Thursday, July 30, 2009

Are We Lost Yet?

It was Gertrude Stein, supposedly, who coined the phrase "Lost Generation" to describe those men and women of the world who came of age and fought through The Great War. Of course, they're also known for living through the Great Depression and then the Second World War, some of them even making it all the way to the moon landing.

And then it was the character Tyler Durden who said of Generation X (and I'm using the movie as the quote source), "We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off." And he was right about them. They came of age after the tumult of the 60's, after the disaster of Vietnam. They came of age during the Cold War, during the 80's when music was either overproduced or totally raw, when yuppies were using cocaine and Reagonomics reigned.

So who are we? Are we lost?

We don't have a great war, either. Only the war on terror. In a way, I guess it's more like the Cold War than either World War; it creates global tensions and is a fight over ideologies, though not exactly political ideologies on both sides. Except it's dragging on, like Vietnam (which is a hot part of the Cold War). But whatever.

We also don't exactly have a great depression. Except, what are we in?

Like Generation X, we were made promises. But our promises seemed more realistic on the surface; we didn't all expect to become rock stars (although with reality TV and youtube it's easier than ever for some unknown to become known), but we were given a very simple recipe for success.

"Go to college, get a bachelor's degree, and when you graduate you can get a nice office job at the very least and have the life you want." Then when we started graduating, that happened. And we very easily bought houses, nice cars, giant televisions and Playstations and laptops and iPods.

But now what?

Ten per cent unemployment? I know they keep saying that we're going to hit that soon. But I have news; we're well beyond it. That unemployment rate you hear them talk about on the news, that's a number that is arrived at very carefully. Nine and a half per cent of the employable population currently receives unemployment insurance. That doesn't count the unemployed who never filed for benefits. It doesn't count the people who were laid off and applied for benefits and didn't receive them. It doesn't count the people who applied, received, and then ran out of benefits without finding a job (many of whom are in such despair they have stopped searching for jobs).

And it doesn't count the millions of college graduates who followed that simple advice of going to college, getting their bachelor's degree with the ultimate goal of gainful employment, and then were unable to get hired. You can't apply for unemployment benefits if you never had a job.

A friend of mine who graduated in May 2008 has been looking for a job since then. Last week, I went to the Whitaker Music Festival at the Missouri Botanical Gardens with a group of eight people, all of whom are either in college now or have graduated in the last five years. Only two of us had jobs. Two are still in school, three graduated and haven't been able to find jobs, and one was laid off five months ago and hasn't had so much as an interview in all that time.

Each time I think of the Lost Generation, I think of them gathering at cafes in Paris, drinking heavily, maybe to forget their reason for being lost. Perhaps that is what sets our generation apart from theirs; when we drink, we're hopeful. We toast, to the future. To what it may hold. We're waiting to be handed the reins, to shoulder the responsibility of running the world. Maybe we are drinking to forget. We're trying to forget the fact that while we hope someday to inherit stewartship of this planet, so few of us are in a position to even get a glimpse of what that may be like. They keep shutting us out.

I guess we'll all run to grad school, get our PhDs, and wait for the current leaders to fix things up for us. But let's not do that. We want a shot at helping. Somebody give us a chance. Otherwise, we'll be woefully underprepared to take over when those of us who have been where we want to go start leaving.


Molly said...

Every generation has it's lost moments. There are few human experiences that are truly unique.

Abalama said...

To be fair Elliot, I have had two temp position . . . but yes, dozens of interviews but no one want to take a chance because they don't have to. They have other choices who "have more experience" rather than teach a newly college grad who will be loyal and has enough to apply for the job, enough experience that they asked for. Sorry, a little rant . . . I'm just kinda mad at the people who ask for a certain criteria and then get 500 applicants for a simple 13 an hour job. GAH!!! COLLEGE GRADS NEED MONEY AND BENEFITS TOO!

mGk said...

Your subtle optimism surprises me. Is it possible I got both the slow metabolism and the pessimism genes? Could life be any more unfair? Oh my life is horrible and I can't even be positive about the future! Whoa is me!

STLcolleen said...

Your subtle optimism surprises me as well. And yes, this is probably our generation's rough spot, or really growing pains. We were raised with the idea that by our mid twenties we'd be successfully settling into careers, families, or living some fabulously independent lifestyle. Now that it hasn't really panned out that we, we're impatient and uncertain and frustrated. We have to keep our optimism though, because it's the only way we can get through this and manage to remain in the good graces of society, instead of simply being pitied for being lost.

That being said, I'm definitely going to grad school (while keeping my job - I hope!).

bridget said...

Maybe you need to drink more.

k:) said...

I too feel optimistic that the reason I haven't gotten a job yet is because the perfect job is sitting out there waiting for me. Also, while I am thinking about it- it could be far worse(knock on wood)-all of us. I have to see the silver lining, otherwise I have no hope and without it I am lost. I love your writing by the way...I look forward to traveling the world on your book tours.

Becca said...

BURN! Do I deny that yes, I am currently using grad school as an excuse to delay my entrance into the full time workforce? No. But in my own defense, I entered grad school 2.5 years ago, before the general public even had a whiff of the recession. I envision several different scenarios of what life will be like post grad school:

Scenario #1. I graduate with a PhD in approximately 3.5 years time to a recovered global economy. Score Job!

Scenario #2. Everyone else decides grad school is a good idea to ride out said recession, and in 3 years time we have even more over educated unemployable people. Who's excited?!

* * *

Fingers crossed that the fact that I am currently working as well (ah yes I'm a greedy bastard) in my chosen industry (my boss said today that she is making me business cards that say "Operations Manager". How important does that sound??) will equate job experience and make me super employable.

In the meantime, hang in there. I maintain that everything will work out, and those with great skills, work ethic, ambition and a positive outlook with be rewarded. We all just have to be patient.

That, and it could be worse. We will be the general to see Climate Change, and Peak Oil. That will be our great test. At least with WW1 and WW2 we knew who the enemy was. Climate Change? It seems our own worst enemy is ourselves.

End of rant