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Generation Debt Hardcover – February 2, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Surveying the economic realities facing today's 20- and 30-somethings, 24-four-old Kamenetz decides, "It's not too dramatic to say that the nation is abandoning its children." Thanks to skyrocketing tuition and changes in federal funding, college students are graduating with an average of almost $20,000 in loans at the same time that jobs have become scarcer, real wages have dropped and the cost of health care has soared. Is it any wonder that kids are boomeranging home and racking up credit card debt? Kamenetz, who first wrote about these issues for the Village Voice, intertwines an analytical overview of the new economic obstacles with interviews of the financially strapped and descriptions of her own experience struggling to make ends meet as a freelance journalist. Her book is livelier than Tamara Draut's similarly themed Strapped, but lighter in its analysis of law and policy. Most interestingly, Kamenetz documents how our perception of the crisis is shaped by self-centered boomers who have lost touch with their children's plight. More of a white paper than a guidebook, this volume doesn't offer under-40s much personal financial advice (that job is taken up by Gener@tion Debt, see review below). It does, however, make clear how imperative it is that we find solutions to these problems as quickly as possible. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
A new book tackles the 18-to-35-year-old generation's problems--those they face and those they create.Kamenetz believes the younger generation is hampered by the fact that salaries and job opportunities haven't kept up with drastically increasing costs of living. Because of the exorbitant cost of college, many young people can't afford to go, and those who do go graduate with huge debt. Graduates expect to pay off those loans once they get jobs, but entry-level jobs often come with low wages. The job prospects are even worse for those who don't finish or who don't go to college at all--some can't even afford living on their own, another drastically increased cost. The solution to these problems? Kamenetz makes a passionate argument for young people to take action, such as lobbying the government as a cohesive group and being practical and frugal about money matters.
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
I currently have a child in high school and I watch with amazement as districts push more and more students into the college merry-go-round with little thought as to whether or not they will be able to handle the work, or even finish a degree. At the same time I have watched as programs that would be very useful to the majority of today's kids are cut because the world has become so focused on testing and keeping little "Johnny" up to speed when he should be held back.
An example is the auto shop programs from when I was in high school. You could leave high school and get a job working as an auto mechanic directly from school. The programs now don't have the financing to buy the computer technology needed for these kids to actualy work as mechanics, even though the vast majority of graduating students will never go to college and will need some type of vo-tech training before they can become employable.
As is pointed out in this book, maybe we should re-examine the needs and desires of todays students to see what classes will actually beneft them. Adding classes which will allow students to work directly from school would decrease their debt loading and it would free up college space, as well as help employers get emplyees with a good solid training in a field that they want to work in.
I am fortunate enough to live in a district that is looking in that direction and is trying to figure out what classes the kids of today need to become employable in a global economy without having to become mired in debt while obtaining a degree thay may never use.
"If you look at where public resources are directed--toward the already wealthy, toward building prisons and expanding the military, away from education and jobs programs--it is easy to see a prejudice against young people as a class."
"It's hard to commit to a family, a community, a job, or a life path when you don't know if you'll be able to make a living, make a marriage last, or live free of debt."
". . . a [Social Security] tax cut for high earners today is really a massive tax increase for those whose careers are largely ahead of us."
Kamenetz does a good job describing the obstacles facing young people today. I'm a bit older than her interviewees (depending on which historian you pick, I was born in the last year of the Baby Boom or the first year of the Baby Bust). I certainly don't have much in common with the Vietnam generation. I managed to fall into some of the traps she discusses--I have a big chunk of student loan debt from graduate school, but eight years later I'm making about the same money now as I did before I got that extra degree. Facing twenty or so more years of payments, I agree with Kamenetz' message that young people should think twice before going into debt for their education.
Kamenetz does a poor job in diagnosing some of the reasons for young peoples' economic problems. She says nothing about the increase in the U.S. population. The real problem with the Boomers is not that they were especially selfish, but that there were too many of them. The preceding WWII generation came home from the war with the idea that they deserved a happy suburban family life in return for their wartime sacrifices. They assumed the party was going to last forever, and that they could invite as many new people as they wanted. The result is they had lots of kids, and also let in enormous numbers of new immigrants. Unfortunately, all those extra people have meant big declines in quality of life. The Generation X and Yers are now having to deal with reduced expectations, because there just isn't enough land or resources for them to live like their parents or grandparents.
Kamenetz misses the boat on some economic questions. She is puzzled by the recent jobless recovery, where there has been consistent economic growth but no new jobs created. The truth is that there was no recovery. The economic growth the government is so proud of giving us is nothing but the product of poor economic reporting. Economic growth is conventionally measured by GDP, which doesn't include any corrections for population growth, depletion of natural resources, pollution costs, or decline in the quality of life. More accurate economic measures such as the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW), show that there has been little or no real economic growth since the 1970s.
Kamenetz is too optimistic about the potential for economic growth in the future, as well. The next decade or so is likely to bring serious economic problems in the U.S., as we pass the global oil peak. For more on this, I would suggest reading Kunstler's "The Long Emergency."
Kamenetz is naive on the subject of health care. She proposes a national health care system, but that would not address the real problem. Having insurers pay for most health care costs has decoupled doctors from financial reality. The result is that a huge percentage of our health care dollars go to pay for heroic care for people who are terminally ill and in their last few months of life. Medicare has made this problem worse, by making taxpayers pay to insure people that private insurers would never be able to offer affordable policies to. I don't see any way to stop this runaway train other than to get rid of Medicare altogether. I know it sounds harsh, but the market is the best way to regulate who gets health care and who does not.
Kamenetz needs to pay attention to some of the root causes of high housing costs. One of the most important of these is the huge subsidies given to the automobile. We all love to park for free, but municipal parking requirements add enormously to housing prices. Everyone pays these added costs, including young people who can't afford a car. For more on this, I would suggest reading Shoup's "The High Cost of Free Parking."
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