Derek Thompson at The Atlantic has posted a fascinating collection of letters from todays twenty-somethings in which they voice their frustration with the current job market and the larger prospects for their lives. These recent college graduates, many of them unemployed or underemployed, do not hesitate to assign blame. One writer directs his rage at:
a predatory system of higher education and the failures of a generation that came before. I’m angry that a “state” university costs as much as it does. That many, if not most of the students who attend, treat the experience like a 4-year version of MTV’s Spring Break. Massive grade inflation means one less standard deviation between myself and those who don’t try [ . . . ] Then there’s the baby boomer generation. Guardians of the state, they have left it dysfunctional. Watchdogs of the economy, they have let it burn. Stewards of the earth, they have done little to curb its exploitation or prepare for a more sustainable future.
For men and women this young, the cynicism is overwhelming, and the contrast with previous generations attempts to change the world is notable. But are young people justified in blaming the world they were born into as the source of their misery? Or, like another writer, should they blame themselves? Another respondent discusses how her lifelong belief in hard work and carefully manicured resume building was shattered:
In high school, I worked two jobs, took college coursework, participated in ten student organizations, held prominent leadership positions and earned a 4.0 GPA. I was rewarded with a scholarship to a top twenty university and had the whole world ahead of me . . . .
Yet, as the writer goes on to explain, all of this ultimately landed her an unpaid internship, followed by a stint moving back in with her parents.
Thus far, the so-called Millennials (at least in the United States) have mostly kept their disappointment to themselves. But will their disenchantment ever surface publicly, as it has in parts of Europe? Might this early experience of hardship create a new crop of leaders or result in new definitions of success, away from the resume-oriented, double-working-parent model? Or is there a danger that this group of Americans will begin to resemble another Lost Generation?