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Worsening reality

Kids today are lazy, with an overblown sense of entitlement. Kids today are facing a sinking economy, loaded with debt and facing diminishing job prospects. Pick one.

Baby boomers should retire, making way for the next generation who can’t find employment. Baby boomers have to keep working, as jobs go unfilled and their taxes are needed to pay for all the services required by an aging populace.
Pick one.

Which ones you choose probably depends on your age.

Every generation feels the one that came after it has it easier and doesn’t appreciate what they’ve got. In the industrial era, each generation has done better than the previous one … until now. Things are changing. Those who tut-tut the students out in the streets of Montreal see only entitled kids, not the struggle. They may be going about it all wrong – the jury’s still out on that one – but the issues are real.

Baby boomers, especially those leading the cohort, did have it easier, coming of age at a time when the economy was booming, housing was much more affordable and education, which was much less called for, was more affordable. Those born in the 1980s and ’90s find themselves in a much different world, one filled with a struggling middle class, the victims of free trade, outsourcing and a shift to a service economy.

Those early boomers lucky enough to land a well-paying job with benefits and a full pension face a soft landing today. Plenty of others, however, had no such luck, and find themselves being squeezed along with the millennials. Those who rode the consumer wave, relying on home-equity loans and credit cards to maintain their middle-class lifestyles, see no chance of retirement, let alone Freedom 55.

There are those who argue that older workers should step aside, making room for young people having a tough time finding jobs. That flies in the face, however, of the government’s rationale for continuing to flood the country with immigrants, claiming we need them to deal with a growing shortage of workers. This at a time when overall unemployment rates hover around eight per cent – with the real rate, including underemployment, well into double digits – and the official youth unemployment at 13 per cent.

Leaving aside the fact the immigration is a net drain on Canada’s resources, depressing wages and helping to fuel the housing bubble, the shifting economic trends away from good-paying, stable jobs to precarious, low-paying McJobs is enough to sound alarm bells.

It’s a much different scenario than was the case for boomers. There was a time when someone could get a decent job right out of high school, paying enough to afford a home, a car and some of the comforts of life. Some of those jobs, including factory work, weren’t ideal in everybody’s eyes, but they allowed for a good, middle-class life. In some cases, workers who started in the mailroom as kids ended up in the executive suites – I certainly new more than a few relatives and parents of friends who went that route.

Today, if you do manage to get a mailroom job, you’re probably stuck there for the duration.

That reality is greatly at odds with the expectations of today’s young people, which is where we get into the image of spoiled, entitled kids. Ironically, it’s the offspring of the boomers, whose parents fueled the consumer-based economy and fostered a system that boosted children’s self-esteem above all else, who are bearing the brunt of derisive comments.

While it’s easy to generalize, there’s something to the argument that some of today’s young people have a sense of entitlement that doesn’t mesh with reality, past or present.
The National Report Card on Youth Financial Literacy, a research study released last fall, quantified just what we’re up against.

The survey of some 3,000 recent high school graduates found most were overly optimistic about their financial prospects. The median survey respondent expects to earn $70,000 in 10 years’ time (more than double the reported income of Canadian post secondary graduates 10 years older) and almost three quarters expect to purchase a home within 10 years, which is a much higher rate than actual home ownership in this country.

The average survey respondent expects to earn $90,735 in 10 years, roughly three times the average income of 25 to 29 year olds with post-secondary degrees ($31,648), according to Statistics Canada data.

Clearly there is a divide between expectations and the realities of the job market, one that is pointed to in trying to explain why young people are rejecting entry-level jobs, where wages, hours and working conditions don’t align with their idea of what a job should be.

That perhaps explains some of the almost one million young people out of work in this country, a cohort known as NEETs — Not in Employment Education or Training. Some 513,000 of those 15 to 29 years of age who are neither working nor in school aren’t even looking for work.

With prospects showing no sign of improvement, expect the new generation gap to grow.

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