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Gen Y, Are You Ready to Reinvent Yourself? Necessary Sacrifices by Baby Boomers

October 11, 2010

Updated October 15, 2015

672Okay, I admit I’m one of those detested Baby Boomers by Gens X and Y. “Ah feel yar pain,” as President Bill Clinton liked to express. We’ve inundated you with non-stop
rock-and-roll for far too long. (However, I have to admit that I still love Hendrix and Led Zeppelin). To be very frank–and I hope helpful to Gen Y (and also to my fellow rock-and-rollers)–it’s time to get over the inter-generational resentment.

I know that Gen Y was sucked into the group Kool-Aid think that as we old farts exited our organizations that the world would be your oyster, where you could tell your ageing boss to “shove it where the sun don’t shine,” and where you would have lattes served to you on golden platters at work every morning. Understand this: I do NOT blame Gen Y for being confused and resentful now because of their ongoing deplorable labor market conditions, especially in America. You have a right to feel cheated and mislead. However as the saying goes, “Shit happens.”

Sue and I have four adult kids, three daughters and a son, between 26 and 36, and five grand kids. My son likes to say to me, “Dad, suck it up!” Indeed. Sue and I have sucked it up aplenty during our 38 years of marriage. I’m sure that many of my Boomer cohorts have done the same.

Sue and I got married very young and started a family shortly afterwards. We sold our second-hand Volkswagon Rabbit when I quit my job with a finance company (collecting money at month-end from single mothers eventually wore on me) to return to do a Masters degree in economics. This occurred while I was helping raise our first born. Quitting a fulltime job to go back to school came with risks, especially when I graduated during the 1982 recession. We went three years without a car–but we were happy.

Far too much Kool-Aid was drunk during the early 2000s by policy wonks, economists, politicians and demographers, who collectively enthused that Gen Y would have its pick of the jobs and that employers would have to adjust their managerial practices and workplace conditions if they wished to have a hope of attracting talented young people. One of the worst culprits, in Canada at least, who promoted the notion that Gen Yers would have their pick of the jobs was Carleton University’s Linda Duxbury. Linda, who I’ve met on a few occasions, is a very charming and intelligent woman who has done a lot of research on organizational health. In fact her research on workplace wellbeing is very solid, such as with the leadership and morale problems in the RCMP.

However, she proved to be way off the mark on the subject of Gen Y’s role in organizations. Yes, Linda wasn’t able to predict the nightmare that enveloped America and Canada during the 2008 financial meltdown in the U.S. and subsequent Great Recession. In fact her focus was on Canada, but the labor market trends have been very similar to America’s, and in recent years have proven to be worse for young people.

So where does that leave Gen Y, whose labor market status remains very vulnerable and uncertain? Far too many young people unemployed and underemployed. What’s especially distressing is that failing to get a foothold in the job market in your early twenties, despite having gone to college or university, is a predictor of stunted career development and lower lifetime earnings.

Let’s take moment to look at some data included in The Economist (September 11, 2010 issue), based on the OECD’s latest survey on education:

For college and university graduates aged 25-29 working in low skill jobs, the percentages compared to total graduates by select countries are (the numbers to the right are average labor cost in U.S. dollars):

Spain 44% ($38,100)
Canada 38% (50,500)
United States 32% (70,900)
Poland 28% (14,800)
Britain 26% (70,000)
Australia 24% (23,000)
OECD Avg. 23% (49,800)

Yep, Canada was in second place, followed by the U.S. This is clearly not a good picture for youth, not just in regard to unemployment but also underemployment.

What clearly does NOT help the job situation are some of the self-serving practices of organized labor, in which retirees are not only able to return to the public trough but actually encouraged. Retired teachers in Canada have the opportunity to boost their pensions to close to 100%. In America, teachers earn typically lower salaries and have been getting whacked by state governments on the verge of bankruptcy. Retired teachers may wish to reflect on thinking beyond yourselves and give up supply teaching to provide a helping hand to those just entering a profession with a saturated labor market.

Maybe what I can offer Gen Y is to find someone who has some perspective. Forget about seeking out your bureaucrat boss as a mentor; find someone who has had to make a go of it on his or her own resources, whether an entrepreneur, artist or an accomplished musician. You want someone who won’t give you the answers to your challenges but who challenges your self-reflection and personal inquiry, and who stimulates your creative thinking.

It’s pretty evident that the current lengthy recovery will be gradual. Sure, tens of millions of Americans have had their 401K retirement plans decimated. North of the border the picture has been less brutal. The irony, however, behind this is that as much as Boomers are seeking to extend their participation in the labor market, they’re feeling increasingly sandwiched as their ageing parents place greater demands upon them. It’s almost beginning to feel that the inter-generational war has begun in earnest, where Dad at 61 is telling his mid-twenties Gen Y kid to hit the road to find a job because his pension is now toast. Unless something changes radically in the next few years, the picture will not be very pretty.

To my fellow Boomers, what are you ready to sacrifice?

Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.
– President Theodore Roosevelt

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 13, 2010 8:15 pm

    Thanks FE for raising very good points and your reframed question. I alluded to this on a personal level about when Sue and I were young and starting out. However, in this day’s context, with the uncertainty and volatile change, your question about parental sacrifice and the need for personal reinvention is very relevant. I assume you live in America, where things are a lot tougher than north of the border. Stay in touch…JT

  2. October 13, 2010 4:26 pm

    Not sure you asked the right question — “what are you willing to sacrfice?” Seems to me the question is, “what have you been FORCED to sacrfice, and how will you reinvent yourself to cope?”

    I’m a boomer with 5 grown children. The youngest is a college freshman, the oldest is 34. What have I sacrificed?
    An income — my job melted away in March, 2009 and I live in an area with an unemployment rate of over 13%.
    Health insurance — none.
    Retirement savings — gone
    Property value — half of what it was three years ago

    How I’m coping? Better some days than others. . . Reinventing self as follows:
    Income: from freelancing
    Health insurance, retirement, property values will be compensated for by moving to a less expensive country. Currently looking seriously at Panama and Ecuador.

    My kids are all doing great, by the way.


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