Generation R(ecession)

This isn’t the first article or commentator to suggest that the current generation of roughly 20-somethings will be profoundly affected by the current economic malaise. But sociologist Maria Kafelas provides some insights into what she terms Generation R:

[Generation R] were born between 1980 and 1990. They’re the children of the baby boomers…

Working class kids said to us, “Listen, we’re going to be the first generation of Americans to do worse than our parents.” One young woman said, “I just feel burned. My friends who didn’t go to college, they don’t have debt and they’re making more an hour than I am.”…

[A working class girl who went to college] actually said, “I don’t even know why I spent the money.” The middle class kids were saying, “It’s very tough, I am filled with anxiety. I can’t sleep at night, but I still believe in a college degree. I’m just going to have to work harder and it’s going to take longer.” And those elite kids said, “Is there really a recession? It’s more like — it’s just harder for me to get a job.” And they’re sitting out this recession in a lot of ways…

They now talk a great deal about not wasting money; conspicuous consumption they say has gone out of fashion. And they don’t want to be seen as throwing money around when their families are eating into their resources to keep them afloat, etc.

If these characteristics do mark this current generation, their beliefs and practices would affect a number of institutions: higher education (and the education system in general), the economy (with more measured consumption practices), the relationship between generations (perhaps being the first generation in a while whose life is not markedly better), and perhaps more (government – for letting this all happen, financial institutions – for helping to make this happen, etc.).

But these comments from Kefalas also highlight the class differences that are exacerbated in these difficult economic times. For the elite, not a whole lot has changed. The middle class may still believe in college and the value of hard work. But it is the working and lower classes that might really have a lack of hope as the ways to move up, such as a college education, seem to be further out of reach.