I recently turned 30. Americans of my generation need a high school diploma to get a part-time minimum-wage job without benefits. If you want better, you not only need a bachelor’s, but probably a master’s degree. Even with these qualifications most workers change jobs every few years due to market conditions. Employers are not hiring now. Necessary costs and prices have gone up or remain volatile, while wages generally have not. It is increasingly hard to save for retirement and what many Americans have insufficient savings. With credit tight and interest and market returns low, nothing is working in our favor. For many, kids, houses, and vacations are outside the budget.
Our parents entered a workforce in which one didn’t need even a high school diploma to obtain full-time employment that provided for basic needs. Many were able to find work straight out of school or college. Often, they stayed in the same job for 30 years. Costs, prices, employer programs, and market conditions were such that many could afford a house, a car, kids, and a retirement, sometimes with only one spouse working or one only working part-time. Sometimes there was even enough for vacations or a fishing boat.
Our parents’ generation, as young adults, led a movement to change American society into one that offered more opportunities to more people than offered their parents’ generation. Americans wanted class mobility; they wanted the chance to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. They wanted more economic freedom. They also wanted a system with a “safety net” that also guaranteed a minimum level of subsistence. The result was civil, women’s, and labor rights legislation, as well as increased Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs. Not everyone wanted all or some of these programs, but the majority did.
Today, our parents’ generation is battling to preserve a system that no longer works and are unwilling to make any sacrifices to fix it. Unfortunately, this is to the detriment of their own children. Their main argument is they were promised things, held up their end of the bargain, and are ready to collect. People of our parents’ generation hold every major position of power inAmerica, whether in elected office or the private sector. All the problems coming to the surface now were foreseeable and began and have grown on their watch, yet they’re unwilling to change anything even now to solve them.
The world has changed. Applying 1980s ideas to 21st century problems is a recipe for failure. The 1990s arguments between liberals and conservatives should have ended by now. What we need today is American pragmatism. We don’t need a 1960s people’s movement or to “go back” to 1950s values. These old battles are long over. We don’t need 20th century “revolution;” we need 21st century evolution.America can’t be a country led by ideologies that look back over our shoulder. To continue to lead the world today, we need to keep looking ahead. Right now, we’re stuck in first gear and going nowhere.