Author describes unspoken war on American youth -- by American elders
What is the great divide splitting America? Republican and Democrat? Male and female? Black and white? Esquire columnist Stephen Marche thinks there is a profound, and ever widening gap between young and old Americans.
Stephen Marche thinks America is ensnared in an unspoken war, a war against young people.
"Nobody ever talks about generational conflict. Who wants to bring up that the old are eating the young at the dinner table? How are you going to mention that to your boss? If you're a politician, how are you going to tell your donors?" Marche wrote in April's issue of Esquire Magazine. "Even the Occupy Wall Street crowd ... shied away from articulating the fundamental distinction that fills their spaces with crowds: young against old."
Stehen Marche's essay on the subject, "The War Against Youth," begins with a set of provocative statistics illustrating the bleak financial prospects young Americans face.
"In 1984, American breadwinners who were sixty-five and over made ten times as much as those under thirty-five. The year Obama took office, older Americans made almost forty-seven times as much as the younger generation," Marche wrote.
In an interview, Marche said the statistics he found speak to dramatic changes in American society.
"How much opportunity do young people have? The real shocking statistic is that only 54 percent of under 24's are employed right now, which is the lowest number since they started keeping statistics," Marche said. "85 percent of college graduates had to move back home, this is a massive cultural shift."
After college students move back home, the situation doesn't get much brighter. According to Marche, the current economic landscape, particularly high tuition costs, has generated enormous obstacles for upward mobility.
"A medical school graduate in 1990 had an average of $25,000 in debt. Now the average is $157,000," Marche said. "We've made this decision to have all entry to the middle class made with these massive quantities of debt. that affects the earning potential of young people forever. Even if you're a doctor, if you're the highest skilled professional that you can be, you're not going to have any assets until you're 40. This not only has economic consequences, it has political consequences."
Marche thinks this massive generational gap can be attributed in part to the spending priorities of the baby boomer generation. He's referring to the difference in the budgets of age-specific programs such as Social Security and Head Start. Programs designated for the elderly receive substantially more money.
According to Marche, this disparity has tipped so dramatically in favor of the older cohort, that a whole new system of financial injustice has become mainstream: unpaid internships. Marche thinks the popularization of unpaid internships has encouraged employers to take advantage of young people.
"In 1980, 3 percent of graduates had gone through an internships. It was unheard of," Marche said. "Now virtually everyone goes through multiple stages of internships. Your work is not worth any money. If you can't get a middle class job without having to work for free for a year, that creates an enormous economic barrier. Disney has 7,000 interns. Does it really not have money to pay young people to have starter jobs?"
Marche attributes particular blame to tax cuts promoted by Republican baby boomers.
"A young person voting for a Republican is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders," Marche said. "It is very clear that the Republicans are anti-youth."
Despite his strongly worded diatribe, Marche's article has been knocked for not highlighting a meaningful solution. In a response published in the Huffington Post, Richard Eskow berated Marche for failing to mention the option of raising payroll taxes for high earners. Instead, Marche advocates lowering the hurdles young people face as they try to access the workforce.
"The solutions are not that complicated. Don't raise tuition. Don't make it so that every student graduates $32,000 in debt," Marche said. "I think the answer is the boomers moving on. That's a horrible answer to give, but that's probably the truth."
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