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The Boomerang Kids Won't Leave (nytimes.com)
90 points by wallflower on June 20, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 146 comments

Is there anything wrong with young people staying at home for longer? The "move out before you're 21 or you're a loser" message is a relatively new one and doesn't make all that much sense.

There are so many people paying half of their salary to live in some tiny flat in London while their parents have a 5 bedroom house somewhere much nicer that is mostly unoccupied. Just because they feel they must be "independent" (even though some of these people are receiving parental subsidies anyway).

Why not just let the buy to let market shrink and bring some semblance of sanity back to house pricing. People who live with their parents will have much lower financial risk and thus can take jobs which focus on experience rather than salary and they can save money for entrepreneurial activity or to later on buy the houses which will be cheaper as a result.

I for one remember the wave of articles in the late 90s early 00s bemoaning the death of the multi generational household and how we lose so much culture and history.

> thus can take jobs which focus on experience rather than salary and they can save money for entrepreneurial activity

Yeah, but the tone of the article is that they're not doing that. They're working menial or frustrating jobs that they're not sticking around very long at. And very likely not saving much money from.

Whether that's self-imposed or a reality of external factors is a source of debate, but the outlook's the same either way: bleak.

Some are, I know a few. As long as sufficient of the saved money is invested wisely it can be used to the betterment of the economy and eventually employment.

Sure, but this article isn't really about that group.

Regardless of being a super responsible person saving/investing your money wisely while living at home, if you're unable to obtain fruitful employment by your early 30s then something has gone seriously awry, either internal or external to that person.

I meant that for those who do invest, hopefully those investments create opportunities for those unemployed by creating new business etc.

>Is there anything wrong with young people staying at home for longer?

Well, one of the reasons is that oftentimes this ends up being a crutch. Little reason to take any chances, or really apply yourself when you can tell yourself that mom & dad will bail you out. Of course, not everyone is like this; some people have the necessary drive (and resources) to kick ass right out of high-school. But many don't realize their true potential until they're forced to do so.

If you live at home you can afford to take more chances. You can start a business with less worries of having to cover extortionate rent every month which is something that keeps many people in their 9-5.

I totally agree with you. But there is a big difference between living at home so you can get your business off the ground, and living at home so you can more easily afford your video game hobby.

All I'm saying is that the world isn't black-and-white. Parents need to make the judgement call about what is best for their child. Sometimes that's letting them stay at home to build up resources. Sometimes it's forcing them out to let them learn and develop themselves. Sometimes it's probably something between the two, like charging rent.

> I totally agree with you. But there is a big difference between living at home so you can get your business off the ground, and living at home so you can more easily afford your video game hobby.

Or so that you can afford the rent-sized payment on your student loan debt.

Realistically, who's going to tell their somewhat lazy underachieving child to get out and go to a homeless shelter or park bench?

>Realistically, who's going to tell their somewhat lazy underachieving child to get out and go to a homeless shelter or park bench?

Please don't strawman me. At no point did I say we should kick kids out of the house with nothing, nor not allow them back under their parents' wing when they fail. It's absolutely silly (in normal circumstances) to force your kid to live at a homeless shelter when you have the resources to help them back on their feet. But I feel it's important to do so in a manner than encourages independence, rather than encouraging dependance. After all, the parents won't be around forever- sooner or later the kid(s) will need to be self-sufficient enough to survive without that safety net.

What I said was in response to the parent's question of "is there anything wrong with letting kids stay at home longer". That's all.

How do you do that without a credible threat of kicking them out on the street? I'm serious.

I don't pay rent to my landlord because I feel like being independent, I do it because otherwise he'll evict me.

First and probably most importantly, they may not be able to pursue their career or hobby of choice while living with their parents. As someone who grew up in a small town, I basically had no choice but to leave if I wanted to do something that I'd enjoy with my life. My parents, on the other hand, have careers that allow them to live very comfortably in more rural areas but wouldn't be paid commensurately in a big city, so it just wouldn't make economic sense for them to try to come along with me.

Second, moving out gives you an opportunity to see more of the world. Visiting a place is not the same as living there and will never give you the same depth of appreciation.

It's also a hell of a lot easier to socialize with your own age group and demographic in London or any other major city than it is in a more remote or suburban neighborhood city.

What I personally think should be more common might be the reverse of what you're proposing. If I could afford it, I'd get a bigger house and let my parents move in with me when they retire (if they wanted). This means they'd also be able to sell their current home and pocket the profit (or invest it), easing their retirement.

But if more people stay at home then socialising isn't a problem if enough people are doing the same thing. There's also then incentive for companies to move out of the big cities if they can hire a cheaper workforce.

The socializing would have to happen within parents' residences. Let's face it: parents aren't going to approve of everything that young people want to do. There are bars and clubs, but what do you do when you come back home? And besides, not everybody would want to relegate their entire social life to clubs.

This is an American phenomenon. When I lived in Japan, many people stayed with their parents until marriage. It's also typical in Brazil.

Near-mandatory moving out is also a common attitude in Scandinavia, not a purely American attitude. If anything it's stronger in Scandinavia: it's pretty unusual not to move out by 18, and even seen as a bit weird not to, unless you have a good explanation for it (e.g. really sick parents). But that's partly because the high minimum wages and strong social system means that it's unusual to need to live with parents for economic reasons. So it's become a cultural expectation here that you won't.

Interesting. Thank you for the added international insight. I wonder if there's an interesting chart on where this does and doesn't happen.

Well I moved out when I was 16 in 1994 and it was awesome; there is definitely something to be said for independence. The thing was though, I paid $200/month for a room in a friend's house. I live in London now, but I don't know how it could be done as a kid. If I had to face the prospect of paying £1000 for some rat-infested hovel I might well prefer to move back in with my parents.

Here is another thought, younger generation are being sold a bill of goods and the older generation is not delievering.

The bill is the time/cost of education and the end product is supposed to be "training for a career".

We have this younger generation who is not ready work (needs more training) and/or trained for something that no longers pays out (greater than the cost of education or jobs that no longer exists).

I've seen enough job postings that should just require basic skills, but ask the world (5+ years experience where it's only been out for 3 years). Also the cost of education is really crippling, that is pretty obvious.

It's hard to blame the kids for problem. the older generation created it by working longer than ever, creating the job postings requirements, and not training the next generation. But I see these boomerang kids are pretty clever, because they found the best place to live for less. Some will create their own jobs, or find meaningful work. Others will just fail. That's life, but in the past failing was way worst, now it's "going to your parents home".

When the younger generation has kids, they will create problems for the next generation, and deal with the consequences. Maybe the younger generation will better train the next, maybe they will lower hiring requirements, and maybe they will just be happier with less.

Younger people (say 30ish and under, so me included) have been told their entire (or close to it) lives that they're precious snowflakes and that they're going to change the world and they can be or do anything they want to.

If you're a highly motivated, hardworking person or you already know what your passion is, this is great news to hear. The sky's the limit!

If you're not so highly motivated or you aren't passionate about anything (that you know of) this kind of message is debilitating. The flip side of "you are talented and special" is that if you're not doing what you're passionate about and you're not changing the world and whatever, that the only person you have to blame is yourself. If the world isn't placing any constraints upon you to keep you from succeeding then the only thing that stands between you and success is you.

I realize that in truth we tend to limit ourselves more than others put those constrains upon us. But what that cheery, the-world-is-your-oyster message fails to communicate is that life can be difficult and that for a great many people just keeping themselves alive SOMEHOW is really about all that they can do. And that for the entire history of the world minus about 50 years that could be considered Success(tm). It might be a job that they're not passionate about but are good at. Or it might be that circumstances out of their control took a substantial portion of their energy (sick parents for example). Or maybe they just found someone and got married and had kids before they figured their work-passions out and now they have whole other people counting on them for support. But when you could be Doing Anything (!!) just getting doesn't necessarily feel like success.

The "you can do anything" SEEMS really amazing and that you really should impress it upon all kids from an early age. It SOUNDS great, I mean who doesn't want to encourage kids to succeed? Ultimately though it may have been a bit self-defeating. When faced with too many choices many people fail to take any action at all.


This old canard is quite tiresome, and is rarely presented with evidence, but it's always written as capital T truth.

The realities, laid out in the article, are all economic and well researched. Millennials have high debt and low wages with a poor job outlook. The underlying trends have existed for quite some time and appear to be getting worse over time, especially with the recent recession hitting youth hardest.

But yeah, let's blame motivation rather than figure out how to improve the system. Clearly kids with college degrees aren't motivated enough to will jobs that can cover their debts and maintain the comfortable standard of living their parents had.

This is absolutely on point. My observation among my circle of friends (I'm 30), is that we are if anything more pessimistic and pragmatic than our parents.[1] Indeed, look at how 'msandford couched his point: in terms of what baby boomer parents said to millenials, not in terms of what millenials actually believe. My parents have always said: just get an education, don't worry about the debt, if you work hard you can do anything! I'm the one who has always had to push back with reality.

[1] For example, millenials are less trusting in others: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/03/1....

>This is absolutely on point. My observation among my circle of friends (I'm 30), is that we are if anything more pessimistic and pragmatic than our parents.

That's true now, but was it true the day you graduated from college? Finally finishing school is always a splash of cold water, but my impression is it was especially so for people your age.

I think there have been two times in the past 15 years that it's happened. Once in 2000ish after the first tech crash and once again starting in 2008 as the general recession took hold. We haven't recovered from the recession yet, and although corporations are making more money now than [in some cases] ever before, there isn't adequate profit sharing via increased salaries and broader hiring to affect worker sentiment in a meaningfully positive way.

I graduated in 1999 and, after shifting from physics to history mid-way through, I got a temp-to-hire job doing web dev as the bubble was popping. while everything worked out for me, things are not working out for people who've graduated in the past few years. I only paid $2500/semester tuition and, with a 15-25hr/wk side job was able to live happily and graduate with barely any debt, which I repaid in the first year of employment. Many public universities now charge upwards of $15k/yr tuition for in state students -- this is just untenable for the majority of matriculating high school grads given the current job market. When I went to college, my engineer father said "study anything that interests you. You're smart and if you work hard you won't have any trouble finding good work." He was right. Now, when my son is planning and preparing for college, I will very strongly encourage him to pursue an engineering degree with a minor in math, statistics, or economics... unless he's set on a physical science, in which case I'll encourage at least a minor in CS. I don't want my kids to be forced into unskilled work while carrying boatloads of debt, and the way things are going, the only pretty reliable way around that is to have the skills and knowledge to create things (and communicate clearly verbally & in writing).

Like rayiner, I'm pessimistic. Living/working through this and experiencing wage stagnation and utter apathy from employers & government only reinforces it.

My parents are more optimistic and less pragmatic in their 60's than I am at 30. My wife's parents, in their 50's, are somewhere in-between. This is anecdotal, obviously, but it's consistent with the study I linked-to about millenials trusting other less than Gen X-er's, who trust others less than baby boomers.

Obviously people are more optimistic before graduation than after, but I think that's been true ever since Americans started going to college in large numbers, with the baby boom generation. I do think the shock of graduation and the drop-off in optimism has been greater with people in my generation, but I don't think it's because they were more optimistic than previous generations before they graduated. I think it's because, by virtue of the economy, they're more pessimistic and cynical after graduation.

Do you know what their parents told them? "Just get an education, don't worry about the debt, if you work hard you can do anything"

Yes. The only people in my social circle I know that didn't boomerang were STEM graduates.


60% can't find a job in their field isn't a "motivational problem" or a "I picked the wrong degree problem". It is a general, widespread economic problem.

If your assumptions require more than 10% of people to be incompetent, your assumptions are wrong.

I get the 'I can't find a job opening in the area I'm trained/passionate about' but what I would like to understand is whether or not that includes "I can't create a job in the area I am trained/passionate about."

I have coached a number of folks who seemed to feel strangely disempowered, which is to say that the world had to change (job opening appears, company moves to their area, etc) in order for them to make progress on their goals.

I've had some success at simplifying the question using the common trick of assuming solutions to the presumptive problems. So for example starting with "Ok lets stipulate that there is a million dollars in a bank vault that is paying you $1,200 a month in 'free' money. And you're living in an area where that pays all your food, rent, and gas. Now, what do you want to do with your time?"

That gets us past blaming "the economy" and taking ownership of what they want to do. It is a different way of thinking, but it gets out of the rut of 'answer' based thinking.

Life is like riding a train that you know is on a track with a bridge out over a 1000' chasm. When the train gets there, it will fall into the chasm, and everyone on board will die. Given that every train you could take from a station has this same "feature" what train do you pick? Who do you pick to ride with you? What places does the train need to go through before it gets to the missing bridge?

Sometimes it isn't as complicated as what do you want to do with your life, it is simply what can you do today that is fulfilling to you?

> "I can't create a job in the area I am trained/passionate about."

A) Demand

B) Access to Capital

If you can't find an employer, there is likely insufficient demand.

As someone who "created his job" initially, I was badly underpaid for the first 18 months and got sick of dealing with it even once my income grew to a "normal rate".

I think you are looking at this from the perspective of someone who is going to be in the top 50% of a large field and be successful, no matter the economic situation. I think most people aren't in that top 50%.

Can you say more about this?

"As someone who 'created his job' initially, I was badly underpaid for the first 18 months and got sick of dealing with it even once my income grew to a 'normal rate'."

I think it is awesome that you went from 'no job in your area of expertise' to 'normal income' in 18 months. I have a huge amount of respect for that, I am looking for clarity on the 'got sick of dealing with it' part. What were you sick of?

I have never commissioned a survey on it but my experience from undergraduate to career was that there was a 100% correlation between passion for something and top 50% of people who do that thing. Every student I met at USC that was passionate about electrical engineering was in the top 50% of their graduating class, every clerk, salesperson, engineer, gardner, taxi driver, artist, and writer I've ever met who was passionate about what they were doing, did it better than most. That observation has been pretty foundational in my thinking about life and happiness. I would be intrigued to find a counter example.

> I think it is awesome that you went from 'no job in your area of expertise' to 'normal income' in 18 months.

I'm pretty sure my outcome so far is 50%+ luck and I don't know if I'll be able to sustain it forever.

> I am looking for clarity on the 'got sick of dealing with it' part. What were you sick of?

Consulting/Contracting work [my only option with $0 in capital] requires soft skills in dealing with people. The majority of my personal failings all relate to soft skills.

1) I've got a tendency to provide too much information rather than too little.

2) I tend to have poor communication with non-technical people [aka clients]. While I could blame it on them, the fact remains it was vital to my income on that course and therefore truly on me.

3) I'm a bit of an odd duck socially, even by programmer standards.

4) I don't have a poker face when annoyed/irritated/etc. I also have poor control over my tone in such situations. Coupled with #1 & #2 this tends to lead to a much higher client turnover than most consultants/contractors experience [I could be wrong, but I don't think so].

5) I was able to get a "normal job" and I prefer it. However, there is still one older engineer who needles me about #2. ;)

> I have never commissioned a survey on it but my experience from undergraduate to career was that there was a 100% correlation between passion for something and top 50% of people who do that thing. Every student I met at USC that was passionate about electrical engineering was in the top 50% of their graduating class, every clerk, salesperson, engineer, gardner, taxi driver, artist, and writer I've ever met who was passionate about what they were doing, did it better than most. That observation has been pretty foundational in my thinking about life and happiness. I would be intrigued to find a counter example.

You may be right. I don't think I'm in the top 50% of software developers, I am probably in the top 65%.


A perfect example of #2: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7921042

I wasn't sufficiently clear about what I meant by "market rates" which leads to him launching into an explanation that [I think] he realized was not needed when he basically agreed with another poster about the $ figure quoted in the article.

This is due to the fact I didn't explicitly define "market rates" as the amount the person received on offer in the article.

Thanks for the response, feel free to tell me to go away if I'm annoying you. I'm wondering about a third thing now.

You seem remarkably self aware in your analysis of your strengths and weaknesses. The skills you feel weak in, communicating with the clients and keeping them engaged, have you looked into partnering with someone who has those skills but lacks your technical expertise? The observation is that finding someone who was a 'people person' to be your interface to the clients might go a long way to creating a more effective enterprise, and some folks are really passionate about customer service and understanding the clients requirements.

The trick here is understanding how much that person brings to the total equation. I've known folks who hired an 'admin' for minimum wage and didn't recognize how much better the overall system worked, until the admin (who did see it, quit). But being aware of the 'before' situation and being able to appreciate the 'after' situation, you would be in a much better place to compensate that person in a much better ratio metric way. For example, if you find you double your revenue with that person on board, sharing half of it with them is not ridiculous even if they write no code at all, and all they do is pamper the clients.

The danger sometimes is that the 'brains' of the organization rationalizes away the increased revenue as something that would have happened anyway. It doesn't sound like that is your issue though. An acquaintance of mine who founded a very successful company once claimed they owed their success to hiring people who did the things they hated doing.

Thanks again for the follow-up.

You aren't. The reason I'm on HN so much lately has more to do with my disquiet about work than anything else.

That is another flaw, I am a trace of a worrier. :P

I did try that for a year [straight partnership, the project I was working on required more than just a developer]. It went poorly, mainly due to my poor judgement in the partner combined with the fact I ignored my instinct about the client.

He actually made slightly more than me on that particular deal.

That was actually what finally convinced me to switch to being an employee for awhile.

I think I just need more time to figure out other people before I try that sort of thing again [hence hanging out on HN].

>"I picked the wrong degree problem".

I would argue this point. Many people I know or worked at my college jobs just plain chose the wrong path. Creative writing degrees, Drama degrees, or even one poor girl with over 100K in debt from an Opera degree.

Working as a waiter I even encountered people how made more money waiting tables then with their social work or teaching degrees. Its crazy they still work their college job paying off student debt they never needed.

These people are not at all incompetent they were just told to follow their dreams when they were 17 18 and choose a degree to cater towards their dream, passion, or what have you.


Please find me 60% in a single class of major in that table for me?

How about we write off two entire categories. Say Humanities and "Other" degrees!

That is only 41% of that 60%.

It just doesn't get you there to blame "those people". Sorry.


And if you think the 60% number is high, this one pegs it at 73%!

As a counterpoint, people with creative writing degrees can easily, easily slip into any "inbound content marketing specialist" role at $PICK_YOUR_TECH_COMPANY and immediately turn that degree into money. Drama, creative writing, social work, and teaching degrees are all skills. Better, in my opinion, than a "marketing" or "business" degree.

I think you're right. "Marketing", eh. Today's business degrees, so I gather. E.g. what my father learned in the '50s getting one allowed him to take a company public in the '60s.

The other majors have a better chance of teaching something real, which is a good start. I certainly prefer working with a "writer type" when producing documentation, otherwise I end up doing it myself.

>... Better, in my opinion, than a "marketing" or "business" degree.

Unfortunately, reality disagrees with you. And it's reality where we have things such as serviceable debt, credit ratings, employment security and obligations.

The underlying rates of degrees from the various fields haven't changed all that much. Finding a few humanities students who can't find jobs isn't all that helpful.


The main issues are that, since the 70s, a handful of things have happened that students (as a massive whole) haven't reacted appropriately to:

1) There are simply fewer job openings in many of these fields than there once were. http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t17.htm (you'll have to step back through these reports over time, but note that the increasing industries tend to be the lowest wage industries)

2) The massive rise in the cost of education, coupled with the fact that almost any of the few good-paying jobs requires a bachelor's degree or higher. Supply of workers > demand for workers depresses wages. https://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tabl...

3) Private sector jobs in a good many fields have been outsourced, with low wage service jobs on the increase. http://online.wsj.com/news/interactive/MULTINATL0419

4) Public sector jobs have become increasingly rarer. http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2011/sep/16/census-shows-big...

5) Home prices have dramatically increased over this period (which may actually be a good thing, since the workforce is now more mobile than ever before) http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2014/02/us-hous...

6) Unions, for all their problems real and perceived, were once actually pretty good at holding the line on wages, but have seen ever-decreasing membership. http://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm

7) An increasing portion of the workforce is contingent (temporary and/or seasonal). http://www.dol.gov/_sec/media/reports/dunlop/section5.htm

Does any of this mean they didn't pick the "right" degree? Maybe part of the problem can be found here. However, the problem is so large among millennials, I'm not sure choice of degree accounts for all that much of why recent college grads have boomeranged. My point is that while students with degrees in various fields hasn't changed much, the rest of the world around them has changed quite a bit. Most of it can't simply be solved with a different degree or more passion.

They don't need their degrees for their current jobs. That doesn't mean they will be waiting tables forever.

If you don't get a job in you field within the first few years, your odds of ever doing so become much smaller.

Consider that my sister started out (without a college degree) working basic jobs until she ended up working recruiting. She's done that for years now, but she's reached a ceiling because jobs in HR ask for a degree.

Any degree.

Communication, Psychology, English, anything.

Now, all that it would take for her to break through is to have some experience in general HR. After that, nobody would even look at the degree. However, there's a ceiling there.

I look at many of my friends who have humanities and Social Science degrees and their real careers didn't take off until their late 20s or early 30s. Does that mean that my friends with Communications degrees ended up in Radio? No. But they would have never ended up where they are without that "any" degree.

IT is a different world entirely.

>60% can't find a job in their field isn't a "motivational problem" or a "I picked the wrong degree problem". It is a general, widespread economic problem.

Not necessarily. If there have ever only been 2,000 positions for marine biologists opening up every year and 20,000 graduate, that's not a widespread economic problem so much as a mismatch between what people want to do and the availability of jobs in that field.

Part of the problem is too many people are getting advanced degrees. It seems to be dogma these days that society will become wealthier if we graduate more people with specialized skills. But that's putting the cart before the horse - producing a whole bunch of experts in fields with no demand for those experts results in a bunch of people who've wasted a decade of their lives.

People need to be realistic about the implications of their field of study.

If the majority of intelligent, educated people make the wrong choice and you want to blame those people:

A) You believe you are smarter than 60% of people with degrees and are accurately capable of predicting supply/demand.

B) You believe an external factor is at fault.

Even I, who have met many people I think are idiots with college degrees, would not presume A.

From your comment, I think you are really trying to sell A. I'm not buying. Particularly: > People need to be realistic about the implications of their field of study.

If I misunderstood, please explain.

Oh, allow me to explain.

> A) You believe you are smarter than 60% of people with degrees and are accurately capable of predicting supply/demand.

You don't have to be exactly 3 SD out to be smarter than 60% of a group of people, so I likely am. On top of that, these are people who've never had a real job and are choosing a major at age 18 or so.

But that's not the point. The point is many of these people just assumed the job would be there when they graduated without doing any research at all. They didn't even look.

There's two really terrible common pieces of advice parents give to their children: 1) "Just be yourself" when dating and 2) "When choosing a major do what you love".

> B) You believe an external factor is at fault.

Well, yes, an external factor is partially at fault. That external factor is the higher education establishment, which is corrupt as hell. They lobby the government for ever increasing amounts of loans for students and then award themselves $400k salaries. Don't let anyone tell you there's such a thing as a nonprofit institution.

The idea that 60% of people couldn't find work in their field of study isn't surprising to me at all.

"'Just be yourself' when dating"

Perhaps off topic (at least vaguely relevant to these boomerangs), but what's wrong with this "truth in advertising" advice?

I say this from a position of ignorance, that's what I did (sans explicit parental advice, but I suppose it was implicit), and it worked for me.

Fair enough, I don't agree but at least I'm sure I know your position now. :)

> The realities, laid out in the article, are all economic and well researched. Millennials have high debt and low wages with a poor job outlook. The underlying trends have existed for quite some time and appear to be getting worse over time, especially with the recent recession hitting youth hardest.

But WHY do these kids have high debt and low wages?

They have a high debt-to-wage ratio in some fields and quite reasonable ratios in others. People with STEM degrees as a whole are better off than those with less immediately relevant degrees. If these trends have been going on for some time and the factors underlying them haven't been changing, then why has the primary message been "do what you love" instead of "do something that will keep you alive" since as it seems, the future is kinda bleak right now.

> But yeah, let's blame motivation rather than figure out how to improve the system.

I was doing EXACTLY the opposite. The problem is that people have unrealistic expectations because they've been set-up by their parents or society or whoever (it's nebulous) to fail. If employment in general is terrible but in some fields it's still good, telling people to "do what they love" is idiotic at best and criminally negligent at worst.

Here's a quote from my original post: "But what that cheery, the-world-is-your-oyster message fails to communicate is that life can be difficult and that for a great many people just keeping themselves alive SOMEHOW is really about all that they can do. And that for the entire history of the world minus about 50 years that could be considered Success(tm)."

So how exactly am I blaming people's motivation?

The canard is that you've accepted that there's a "primary message" of "do what you love" or "the-world-is-your-oyster" without showing how it has actually affected society. I argue that the perception of such a message has had nothing to do with any of youth's current economic woes.

It completely sidesteps the real issues. Let's say nobody told any young child of the 80s and 90s that they were special and the entire job market shifted on them anyway. They'd still be living at their parents' house, because they have no jobs, high debt and not much of a financial independence ahead of them. It's a logical thing to do when your parents have stable incomes and you do not.

Please read through my other comments in this thread, but my point is that the entire market shifted, which we agree on. Where I disagree, and frankly, get really annoyed about, is placing the blame on how these students were raised for wholly unrelated economic trajectories.

This has nothing to do with expectations and everything to do with realities. Realities that are being dealt with by boomeranging.

As for "WHY do these kids have high debt and low wages," I've also discussed, but blaming debt-to-wage ratio for choice of study seems bizarre to me when the problem is school is more expensive than ever and jobs are scarcer than ever, especially for recent graduates. They have high debt and low wages because they have high debt and low wages. An ontology, for sure, but just as likely a vicious cycle: One must have a degree to get a good job in one's chosen field, but having a degree may no longer advance one's position and yet, not having a degree could be far worse.

As noted throughout this thread, students have been choosing essentially the same degrees for decades, regardless of job prospects in those fields. The things that changed to create the boomerang problem (assuming we see it as a problem), are all outside of those choices: increasing education costs, poorer job prospects across nearly all fields, etc. etc.

If job prospects were related to field of study, you'd expect to see shifts in completed degree fields over the years, but we don't.

So back to the "primary message," as you put it. Was it inherent in that message that students get similar degrees as boomers and Gen Xers? It worked for them just fine. Why wouldn't it work for their kids? Seems hardly criminally negligent or idiotic to me and, again, it's completely unrelated to the real economic reality. To me, that framing sounds a lot like "kids these days" and doesn't isn't helpful at all, especially when it appears "kids will be kids" seems the more apt cliche to use when talking about choice of degree.

So even though we disagree I appreciate you engaging me without being too condescending. It's refreshing.

> but blaming debt-to-wage ratio for choice of study seems bizarre to me when the problem is school is more expensive than ever and jobs are scarcer than ever

I think that point can be argued. It's not as though college education is absolutely, 100%, non-negotiably REQUIRED to live a middle class life. All other things equal it sure does help, I won't argue that. The notion that the debt just mysteriously appeared on the books for these people is a non-starter. A choice was made to go to college either by them or their parents. It's not as though you graduate high school and find out that someone racked up 100k in debt in your name and now it's your problem to pay it off. And there are plenty of jobs which don't require a degree and pay fairly well. Right now there is a shortage of welders in the US. No degree required.

But welding isn't sexy, it's not what most people dream about, and people generally can't follow their passions there. Instead they go to school and earn degrees that are now useless but because of the huge amount of time and money sunk into them, they hold out to try and find the jobs that they've been trained for (which no longer exist) instead of making the best and getting new training. I think that's part of the folly of the follow your dreams mentality; it teaches people that unless it's what they've dreamed about it's beneath them. Yet if they're unemployed one could argue that no honest work should be beneath them and yet they must persist in thinking that it is, as evidenced by their behavior.

> Was it inherent in that message that students get similar degrees as boomers and Gen Xers? It worked for them just fine. Why wouldn't it work for their kids? Seems hardly criminally negligent or idiotic to me

Just because something worked for someone 20+ years ago doesn't mean it IS correct, it just means it WAS correct. The things that made my grandparents successful isn't what made my parents successful and neither is what is making me (probably) successful. To apply no critical thinking, as an adult, to the advice you give your kids is shameful in my mind. Maybe I'm unreasonable.

I will absolutely acknowledge the economic problems as a huge contributing factor to the problem. If there was no Internet and huge amounts of automation then I agree that people could have pursued degrees that merely signaled fitness for SOME work (like humanities) rather than fitness for PARTICULAR work (STEM) and done fine.

Why is the economy in the doldrums the way it is? I would argue that the Fed has kept the interest rate artificially low, thus enabling corporations to finance capital equipment much more cheaply than they otherwise would. That makes automation attractive and labor unattractive, pushing down wages in all industries except for the automation industry. Which is a smaller industry than all those it is replacing workers in.

At a 2% interest rate a $1mm robot costs perhaps only $40k a year in interest and principal. A union auto workers costs more like $60k/year plus benefits, needs time off, wants raises, and won't work 24 hours a day. But at 6% interest the robot and person cost about the same, and at 8% interest the person is cheaper at least on a strictly cashflow basis.

If you do a little math you can discover that the interest rate has a very strong effect on the breakeven equipment cost versus a worker in terms of monthly payments. Pushing the interest rate down might "stimulate the economy" but it does so in incredibly poisonous ways. We've been borrowing and spending our way to prosperity for a while now, but debt is really increased consumption now by forgoing even more future consumption. Eventually you can't pull any more future to the present and instead of further indebtedness people opt for less indebtedness. It turns out that the growth in the economy is highly leveraged on the debt growth rate such that debt shrinking causes a big recession.

The boomers wanted to have their cake (economic growth) and eat it too (no period of deleveraging) and they -- just like their parents -- kicked the can down the road. Eventually the can stops moving and we start paying the price for it.

This phenomena is incredibly similar to the "follow your dreams" nonsense. More growth without pain sounds great until you find out someone has to pay the price. Same for the theory "do whatever you want in school" because as it turns out, the skills you may or may not have acquired in school have a large impact on your ability to not live at home with your parents. In both cases people stuck their heads in the sand and pretended that reality didn't exist because they didn't like the implications.

zecho: "students have been choosing essentially the same degrees for decades, regardless of job prospects in those fields"

Yes, but recently the cost for this education has risen exponentially. We've all known STEM offers great job prospects for over a decade now. There's no reason to put this kind of money out there for a degree that won't pay you back.

Liberal arts educations ARE good; when they're cheap. Paying 10k+ a year for them makes zero sense and people making these decisions aren't thinking clearly.

I think we must add, also as a generation problem, that our romantic partnerships are much more unstable, since we have more freedom than previous generations..

The romantic partnership of older generations were much more reliable.. and now to get to the point.. this also means economic backup and partnership..

I think only look to the economical side of things wont map the reality properly.. there also a lot of distinct social mechanics in course..

You cant explain such a complicated matter only by looking to the economical side of it..

I don't really think he's saying it's about motivation. It's about the "do anything/follow your passion" passion ... the problem is, people have a passion for art, they rack up $100K in student loan debt getting an art history degree, and now they can't find a job.

If anything, he's putting as much blame (or more) on the parents.

Again, let's talk about a point of fact here, rather than a myth that it's humanities students who are worse off.

Since the 70s, the percentage of students with bachelor's degrees in the humanities has not increased. It's always been around 16-17% of total degrees earned.

Social science has been dropping as a percentage of students with earned degrees in those fields, but not by much.

Math and science has always hovered around 8% of total degrees earned.

Computer science (amazingly) has not grown as a percentage of total degrees earned since the 70s.

Business majors haven't grown as a percentage since the 80s.

Education majors have fallen dramatically each decade, taken up primarily by other fields.


And yet, here we are across the board, with low wages (comparatively to previous generations, comparatively to older workers, comparatively in almost every way measurable), massively increasing education costs and a really, really poor job outlook for young workers.

It's a canard, plain and simple.

> And yet, here we are across the board

This is your incorrect premise. Wages aren't low "across the board" and the job outlook isn't poor "across the board". They are low/poor for jobs that have high supply and/or low demand. What you've basically said is that the supply of various degree holders has remained the same. But that doesn't mean demand hasn't changed because of globalization/automation/[whatever]ation. You can call it a canard until you're blue in the face, but how do you argue with:

Unemployment for arts: 10%

Unemployment for engineering: 7%

Unemployment for medical/health services: 4% [0]

Also, see the recent "Downward Ramp" article on the NYT [1].

[0] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/19/unemployment-colleg...

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/11/opinion/the-downward-ramp....

EDIT: BTW, I'm not saying the student loan/debt issue is not a problem. I definitely agree that it is.

Elsewhere in this thread I've addressed this. I'm not convinced that a mismatch in supply of majors and demand for recent grads of those majors can account for much of the boomerang phenomena. It's far too prevalent among under-30 to be reduced to this.

Also, my use of across the board was probably inappropriate. I agree. I should have said in general instead. There are some fields, primarily STEM and the service industry with high wages and/or good job outlook, but for the other sectors, this is not the case at all.

That's fair. And you're probably correct that there's more to it.

Another issue could be our unwillingness to push young people towards trades that will be in demand for the foreseeable future.

I know plumbing and painting contractors who make six figures. Yet, I rarely hear anyone say "Hey, have you considered a career owning your own plumbing business". Instead, it's "Study what you love and rack up some debt."

Speaking of plumbers, an anecdote. I had to have a plumber at my house a few months ago and I flat asked him why I had to pay him so much.

He looked at me (I'm 30, he was in his 60s) and said, "because people your age don't want to become plumbers."

I really do think the community and technical college system should be better utilized and promoted, but I'm not going to blame four-year college degree students for economic problems well outside their control.

So as the economy has changed dramatically people are going into the same majors in about the same percentages? Doesn't that seem like a problem on its face?

Maybe? There was a time in the recent past where any college degree could get you a good job in nearly any field. That is no longer the case. Also, one would expect that students move with the economy, but that doesn't appear to happen, either.

My gut says the problem can't be solved by changing the nature of students. If they go to school without regard for job prospects, and we continue to believe that education is important regardless of job prospects, then we should look for other solutions. Changing human nature doesn't seem to me the best way to go about that when there are many other issues at play accounting for boomerang twenty-somethings (high school debt, mostly government issued, appears to be the lowest hanging fruit).

>There was a time in the recent past where any college degree could get you a good job in nearly any field.

When was this? I graduated a long, long time ago and don't remember any such time.

Blaming the economy of course does not absolve the Millennials from culpability. For example, they voted in droves for the current administration, which at the very least has not helped the economy. Any systemic solution along the lines of "it's all someone else's fault" is highly suspect to me.

The obvious rejoinder, of course, is: who was president when the crash happened in the first place? And I disagree with your characterization that it hasn't helped, either-- look at how many jobs have been added since the administration took office.

But this isn't a productive framing.

As much as we wish presidential administrations could make or break the economy -- it makes partisan sense, and it makes us think at least someone could run the show if they got their shit together -- it just isn't so. The current recession has its roots going much farther back than 2008. Depending on how you reckon, someone who's now 27 was either not yet conceived or in diapers when the bubble began inflating.

Likewise no amount of perseverance, hard work, temerity, gumption, or whatever the hell you want to call it, can wish the economy back to the '90s.

I agree that politics is only a fraction of the issue. Washington affects the economy in complicated ways. Still, I recoil at an entire generation of people looking for others to blame for their failure. That's not productive either, and it has a creepy fascistic vibe to it.

It's an open question as to whether this is generation Y's failure, or the baby boomer's.

The baby boomers have jobs are living in homes. (Some of) Gen Y is jobless and moping. Gen Y clearly are the failures, regardless of whose fault it is.

Your comment really resonates with me, even though I'm nowhere close to a millenial. I graduated in 1993, into a pretty bad recession. It was very difficult to find a job, though (as usual) engineering grads did much better than humanities majors on average. I ended up doing a series of jobs that allowed me to survive financially, but did almost nothing to forward my career. I eventually went back to school to pursue a degree that would lead to better employment.

Fast forward to 1998, when the dot-com boom was going on, and it was an astoundingly different situation. I finished an MS (in engineering) and entered the workforce, but I really can't tell you if it was the degree or the timing, because college graduates with degrees in Art History and no experience were having a vastly easier time getting jobs. They didn't pay as well as engineering, typically, but they weren't stuck at the rental car counter or the coffee shop. They were getting jobs in marketing, sales, that sort of thing. Although the market crashed badly a couple of years later, I think that the few years of experience may have made a huge impact compared to people who graduated into the earlier or later recessions.

Seriously, I wasn't all that much older than these 1998 graduates - maybe 5 years or so, but the difference in experience was striking. And here's the thing - it can be lasting.

By going back to grad school, I managed to get myself considered a "new grad", though I was on the outer edge, age-wise, of this cohort. But without this? I would have been someone applying with jobs, with 5 years of non-relevant work experience. Some employers will be understanding, but they typically go to recent grads for the "zero experience" jobs.

During the meltdown that followed, I saw the same thing - recent grads in bad shape. I'd say the difference for the humanities majors is greater, because work experience makes such a difference. An engineering major will usually manage to get something that puts him or her on the career path, even if isn't the easy pickings it can be in boom times. But to a humanities major, it can be the difference between 5 years doing career-oriented work in the marketing department of 5 years stringing together coffee shop and dog-walking gigs. When that 5 years is up, they'll be at a disadvantage to new grads. And if you graduated into a boom, you have a much better chance of clinging to that marketing job, or getting one of the few ones that come available, because you have an incumbent advantage or even just a whisker of experience that makes all the difference when there are far more applicants than positions.

All of this has me very sympathetic to "cohort disadvantage". It can be somewhat generational, but I suspect that it actually happens dramatically even within generations. In short, graduating with an English degree in 1998 rather than 1993 can actually make a very big, and very lasting, difference in a career. It makes a difference for engineering majors as well, but it's the people at the margins (like the humanities majors) - where it can really go either way, where the starting point in that vector field really impacts the y-value 15 years later on that x-axis.

As a side note, I also read that grads of very elite schools are also less likely to suffer from the cohort disadvantage. Again, my guess is that this is probably because, like engineers, they don't end up on the wrong side of the vector field - they may not get their ideal choice of first job or move up as quickly, but they tend to get enough of a foothold that they don't end up on the other side of a brick wall - as a result, when the next boom happens, they are positioned to take advantage rather than getting left behind. There's also a good chance that they have access to a vastly a better network (say, harvard grads) to get back in even if they have floated a bit for a few years.

I think that raising indebtedness, raising effectively the minimum acceptable wage for a large number of people is how the FED (and euro central banks) raised the standard of living.

And this worked marvelous ... until about 1987 or so where it started to result in unemployment. But luckily the economy picked up (probably due to an oil boom), and until the late nineties there was unemployment, but it wasn't growing anymore.

Something very weird happened in Japan though : no amount of indebting regular Japanese could raise wages. They tried, no wage rises, and tried again, no wage rises, and tried some more, and all the while slowly rising unemployment. Money just wasn't circulating anymore, it skipped the bottom of society. Looking at the graphs of what they did you find this incredible, but oh dear God, did they try.

Then of course the crash. People walking away from debt and dominoes started falling over when payments didn't come in, because there weren't jobs to finance them from. So the FED (again, and other central banks, this time including some asian ones) asked the government and decided to prevent the whole domino game from falling over. How ? By making policies that effectively tripled American and European people's indebtedness. Surely better jobs will become available, right ? It even worked. I think mostly because it took companies time to ship jobs overseas, and they still needed employees in the meantime.

But wages didn't rise ... and so the dominoes started falling over again. Yet no wage rises, and unemployment started spiking again, so they did it again. The same thing happened, now in 2008. And look, this time China joins the club. Luckily, the US got a break : the shale revolution. A Godsend ! Very labour intensive, high-value, no way to eliminate people from the process. Praise the lord. Not enough to do anything other than stop the unemployment rise (unemployment is only going down because people are leaving the job pool. In reality unemployment is at the 2002-2003 level). And of course, the shale boom will only last until probably about the end of next year, no more. To make matters worse, oil is about to become much less available to Europeans, and in 2-3 years the same will happen in the US.

This is a massive oversimplification. There are many connotations to make, going from wars, oil, and so on.

TLDR: we don't need people any more to make the economy run. But because the economy is still growing we do need highly educated people to figure out how to ship jobs offshore, or automate them out of existence. This will continue for a while, until we hit the next phase. You see the economy is only growing because we need more products for more people. That's where debt comes in. Because unemployment is going to spike, growth will stall. No more products needed. At that point, only one business tactic will work : lower costs, and eliminate competition. Back to the huge conglomerates of the beginning of the previous century. Explicitly try to get stuck in a local optimum. At that point we will get back to the conditions that existed before the oil boom : 90%+ unemployment as the norm. Education, aptitude, motivation all will simply be replaced by desperation.

Containerized shipping is a major factor in the decline of manufacturing employment in the West, which was the backbone of the 20th century economy.

Politically, NAFTA, GATT, MFN status for China, and the creation of the H1-B program all happened around the stuff waps mentions above (oil price drop, stock bubble, and dot.com bubble of the 1990s). When the latter burst, the effects of the former became more clearly apparent. While this lead to increased opportunity in many countries, the cumulative result of all these changes makes the entry-level job market in developed countries in 2014 or 2004 very different than that of 1994, 1984, or 1974, and it's difficult for older Westerners to account for this when projecting their own experiences.

I wish I could upvote this 1000x. It's not just "you can do anything" ... it's that it's been coupled with "do what you love for your career" and similar platitudes.

I love cooking and photography as much as I love programming (maybe more). In fact, I recently told a recruiter that my "dream job" would be at a startup spending 1/2 the day being the company chef and 1/2 the day hacking. He thought I meant the Chef config framework :)

I am never going to pursue either of those as a career. First of all, because it's a lot harder to make a decent living at. Second, I've come to learn that once your passion intersects with the pressure to make a living and pay your bills, it's less enjoyable. Sometimes it's better to keep your passions as just that–passions.

Furthermore, I feel like the "do anything + do what you love" thinking can lead to a weird class division (I don't know the right term, sorry). The set of people's passions do not perfectly intersect with the set of people's wants/needs. I seriously doubt many people have a passion for standing in a field for 10 hours a day picking strawberries. Yet, we all love to put strawberries in our crepes. So, unless you're willing to live in a world where you can only have products/services that people are passionate about making (or wait for the strawberry-picking robots), it seems like a double-standard.

> I am never going to pursue either of those as a career.

I think that's a shame. I'm a coder and I also run a restaurant. My wedding photographer really loves what she does. Even when coupled with the pressure to make a living - which I have to say, programming fell under the same bucket for me - when you actually sit down and figure out how it could be done, it's very doable. The only reason I don't go with one or the other is that I don't enjoy one more than the other ;)

I also have friends that love to cook and are really good at it. Honestly the thing that pops their bubble about "I want to be a chef/open a restaurant" is not the cooking, it's that a restaurant is also about management, staffing, and food safety in a completely different manner from programming. My roommate LOVES to cook and cooks all the damn time and it wasn't until he got food poisoning from a super swank SF restaurant that he finally started to wash his hands more often and actually listen to food-safety-manager-trained me about cleanup and cleanliness, and forget about trying to do other standard stuff like labeling food to figure out when to throw it out or hiring people for roles he's unfamiliar with.

Would love to see more people in tech diversify a bit. Running a restaurant and knowing all levels of it is like a whole new fun challenge, and it also puts me at a different level from the rest of the stuff I do. I go from friends/coworkers making 6 figures sipping $5 coffees in SF, to a 30 minute train ride later in East Bay, employees that get paid just above minimum wage and people counting pennies to get something to eat. It's eye opening and worth seeing the differences when you're not exposed to it regularly.

I am headed down to LA tonight ... can I eat at your restaurant?

I'm in SF! My restaurant is in east bay (around oakland airport). It's fast food - nothing fancy at all - but if you're ever planning to be in the neighborhood feel free to drop me an email :)

I chose to go with something simple because I'd love to expand in the future to bigger and better but if I don't even have basic experience with any kind of foodservice biz, I'm pretty fucked. Also the take-home profit is not that different anyway ;)

I'll be up there next week ... maybe I'll stop by

The book 'Too Good They Can't Ignore You' explains this well.

Agree -- though the book is actually called "So Good They Can't Ignore You."


You could have been a perfect hire for early Google :).

I don't see how it is about anything but money. I (27) don't know anyone who lives with parents without a major financial reason. Occasionally it is the parent who can use help to make rent, but usually it's the child.

Having parents to fallback on is a great ruiner of motivation for some people. The amount of negligent enabling that takes place between some parents and their spawn is staggering. I think the extra assurance that they have the ability to live cheaply with their folks hamstrings childrens desire to establish their own support mechanisms.

The flip side is that when you don't have parents to fall back the risk level of all your actions become higher, and that will limit you in other ways.

For example, I emigrated in another country. Knowing that if I failed, I could go back home for a few months was a key factor ( as was the possibility to be there for a few months before, to manage the transition ). Maybe the extra-motivation of having my back against the wall would have pushed me in another successful adventure, but I would not have risked my career the way I did.

So well, that's really not black and white. And depends a lot on the type of parent you have.

Sadly psychological studies confirm this : there's nothing that motivates people quite like seeing a few others fail, and the consequences of that failure, like homelessness. This motivates a lot better than anything on Maslow's pyramid.

But would you really want to live in a world where this is actually implemented ? I wouldn't.

Your and my parents thought we wouldn't and didn't create such a world, even though they (or maybe their parents) did grow up in such a world, where failure to earn a living would effectively mean physical misery or even death (good luck trying to survive a winter homeless in Europe anywhere north of Italy). I say thanks for that. I mean I have a big fight with my parents but it's not about this.

I know several people in the bay area making googlesque salaries that are around 30 living with their parents in order to save up to buy a place

I also live in a somewhat warped housing market and I've seen the same thing. If someone needs to save intensely (i.e. 1/2 salary) for over a year to pay 10% down on a place they find acceptable, it will probably take them a long time to pay it off as well. It is still a money problem but really more of a mix of housing market + personal preferences.

I know a few people living with parents to help the parents out in non-financial ways, because the parents' relatively poor health makes it easier for them if someone is around. But that should be a relatively constant factor, so can't really explain a trend.

It won't be a constant factor due to the first of the Baby Boom hitting the age when many of them get chronically sick (if they're lucky).

I thought of mentioning that while an act of god (2011 EF-5 tornado) forced me to live with my father, that he's now 80 and starting to decline a little, and had a medical emergency last year, is one of the reasons I'm staying with him. That the cost sharing we've worked out saves, oh, as much as half on my cost of living is of course another reason, but duty is a lot stronger motivator.

this and:

- there more and more automation. Creativity and analytical skills are more important. Schools sucks at first and are OK-ish at second

- Kids are defaulting to get a job. Brainwashed to be doctors, layers, firemen a.k.a "the real job"

- "If you work hard you will get reward" - Nope. If you do something valuable you prob. get reward. Doing something hard may be critical to crush the competition or to solve the problem, but it's not essential.

Working hard is (virtually) necessary, but not sufficient.

If you work hard and become proficient at something, you're in with a chance of having those skills rewarded. If you don't have useful skills, and it's unlikely you'll come by any without working hard, you'll find it very tricky to persuade people to reward you for anything you can actually do.

Note that hard work is not a guarantee of reward. It helps to have the right skills in the right place at the right time. There's not much call for buggy-whip mfrs these days, so if that's your passion and you learn to excel at it, you still might find it hard to connect with anyone who's in a position to appreciate your work and pay you for it. And even with the right skills in the right place at the right time, the vast uncaring universe can still deal you the shittiest beats you never saw coming and clean you out in the blink of an eye.

Or you could win the lottery.

If you want to bet on the lottery, go right ahead. On the other hand, working hard at the right things is a good way of massively stacking the odds in your favour for keeping food on the table, a roof over your table, and shiny tech doodads in your pocket in the interim, while you wait for those numbers to come up.

Hard work is good, smart work is better (and always has been).

Actually this is something the previous generation still fails to understand. The problem is besides being a Doctor or Lawyer , the concept of "be good at what you do and you will be reimbursed" is completely non-existent even in extremely important professions. How can we (USA specifically) still have no standardized schooling/testing for professions such as programing, network security, data management, etc where the "best" are recognized just like students are ranked in Law School? In my imaginary world the whole United States educational system would be rebuilt from the ground up, hopefully without invalidating past student accomplishments, creating a better framework that at least allows proper training and recognition of other technical professions.

I would be really unhappy if that kind of credentialism crept its way into technology professions. I shouldn't need a license to make money coding.

It's impossible to rebuild the system ground up politically. Smaller country could set up an example.

So, I'd like to maybe focus in on three points you bring up. Specifically: (1) If you are unmotivated, hearing you can accomplish great things would lead people to believe their behavior is what is preventing them from doing so. (2) Life is hard so setting your sights high is a bad thing for some people. (3) "You can do anything" leads to analysis paralysis -- a better strategy would give children fewer options so as to encourage acting on them.

I think (2) is nonsense simply because life doesn't get any easier when you try to do great things, and yet we still try and many still achieve great things. If you life being hard meant you shouldn't reach for the stars then no one in the world would. It's also worth noting that life doesn't seem to get substantially easier if you decide to be a corporate stooge -- that social contract is broken so badly that I think it's misleading to imply it's the secret to stability. There exist challenges on all paths, at least the ones on the road to greatness are generally first-class problems.

I don't understand the danger of (1). All I can change is my behavior. If something aside from that is causing the world to be a way I don't like, that doesn't do me much good to know except in scenarios of absolutely impossible goals and inevitable failure.

(3) isn't absurd, but I think there's a dearth of safe, unlimited capacity options for children these days, which is why there is no coherent script for them. "Engineer" is a fairly good script, but having worked with quite a few, I can say that if you don't have the temperament for thinking carefully and trying things out then even after 10 years you won't be any good. I imagine the fairly short list of "opportunities for youngsters" these days would be mostly filled by similar fields, where there could be a personality type conflict -- but that's merely speculation.

If you have a script you want to advocate for children, parents are worried about their kids and listening for a direction they can point them in. Persuade them, and your ideal change will be made.

>It's also worth noting that life doesn't seem to get substantially easier if you decide to be a corporate stooge -- that social contract is broken so badly that I think it's misleading to imply it's the secret to stability.

Yes. Furthermore, let's think about why someone would want to be "special". Forget about middle school teachers preaching self esteem. Just look around at how you get ahead in this society. It's not by keeping your head down and doing your job. You do it by building special unique skills, by self promotion, by standing out from the herd.

Take the tech industry for example. No one wants to hire an average programmer who does his job. Everyone wants a "rockstar" who's going to bring up the level of the team. Look at the companies and individuals that are successful: they are "disruptive" "innovative" "changing the world". Definitely not "ordinary". This country, and the tech industry in particular worships the extraordinary and disdains the ordinary. So its a bit hypocritical to turn around and ridicule people who aspire to the goals that society has very clearly laid out.

Addressing number 1, I saw the other day a study that indicates that this can back fire for individuals with low self-esteem. [1]

[1]: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/20/7/860

[Link isn't working?]

"Back fire" is an interesting choice of words. Would you prefer we endeavor to improve children's self-esteem by telling them their failures are out of their control?

I am concerned this both hyper-coddles them and encourages a victim mindset. It's a trade-off in the cases of people with worryingly low self-esteem -- I wouldn't say it's a "back fire", it's just we now have to choose precisely which bad thing happens to people with low self-esteem. The choice sucks, but let's not draw a false equivalency because it sucks.

"have been told their entire (or close to it) lives that they're precious snowflakes and that they're going to change the world and they can be or do anything they want to."

By whom, where and when? I've been to three commencement speeches in the last several years, and even there didn't hear this. As a baby boomer and parent of a millenial, I sure as hell didn't aim to convey that message.

And by the way, a couple of my college friends lived with their parents for a year or more after college and while not in school.

>By whom, where and when? I've been to three commencement speeches in the last several years, and even there didn't hear this. As a baby boomer and parent of a millenial, I sure as hell didn't aim to convey that message.

When I was growing up it was prevalent in the media and in schools. Not all parents bought into it of course -- perhaps even the majority of them didn't -- but if the TV says something and your parents don't tell you it's a lie, it must be true right? What is a 5-10 year old's capacity to tell fact from fiction, especially if an authority figure (like a teacher or someone on TV) is saying it?

I was fortunate enough to be able to figure out at a young age that not everyone could grow up to be President or an astronaut and to temper my expectations accordingly. But should it be required skills to figure that out WELL before you hit puberty? Should that be the standard by which all persons are judged?

By the time a commencement speech has rolled around it's already a decade or two too late. Minds have been impressed with crazy ideas that have little/no bearing on how the world ACTUALLY works. Some people take years to un-learn these silly notions; others never do.

You might not have aimed to convey that message. You might have done a good job explaining to your kids that life is hard and success isn't becoming President but making your own way in life. But even if you did that, they might have still picked up enough nonsense elsewhere to believe it.

Other phrases of a similarly unfortunate bent:

"Follow your dreams"

"Reach for the stars"

"Do what you love"

If you don't believe me that this is prevalent in culture, check out Google n-grams in books. It's imperfect of course but it's illustrative: https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=follow+your+dr...

One thing my Mom taught me is that when you child reaches around 14 years old, or around high school age, you have to stop coddling them. My parents started "being mean" as my sister and I called it, when we got into high school. Later she told us it was on purpose and from love. She was right. I think this tradition has been forgotten, but it used to be conventional wisdom in that generation (my Parents are in their 80's). What we called "being mean" meant taking responsibility for yourself. For example, if you wanted to live in their house after age 18, they charged rent.

This, as well as a lot of things that are fine when economics is okay, makes zero sense when there's recession.

I see a great number of commenters who don't understand that and therefore shovel blame around

Maybe it's just because my parents were born in the '30s, and experienced the Great Depression and WWII, and I came of age in the dreadful '70s, but it was always a given for me an my siblings that hard times might come again. You need reserves (which include living with the parents, if that's possible), contingency plans---hmmm, both me the eldest and my following sister had to exercise those---etc.

Your comment embodies the millennial stereotype. There's a recession, therefore I can't be successful. The economy doesn't improve by magic, we need people creating wealth. And that may not be in their chosen field.

I think you're missing the larger observation: the expectation that children will move out of their parents homes around age 18 may have been a temporary phenomenon.

I find it strange that some people would rather assume that an entire generation is uniquely incompetent, rather than assume that they're pretty much like all other human generations, but the environment in which they live has changed.

I don't believe that this generation is uniquely incompetent, nor do I believe that they are uniquely hampered from succeeding. I would be more swayed to your point that this is some sort of cultural shift towards multi-generational households if there weren't so much angsty finger-pointing from self-appointed millennial spokespeople.

I don't think it's a very scientific approach to recommend that we focus on "drive" and "gumption" or something, rather than systemic analysis, when we want to understand economic behavior. Even sports have more or less given up their previously obsessive focus on "gut" and "clutch" and "will", in the face of sabermetrics.

And yet players still perform much better the year their contract is up. Motivation plays a role. If we want to look at the larger economic climate that's fine, but it's tautologically true that we can't solve unemployment if people refuse to work.

You can be successful. I am. You just can't expect someone to be successful without giving them a hand. Outside of a few privileged areas like IT.

Did you read the article? If so, how does your comment apply considering the economic realities presented in it?

One big point that I think was missing in the article was the proliferation of a temporary workforce. I just read temp hiring accounts for 15% of all hires these days.

The days when you're pop took a job at the steel mill and then worked his way up to management and then president are long gone. Most workers are only temporary. They put in their time, do the work and then its off to the next gig. This makes it nearly impossible to ever move up in any organization. And when you gain some experience as a contractor? Your job opportunities diminish since your experience demands a higher salary.

I've also seen a lot of commentary about the lack of motivation the millennial generation has which I'm sure is adding to the "normalization" of this boomerang stage in young adults lives.

EDIT: just found the article about increasing temp workforce: http://www.economicmodeling.com/2013/06/21/temp-employment-i...

You can still work your way up to management, you might just move through more companies in order to do it. This might be as a result of workers now having more options as recruitment is easier due to the internet and other things. It might be better to have the flexibility and gather a variety of experience rather than feeling indentured to a single company. The flipside of this is that companies are less likely to invest in workers who they are worried will leave them in a few years.

So I'll admit my biases up front: I got a BS,CS degree at an in-state school, and used the GI Bill to pay for all of my tuition, and took loans for study abroad.

But taking a look at the slideshow, I'm seeing a trend in degrees/schools/debt.

BA, advertising & PR, Loyola, $75K

BA, lit & writing, UC San Diego, $44K

BA, economics, Loyola, $90K

BA, film studies, Full Sail, $80K

BA, psychology UCF, MS, counseling, Nova Southeastern, $40K

BA, biology, Northwestern, $50K

BA, economics, Hunter, $12K

BA, asian humanities, UCLA, $10K

BA, art history, Sonoma State, $27K

BA, history & religion, Midland, $11K

BA, comparitive literature, Hamilton, $20K

BFA, painting, Rhode Island School of Design, $25K

BFA, graphic design, School of Visual Arts, $130K

BA, communications, Calf. St. Fullerton, $22K

How do any of these student think that they'll do anything with these degrees to overcome the debt? The only two that make some sense to me are the $40K to get psychology/counseling, and $12K for economics.

Because having a bachelors degree from a good (not necessarily elite) university should equip you to handle any number of jobs in general management or government.

If that's not happening, there could be a few different reasons:

1. Getting a BA isn't as rigorous as it used to be, and no longer means "This is an educated person. Besides their specialty, they should be smart and adaptable enough for most administrative-level purposes." Pseudo-professionalism has also closed the doors to some of these jobs, maybe as a way to get around civil service tests as a way for the educated to get government jobs without specific training.

2. The white collar, middle class job pool has been decimated, and not enough places need generally well-educated people.

This is still more or less the case in northern Europe. If you have a degree (in anything), the most likely outcome by far is that you lead a normal middle-class life. There is no big pool of unemployed Swedish BA/MA holders; rather, the unemployment problems are among people with no university degree.

I think most potential students are encouraged and told that it will work out - we see all our peers doing it and only hear the success stories. It seems more common these days for the people to at least have heard of not going to college; but when you're in high school and trying to figure everything out you have a ton of people you probably respect explaining how college is what ALL successful people do. They make it seem so possible that if you pursue your dreams you'll be successful. No one who's guiding these students wants to be the person to say "maybe you should pursue welding". They often don't even know that trade-schools do offer a higher probability for a good ROI.

The $50K biology degree from Northwestern is arguably worth it. Northwestern is the best school on that list, and an undergraduate degree in biology is often a stepping stone to an MD, MHA, MPH, or PhD.

That's what I was thinking, it's one of the nation's top schools, and you get paid for at least a PhD education. Still a tough job market.

I also wonder about the Rhode Island School of Design degree, I really don't know much of anything about that whole area of design and fine arts, but I been told they're one of the top schools in their areas of specialization, and a moment with Wikipedia indicates they're #1. Plus it sounds like they're intertwined with Brown.

So if you're going to get such a major, it sounds like the place to do so. And 25K in debt isn't completely insane.

Honestly, $10K for Asian Humanities at UCLA doesn't sound so bad, either. Maybe that major isn't a natural moneymaker, but UCLA is another very good school, and I bet plenty of companies wanting to do business in Asia would be happy to hire a bright student with that background.

I think it would depend on the quality of the studies. If focused on the gender, class and race food group of a large subset of the humanities, I can see corporate employers avoiding such potential trouble makers like the plague, but there are always non-profits and NGOs, even Foreign Service, although per Wikipedia the odds for the generalist path are very low.

If it actually made them useful, e.g. included some time "in country", and ideally minimal language and cultural fluency in at least one country of note, sure thing. Especially at such a price.

I have a friend who did both physics and Japanese and for a long time did well using both.

Perhaps, but unless the slideshow had a typo, it was a BA in Biology...

What do you mean?

Edit: If you're disdainful of the "BA", you should be aware that there isn't any formal distinction between a "BA" and "BS", and every school decides for itself what type of degree to award.

Northwestern University happens to award BA degrees for biology: http://www.biosci.northwestern.edu/undergraduate/

> The undergraduate life sciences major offered in Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences is the Bachelor of Arts in Biological Sciences with concentration in one of five areas: biochemistry, genetics and molecular biology, neurobiology, physiology, and plant biology.

Now I see your edit. I was disdainful of the BA... I can't think of the specifics, but I thought I had seen programs with both BA and BS options in the past. I didn't know about the lack of distinction between the BA and BS. TIL!

IF a school grantsboth BA and BS STEM degrees, then the former are perhaps worth of disdain, at the very least they wouldn't be designed to get you into a PhD program.

In another direction, I don't believe MIT has any BA degrees, and a quick check showed that if you major in music, you get a Bachelor of Science degree (abbreviated S.B. at least in the '80s). Of course, you don't graduate from MIT in any field without doing a lot of physics and the calculus, plus some other science requirements....

It's pretty arbitrary and dependent on the school. MIT thinks of itself primarily as a science school, so they only award BSes. In contrast, Oxford gives out BAs in everything, even math/physics/computer science.

The slideshow that these are from says (on 6 of 14): "Degree: B.A., biology, Northwestern College. Career goal: Social worker."

Is says a bachelor of arts, but looking into Northwestern's programs more, I think it is a type. I agree that $50K of debt for a BS in Bio would be reasonable.

And keep in mind, those salaries don't take into account the unemployed who have those degrees from those institutions.

Sorry if it was ambiguous, the listed dollar amount is student debt from the slideshow.

Like some sort of evil plot of misadvertising hobbies as jobs to young people.

Also during the US recession, many people had their retirement funds drastically affected (I know several people that saw near a 40% loss) This forced many people nearing retirement age to keep working. Those people are often more senior, and with them staying on, there was no "movement" up the chain, so not many new entry level positions opening up. if they were smart, and did not touch the money, it should be fully recovered now, so we might start seeing some mobility again.

A previous reply mentioned that the US, finally, after 6 years, is back to the pre housing crisis workforce numbers. This is true, however, the population has grown since then and we are still about 7 million jobs short [0]. Also, the labor department includes, as said in the OP, underemployment. Typically you then have to work more jobs or live much less high on the hog. This is in addition to the older workforce continuing to stay in their positions.

I have an anecdote on this as well. My brother used to work for Lockheed. Many times, an expert would retire with no replacement in the free world to step up. They would then need to hire the expert back again for a much inflated price. The cows recently came home for that particular plant, as this last year all 4000 employees were fired. I'm sure the rehiring of more expensive contractors played a role.

[0]It's Friday, google it please, my apologies on the laze.

Compounding that problem, however, I would imagine that parents with "boomerang children" are inclined to keep working longer (because they're essentially supporting a dependent again).

It's kind of a vicious cycle.

The amount of debt some of these BA and BFA holders have is staggering: 80k, 90k, 130k (with a graphic design degree!!)

Didn't anyone sit them down and run the math of avg salary vs monthly loan payments for any of these careers? It would be tough to pay them off quickly without a hefty salary.

I feel like the parents are to blame here big time, setting these kids up for failure by not being real with them.

I have 3 kids and I definitely plan to instill a serious respect for loans and career goals etc.

I know someone who is currently thrilled about soon going to physical therapy school (3 year graduate degree). Estimated debt taken on: approximately $240,000.

Federal government will let you take all this with a few clicks of a button.

Average income of these "doctors" is what -- $70k?

wow, really? 240k for a DPT? My wife graduated the last year her school offered the Masters program, 2007 I believe with something like 7k in loans. Granted, her parent's pretty much covered everything, somehow.

I walked away with my CS degree (CIS, really) with ~80k in debt in 2008.

Average income varies I think, starting salary for her in 2007 was 45k, but that was Mid Missouri. Here in the Seattle area, it's a bit higher, and as a manager of a clinic (also practicing PT) it's close to twice that. I think as a non manager, 70k is about right here though.

If you're gonna do it, there's no reason not to go big any more. If you get on a debt repayment plan and work for either a nonprofit or the government you only pay 15% of you disposable income toward your debt for ten years. Then it's gone.

I was only able to skim this particular article, but I'm really curious about the international perspective of this "phenomenon" and the general attitude in America. Europe is dealing with staggering unemployment among people in their twenties. Meanwhile, plenty of developed countries still cling to the multi-generational home system where you stay with your parents until you're a married homeowner. Would an influx in the number of people remaining with their parents even be considered a "generational crisis" in the rest of the world?

I'm Italian, we're one of the countries in Europe that have been hit the hardest by the economic downturn. Staying at home with your parents in your early 20s has always been the norm here (mostly because you don't have to move to go to college, the local university is usually as good as any other). The problem is, even if it's generally acceptable to say that you still live with your parents, there are literally no jobs, not even low-wage, menial jobs. There is no hope for things improving in the long term and there's the lingering suspicion that this whole staying at home with your parents is more than a temporary situation. The only option seems to be moving to another country, but it's not as simple as it sounds. First of all, if you're unemployed, you don't have the money to move to another place, let alone stay there until you find a job. Secondly, you can't move to another country if you don't know someone who's already there and can help you out. And lastly, there's no reason for an employer to pick you (a foreigner) over some local guy. So the outlook is really grim and there's not even an inkling of hope on the horizon.

Many South African kids who went to college were so determined to stand on their own feet that they went to the developed world to take whatever job they could find. Now the parents rarely get to see their kids (and their grand kids). So American parents should be careful what they wish for !

I was born in the 70s and grew up in the late 80s, early 90s. My friends and I consider ourselves 'GenX' though I'm not sure what we are.

I find this article interesting because my friends and I often discuss how lucky we are to have been born when we were. We got off a crazy train right before it was about to take a perverse, fiery decent into economic hell.

In the 90s, college was cheap, and it was easy to get in to. In the 90s, it was cool to be a 'slacker' - and you could accomplish quite a lot, as one. There was hardly any competition and tons of opportunities. With a little bit of brain and a little bit of motivation, you could get into a top school, and it didn't matter much what your grades were. But, it wasn't just schooling that was easier to achieve - everything seemed a lot easier, and simpler.

I was recently talking to an older acquaintance, a person who recently retired as a top executive for one of the largest technology companies in the world. He's about 20 years older than me. And, he basically said the same thing: he was a B-C student in high school and college. He was pretty much a slacker, as I was. We both joked about how neither of us would be able to accomplish much, if we had been born in the 80s, or later.

Staying with your parents as long as they'll let you is often the smartest financial move you can make. With student loan debt skyrocketing, housing prices high, job market weak, and wages stagnant, there's almost nothing economically to encourage kids to stake out on their own. Moving to a different city in pursuit of a job is unlikely to be worth the financial risk over keeping the job you have near enough to your parents and living without room or board expenses. That would have to be one hell of a good paying job to justify a move.

Pretty much my whole graduating class is shipping off to San Francisco immediately. The pay is literally 3x more than you can get in Canada and everything but the rent is cheaper.

> “Everyone tells me to just pick something,” she says, “but I don’t know what to pick.”

Why is this not the obvious and glaring problem? After four years of going to a college with doubtlessly many opportunities, and she doesn't even know what she enjoys?

My parents started making me pay rent as soon as I was 18, but that's not what made me want to get my own place - I just couldn't live the lifestyle that I wanted at my parent's. So, as soon as I got my first real job I left and never looked back.

I would love to live with a bunch of like-minded people, but that's easier said than done.

The 'boomerang kids' are just people who were socialized to see a middle class life as beneath them. Offer these young adults 40k to drive a bus for a living and they would turn it down. They will stay at home and hold out for that job that pays a political science major $100k starting. The middle class is being decimated because no one aims for middle class.

edit: Perhaps bus driver was a bad example. I do know plenty of people who lead comfortable middle class lives as electricians, installing garage doors, commercial fishing etc... I don't know how many would describe it as their 'passion'.

I can't find the article now, but during the BART strike it was mentioned that over 100 (and it was much more than that) apply for every BART driver job that opens up. Most of the applicants had college degrees.

People are still willing to pay their dues, but they want to make sure they aren't 45 and laid off and suddenly making minimum wage. After all, the current middle class doesn't have a union to protect them in most cases.

Driving a bus is not a middle class job. Also politics is not automatable in the nearest future, so could be a wise choice if you have an aptitude.

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