This recession may last longer than we all thought, according to analysts everywhere. Some say economic recovery may take decades. What does that mean to the late bloomers, those folks anywhere between 40-60? It means that we will be the Lost Generation. The generation on which this dark period may have the most negative impact of all.
Life used to be a progressive route to financial stability. You went to school, you found your first job, you bought your first house, you saved money for the future, and you got better paid jobs or career promotions in every phase of your professional life. In your 20’s you went to College and took your first professional steps, in your 30’s and 40’s you worked hard and raised your children, in your 50’s you started reaping the benefits of those decades of hard work. And in your late 60’s, you could retire comfortably enough and your home was paid for. Sometimes you even had a vacation home as well. That was the American dream.
For those who are middle aged now, this dream came to a sudden halt. The house you thought you would have a lot of equity in and that perhaps would even be paid for in your 60’s, is now lost to the bank. The job you had for years or decades is suddenly gone. Finding another job that pays the same is almost impossible. Few people want to hire you because of your age. The small to medium sized business you worked so hard to build is struggling, and bankruptcy looms ahead. Your parents are too old and fragile to help you financially, and your children still need your help with College and other necessities. Banks don’t want to loan you money. Health insurance costs get higher with age. There’s no one to help.
In the good times, a couple would downsize only when they became too old to take care of a bigger home or when they retired to Florida. Now, couples in their 40’s and 50’s are being forced to downsize, not because they want to, but because they no longer can afford their mortgages. What used to be the family home, a comfortable house where you’re grown children could come and bring their spouses and grandchildren, is becoming a small apartment or townhome in a lesser neighborhood. Your pension plans are compromised, your 401k may be used to survive when one or both partners lose their jobs. Small businesses are closing everywhere. Jobs lost in the private sector, manufacturing, and finance world.
The younger generations are having a hard time to make their entry in the job market, but they are young enough to be able to wait for recovery. Middle aged folks however, have little neither time nor job opportunities that can lead them to a more stable life. Unless the United States comes up with innovative technologies that can generate more jobs, this generation will be the new one called the “Lost Generation”.
After all the gloom and doom we have heard now for the past year, I think it’s time for Americans, and all the copycats around the world who like to follow the American culture, to reflect on some points.
I came to this country in 1997, at the height of the Clinton era (right before he crashed because of his indiscretion and bad judgment), when the internet companies were popping up everywhere and there was little unemployment.
The late 90’s and the 00’s were full of enthusiasm, even though much of this American dream was shattered when the loonie religious extremists decided to kill innocent people in a disaster movie style.
Consumerism was at its maximum. Fourteen year olds wanted designer bags and sunglasses to feel “in”. Parents indulged. Women went on shopping spree after shopping spree, and their closets were full of items they did not really need. Some women would find something they had bought and had never worn, still with the label on, inside their cramped closets. BMWs and other luxury cars dominated the urban scene in higher income metropolitan areas. Hair and nail salons were crowded. People wanted a bigger house, and MacMansions were popping up at every American suburb. Everyone just HAD to have the latest cell phone or the latest lap top, and gadget lovers (I am guilty of that too) couldn’t get enough of Apple.
Meanwhile, the American middle class forgot one basic tenant of adult responsability: to save money. People spent it all. I could not believe an article I read on the Washington Post in the late 90’s: a couple who made more than 100k a year together, 2 kids, could not make ends meet. For me, that was a sign they were living above their heads. Saving money means you are growing. Saving money means you will have protection if you are hit by illness or unemployment. Saving money means you can pursue some bigger dreams, your dream vacation, that boat or that degree. Women in particular, with the pressure to look like a Hollywood fashionista, spend a lot more than they should. Many young women have huge credit card debts and are unable to have financial security.
With the American and now worldwide economic crisis (other nations are paying for our own excesses!), we should try to change our focus as a nation. We should try to save, not only spend. We should get rid of major credit card debts and excessive spending. We need to become less materialistic. We do not need 8 pairs of jeans, we do not need 200 dollar jeans, we do not need 30 diferent styles of bags, and we do not need to change our gadget every 12 months.
I often wonder if Americans shop because there is litle else to do. Extended families do not live near each other. Cultural events are expensive. Winter months are grey and depressing. Travel is expensive. So what do you do in a boring Saturday afternoon? You go shop hopping! You go to the outlets “just in case” you find a really good deal. And you come back with 300 dollars worth of cheap chothes or clothes you don’t really need. You buy 5 tops because they were cheap.
For mothers and daughters, shopping is bonding time, since they don’t know what else they can do together. The malls become congregation spots, since the urban sprawl has given us very few places to congregate. Teens meet at the mall. They often consume once inside. And women fall prey to the “it’s so pretty, I just have to have it”, falling deeper into debt.
Barack Obama wants to restore consumer confidence. He wants Americans to have their jobs and feel safe to spend again. I say ok, go ahead, but maybe we should tone it down. Maybe we should think twice every time we buy something we want: is it really important? Essential? Can I use the public library instead? Can I blow dry my own hair? Can I go to that party with the same dress I wore last summer? Will I really use all the options in that new shiny cell phone they are trying to push on us? How about saving 500 dollars a month? How about trying to save a percentage of your paycheck and saying no to spending more than you allow yourself?
We don’t have to stop spending, we need to spend more responsibly and remember to SAVE. Americans forgot about that. They are mortgaged up to their ears. The era of rap music showing blinged golddiggers going after the guy with the Bentley is over. Maybe women will start looking for a guy who they are really attracted to, who treats them well, instead of the one with the Mercedes Benz. A new era of simplicity and less frivolous lifestyles, mirrored in our First Family, could be the answer for the 10’s-the new decade which will soon begin.
Many families are now being hit by unemployment in this country. My heart goes out to them. I have been unemployed before, and I know what a huge impact it has not only in an individual’s mental state but on his or her whole family.
Losing your job is like losing your ground, your base, your lifelihood, your safety net, your sense of self worth. The impact of a job loss in someone’s mental health is devastating. You go through phases, similar to a relationship break up: shock, a certain relief (“Well, I really did not like this or that about my job”, “I can now relax at home for a few days”, “I will have time to go on that hike, to clean my garage, to work out, etc”), despair (when time goes by and there is no viable job opening in the horizon), depression (“why me?”, “people less smart than me are working!”), fear (“How am I going to survive?”, “How will I pay my bills”, “Will I have to move to my parent’s house at my age??”, “What happens if I get sick” and so on and so forth”).
Unemployment causes family fractures, as many people get so depressed by the lack of opportunities that they start abusing alcohol or drugs. Marriages succumb under the lack of money and stability.
Many people only find work in jobs that are well beneath their training and education, and have to adjust to a totally different lifestyle. A few manage to find work in their field (nurses and contract specialists do not cry for jobs!) but the majoity still takes a loss-in status, in pay, in benefits and in opportunity for growth. A few lucky ones revert the bad times to start a new career or a new business-successfully, but they are the minority. The truth is that unemployment is one of the most cruel things that can happen to an adult (unless he/she is a bum who LIKES the idea of sitting on the couch watching TV all day :)).
I have hope that Obama will somehow get his stimilus package approved and somehow this insidious social disease will be halted from spreading.
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