New census data released Thursday casts a shadow over the long-term impact of the recession on America's youth. During the last decade, the unemployment rate for young people spiked to the highest levels since World War II--only 55 percent of Americans aged 16 to 29 have jobs, a 12 percent drop from the employment rate in 2000. Faced with a grim outlook, many young people aren't leaving home until their 30s--the number of Americans aged 25 to 34 living with their parents jumped 25 percent during the recession. Last month, The New York Times called the collective youth "Generation Limbo," but after seeing the new census data, Harvard economist Richard Freeman takes it a stage further. "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," Freeman told The Associated Press.
The world has seen a number of lost generations in the past century. Gertrude Stein first coined the term in 1920s in reference to the Europeans who grew up during World War I, but it's most recently referred to Japanese youth who grew up during that country's recession in the 1990s. In Japan, the lost youth are referred to as the hikikomori, and the decade of widespread unemployment meant that many of them never had the chance to start careers. In the 10 years of recession in Japan the number of young people working temporary or contract jobs doubled, and the collective hopelessness lead to a sky-rocketing suicide rate. Michael Zielenziger described the generation in his 2006 book Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation:
Across Japan, more than one million men and boys like Jun and Hiro and Kenji have chosen to withdraw completely from society. These recluses hide in their homes for months or years at a time, refusing to leave the protective walls of their bedrooms. They are as frightened as small children abandoned in a dark forest. Some spend their days playing video games. A few--an estimated 10 percent--surf the Internet. Many just pace, read books, or drink beer and shochu, a Japanese form of vodka. Others do nothing for weeks at a time.
Obviously, the Japanese and American cultures are incredibly different, and it's impossible to do an apples-to-apples comparison of the two young generations. However, the new census data reads like a warning sign that American youth are increasingly challenged by listlessness, and it will likely lead to future consequences. "Many young adults are essentially postponing adulthood and all of the family responsibilities and extra costs that go along with it," assistant vice president of the Population Research Bureau told the AP. "Some of these changes started before the recession but now they are accelerating, with effects on families that could be long term."
Pointing to Ivy League graduates on welfare and twentysomethings with nothing to do, The Times describes America's lost generation as an apathetic crowd:
Meet the members of what might be called Generation Limbo: highly educated 20-somethings, whose careers are stuck in neutral, coping with dead-end jobs and listless prospects.
And so they wait: for the economy to turn, for good jobs to materialize, for their lucky break. Some do so bitterly, frustrated that their well-mapped careers have gone astray. Others do so anxiously, wondering how they are going to pay their rent, their school loans, their living expenses--sometimes resorting to once-unthinkable government handouts.
With new statistics adding some context to reports of the struggling youth, it's hard to find the silver living. Thursday the Labor Department announced that unemployment claims were down, but analysts warned that it wasn't enough.