believe, and develop the skills to be what they want.

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