The “Break Even” Generation

The United States is in the middle of a recession, with crumbling infrastructure, and the country’s global influence waning. I thought now would be a great time to discuss standard of living in America.

Since the birth of this nation, there has been one overwhelming theme which bolstered the growth of the nation. Throughout the 20th century, if there was one constant in the United States, it was the notion that the next generation would have a better standard of living than the previous.

Unfortunately for today’s youth, the idea of a constant increase in standard of living is no longer a certainty. Salaries are not keeping up with increases in cost of living. During the 20th century, upward mobility in America was driven by the educational system. Children would aspire to be physicians, attorneys, journalists, policemen, and businessman.

A four year degree in the United States today is the equivalent of a high school diploma thirty years ago. Being a doctor today is not what it was a generation ago. There is an oversupply of attorneys, since law school became the default career path for students without clear career aspirations. Perhaps the most reliable vehicle for upward mobility in the 20th century was small business, particularly the idea of a family business.

Over the last twenty years, the family business has become an endangered species. Just think about where you purchased goods 20 years ago. Groceries, gas, clothes, sporting goods, cars, and appliances were all bought from family businesses. Today, the vast majority of goods and services are purchased from multinational corporations.

While Americans watched small businesses die around the country, it seemed like progress. The prices were lower at Wal-Mart, and instead of owning their own business, Americans would work for the multinationals, dabble in real estate, and invest in stock. The financial system was going to be the overwhelming source of wealth in this country, replacing legacy methods of upward mobility. After this year, there is no clear path.

Sure, there are always going to be opportunities for Americans to be successful. There will be new markets, new technologies, and new opportunities, but the odds of success are getting worse.

Today, there is no clear path upwards for the youth of America. Its no longer a certainty that generation X and Y will have a better quality of life than their parents.

Today, people are just hoping to break even.