Sending an SOS: The Young Adult Crisis

This past Thanksgiving I was a little more grateful than usual, amongst the usual thanks for family, health, and a roof over my head, I added something new to be thankful for: a second chance. These past two years were difficult for me: going through educational ordeals involving a wasted year in college (due to me failing), and legal issues. This season is different though; I was given a very rare second chance and came back to college to do things right this time.

The truth of the matter is, I received a chance very few people my age ever get. If it weren’t for my supportive parents, I would be on the streets begging some higher power for redemption. The current generation faces this crisis. Compared to their parents, Millennials face adulthood as a life or death situation instead of a momentous first step into the net phase of life. “High school graduates take longer now than they did in the mid-1970s to become self-sufficient and to earn enough to support a family,” states Sheldon Danzinger in his paper “Labor Market Outcomes and the Transition to Adulthood.” He is one of many authors that bring to light the truth of our crisis.

The fact is young adults are finding it harder to be successful and independent at 18. The standard model that most recognize is where parents care for their child until the age of 18 where legally the parent no longer holds responsibility over their child’s needs. In today’s time, it might seem harsh for parents to take off the work gloves and leave their children to fend for themselves at 18, but it was much more of a norm than most youth would think.

The 18-year model should work—it’s worked for centuries—yet now in this time we find a shift in the progression of young adults; more and more are staying with their parents long after they turn 18. The shift in age has become so drastic and set that 25 is the new 18, where once being 25 and living with parents was a complete social taboo, it is now virtually necessary.

The first question naturally is why the model no longer works. In Frank Furstenberg’s’ article, “On a New Schedule: Transitions to Adulthood and Family Change,” he goes into detail about American welfare, explaining that, compared to other countries, America’s funding for education leaves a lot of uncovered costs that parents must pick up. This trend, combined with inflation and a struggling economy, puts more dependency on parents. As such, there is a rising number of youth staying home longer.

He also goes on to explain factors that contribute to this radical shift. In his paper he explains, “Young people today, men and women alike, aspire to jobs that require postsecondary education. It simply takes more time than it did even a half-century ago to gain a job that is secure enough to form and support a family.” What he says makes sense: post-secondary education pertains to the age group after the 18-year marker, combine that with the fact that paying for college is like buying a house and you have a very strong reason why young adults are still living with their parents.

While it is true that an 18 year old can acquire the funding for some form of living, it is foolish to think that surviving paycheck by paycheck with barely, if any, money left over to pay for things that aren’t bills such as food is enjoyable; this isn’t a desirable life for anyone. Factors such as this make the duty of parents even more crucial to become aware of.

Unlike the past generation, young adults must invest more time in aspects of post-secondary education and job seeking to be successful. Combine these factors with the ever-rising price of college tuition and it isn’t hard to see why there is such a stronger dependence on parents today. “As well-paying unskilled and semi-skilled jobs disappeared, the single-earner family became less tenable for most Americans,” Furstenberg refers to the decline of factory labor after World War II, which had been booming in the previous years.

He continues, “Education through high school and beyond was no longer a luxury but a necessity for both men and women who aspired to middle-class employment and earnings.” This is where the shift from post-war and modern day job trends is made apparent. It makes simple sense too: supply must respond to demand. In this case, the demand for a more specialized workforce rose greatly, whereas the demand for war materials and simple workforce declined.

It is so crucial for parents to be aware of their role in their child’s lives. I plead for all parents to support their children: in the quest for shooting for the stars, parents are the only ones that can make the journey possible.

As important as it is for parents to support young adults along their journey, it is just as important for the education system to guide and prepare its students for the world. The main problem with today’s education is its priority: to secure funding.

Now to prevent uproar over my blunt statement I will clarify the reasoning behind it using the school system in Pennsylvania. The PSSA, short for Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, is given by the state to analyze the ability of its schools teaching kids how to read, write, and do simple math.

Most if not all of high school curriculum is spent on preparing students for the PSSA, and the reason for this is that the state government funds those who keep their scores average to above-average scores with bonuses as incentives. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like such a bad idea, but consider this: does basic math and literacy prepare students for adult life? The answer is a huge and bold ‘No’. The solution to the education system is a shift in the fundamental workings of how students are being taught.

Donald Millard comments on the faulty system and makes a plea towards teachers in his paper, “Preparing Students for the New Reality.” His main argument is that students go through schooling with a sense of ‘entitlement’, that primary and secondary schools foster a sense of an easy life ahead when in reality it isn’t so easy. “Many students have been lulled into complacency by protective parents, schools concerned mainly with developing students’ self-esteem, and a system that rewards everyone, regardless of their performance.” Here, he emphasizes how far from the truth students really are in relation to the challenge of post-school life.

Students are unaware of the competitive job market. I agree with Millard’s plea; the truth of the matter is, we as students have no clue what’s going on and for teachers or anyone in general to expect that we will eventually get an idea is truly absurd.

Students are highly impressionable within grades 7-12, if teachers take a couple minutes out of their lesson plan to give their students a little real-life insight, they will help students a lot more than by reinstating the belief that life will always be easy.

If I had gotten some warning before I graduated from high school about exactly what kind of beast college and adult life was, I know my first year of college would be less of a wake-up call and more of a welcome party to adulthood. Fixing the education system not only benefits this generation, but a smarter, focused workforce leads to a stronger economy.

The economy is the omnipotent enemy; everyone depends on jobs and money to survive. If we fix education and the family system, that still will not be enough to fix the crisis. Contrary to what popular media might say about presidents in relation to national debt and recession, signs of a recession preceded the time stated by news companies such as FOX and NBC. Most readers will agree that 10-15 years ago gas prices in Pennsylvania were at a maximum of $1.75, nowadays one is surely lucky to find gas here below $3.50.

In recent years, gas prices started to represent the current state of the economy, and it’s been nothing but bleak. Young adults are having the hardest time in this economy as compared to those over the age of 35. The truth is, young adults have to build themselves financially from the ground up in one of the worse times to do so.

This financial foundation is crucial to a young adult’s success in life; without a solid foothold, our generation is doomed to struggle perpetually. “A young adult’s ability to work steadily and become economically selfsufficient is a primary, if not the most important, marker of a successful transition to adulthood,” explains Sheldon Danziger in his paper, “Labor Market Outcomes and the Transition to Adulthood.”

He paints a bleak outlook for the future when he states, “The severe recession that started in December 2007 and the simultaneous large declines in the value of homes and the net worth of families imply that the economic prospects of young adults in the next several years will be worse than the data presented here suggest.” In this, he introduces many important factors of the bad economy we are in; it is not hard to find news reports today speaking of the continuous decline of the real estate industry, along with careful eyes on the stock market for anything that resembles a possible revival of the economy.

The most important part of this to realize is that young adults are more the victims than part of the cause. For most of this generation, we entered this recession with no clue exactly what was going on. There was a general idea that things would be rough, but no one could have predicted how hard it would actually be.

What’s worse is that since the economy is such a complex monster, there is no real solution on how to fix it. Some are quick to point towards the government for reform, whereas others, like Shapiro, blame older adults. If there is a true solution to this financial crisis, it will not be from one source, but a combined reform of the whole global industry around us; everything from how we buy and sell to how businesses run even to how the government manages capitalism will need to change in some way to bring about an economic reform.

We are a generation of struggle in a world of doubt and bleak outlooks, and critics are hard pressed to say otherwise. What is most important about our plight is that we are not the only victims and that is why it is so crucial for parents, grandparents, and older adults to understand that this generation cannot fix the world on its own.

Our generation still has a good 10-20 years before we are no longer in the spotlight. The world will be different then, but more importantly, the next generation will be where we are right now. The lesson to learn from all this is that, like those before us, we are creating the path for those to come.

Those in power today will not control the future, which is why it’s so crucial for us to be successful; the better our generation is, the more we can learn from the mistakes of those before us, the brighter the future for those after us will be. I am pleading for those of this generation to wake up and smell the coffee, we still have time to make things right, but only if we are willing to do so. In the end, through all the hardships encountered, it is us and only us that can fix what is broken. I envision a future that I can one day bring a child into where I will not have to fear about whether my child will make it in this world, that is why this crisis needs to be fixed, not for us, but for our children.

I leave this blog with some food for thought: next Thanksgiving, for parents, be thankful for your children and that they are still okay, and for us twenty-something’s, be thankful for your parents and how far you’ve gotten.

References

Danziger, Sheldon, and David Ratner. “Labor Market Outcomes and the Transition to Adulthood.” Future of Children 20.1 (2010): 133-158.Academic Search Complete. Web. 21 Oct. 2012

Furstenberg Jr., Frank F. “On a New Schedule: Transitions to Adulthood and Family Change.” Future of Children 20.1 (2010): 67-87. Academic Search Complete. Web. 18 Oct. 2012.

Millard, Donald S., and Thomas E. Slocombe. “Preparing Students for the New Reality.” College Student Journal 46.1 (2012): 18-25. Academic Search Complete. Web. 18 Oct. 2012.

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