The Corner

Talkin’ Bout My Generation

This is an old New York Times story (end of August) that somehow came across the Twitter transom today, but it’s pitch-perfect Times. It answers one of the pressing questions of middle America, and dare I say of all 99-percenters: How fares the 26-year-old Harvard grad who couldn’t get a publishing job with her English lit degree? Well, friends, it’s pretty dire:

At one point, she had applied for an editorial-assistant job at Gourmet magazine. Less than two weeks later, Condé Nast shut down that 68- year-old magazine. “So much for that job application,” said Ms. Klein, now 26.

One night she bumped into a friend, who asked her to join a punk rock band, Titus Andronicus, as a guitarist. Once, that might have been considered professional suicide. But weighed against a dreary day job, music suddenly held considerable appeal. So last spring, she sublet her room in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn and toured the country in an old Chevy minivan.

“I’m fulfilling my artistic goals,” Ms. Klein said.

Meet the members of what might be called Generation Limbo: highly educated 20-somethings, whose careers are stuck in neutral, coping with dead-end jobs and listless prospects.

I’m not going to give Ms. Klein the same crap I gave JD Samson, because Klein is not really complaining here. Nor should she be. Titus Andronicus is not a garage outfit. They’re signed to a major independent label (XL recordings), have appeared on Late Night (albeit the ersatz, Jimmy Fallon version) and play in big venues and major music festivals. It doesn’t sound like Klein is a millionaire, but my guess is she isn’t living on off-brand ramen either.

What’s more telling is that she would be offered as emblematic of a generation — “Generation Limbo” as the author puts it — along with the likes of Stephanie Morales, a 23-year-old Dartmouth grad who wanted a job in “the arts” but has been forced to work as a paralegal, and who claims that half a dozen of her Ivy-League friends are on food stamps:

Some of Ms. Morales’s classmates have found themselves on welfare. “You don’t expect someone who just spent four years in Ivy League schools to be on food stamps,” said Ms. Morales, who estimates that a half-dozen of her friends are on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. A few are even helping younger graduates figure out how to apply. “We are passing on these traditions on how to work in the adult world as working poor,” Ms. Morales said.

But the modal 20-something in America is not an Ivy-League educated bassist living on food stamps in Brooklyn. Not now, not yet. Yet if by its selection of my generation’s mascots, the Times is again betraying its tendency to be preoccupied with the travails of a bi-coastal socioeconomic sliver that Whit Stillman would call “the urban, haute bourgeoisie“, they’re not alone. Indeed, that sort of narrative has probably been played for laughs and rhetorical points a easily by those of us the Right, during the “occupation” of Wall Street. It’s easy to laugh at vegan casseroles and long-haired ironists, at downward-twinkles and the kid who thinks you should pay his college tuition because he thinks you should pay his college tuition. It is every conservative’s God-given right to (rhetorically) punch hippies, and far be it from me to tell anybody to stop — indeed, I’ve done my share of it. But while many of my fellow 20-somethings — including many of those in Zuccotti Park — are likely over-educated and underemployed, naive and entitled, it shouldn’t be forgotten that most of us did not go to Ivy League schools on borrowed dimes. That most of us did not major in Gender Studies. That by my estimate, somewhere between 88 and 96 percent of us* are gainfully employed. And that a similarly large proportion of us thus don’t have the time or inclination to Occupy Wall Street. The kids are still all right. Most of us, anyway. 


*The unemployment rate for college grads over 25 is 4.2 percent, and I quickly summed the unemployment numbers for the 20-24 and 24-29 demos and figured out that the unemployment rate for 20-somethings is about 12.2 percent.


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