Last time, it was the devastation of World War I that prompted Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway to tell the world’s young adults: “You are all a lost generation.” Now, is the economic crisis creating another Lost Generation?
The latest statistics from the U.S. Census, which we’ve discussed all week, confirm that America’s young adults have been hit really hard by the prolonged economic recession. Some are calling them our new lost generation, citing numbers that show the generation’s low (and falling) employment rate, more young adults living at home with their parents, delayed marriage, and high poverty rates among households headed by young adults.
“These people will be scarred, and they will be called the ‘lost generation’—in that their careers would not be the same way if we had avoided this economic disaster,” Harvard economist Richard Freeman told Associated Press. Freeman’s remark is echoing through news media and the blogosphere. The Atlantic repeated his conclusion.
Freeman makes a valid point. Young adulthood is a large portion of a person’s impressionable years. This is the developmental period in which values are learned that last a lifetime. People who came of age in the Great Depression, for example, tended to be frugal and thrifty throughout their lives. We know from analyses of data from around the world that people who come of age in a time of economic turmoil, unsafe circumstances, and political unrest have fundamentally different values from those whose impressionable years occurred in a context of affluence, safety, and stability. (If you’re interested in these issues, check out my own book, America’s Crisis of Values: Reality and Perception.)
I don’t know if “lost generation” is the right label. It was popularized by Ernest Hemingway, who got it from Gertrude Stein, who got it from a garage owner she knew in Paris, who used the phrase to describe those who came of age during WWI. The label is applied to the Millennials to refer to delayed adulthood and responsibility, hopelessness, listlessness, and other responses to a dim economic future.
Do you see Millennials in this way?
Are they a “lost generation”?
Or, is there a more positive interpretation?
Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.