"We have the power to make this the best generation of mankind in the history of the world or to make it the last."
--John F. Kennedy
We believe each generation looks for new inventions, new innovation and new symbols because it considers itself to be brighter and luckier than the one before it. Also, we believe each generation is more progressive than the generation before it because it improves on that generation. We are always optimistic for coming generations, and we think they will have much more opportunity than we have.
However, this view has been changing in the U.S. Recently, it hasn't been a good time for the new generation in America. Several new studies show that the American educational system needs to be improved, there has been a tremendous rise in the number of suicides among college students, finding jobs is a big challenge and marriage and birth rates are decreasing. Family structure is getting weaker.
The percentage of high school dropouts in the U.S. is high, and the U.S. is becoming the best half-educated country in the world. Last June, in Washington, D.C., there was a major effort to bring attention to this issue. According to the College Board, 857 students drop out of high school in the U.S. every single hour of every school day. To represent each student, 857 school desks were arrayed near the Washington Monument. The action was organized to help people including the presidential candidates to visualize how big the problem is.
Also, the success of public schools is questionable. Just last September, we found out that 2012 high school graduates scored a four-decade low in reading on the SAT.
Additionally, college suicide rates are, alarmingly, on the rise. A study conducted by the University of Virginia discovered that suicide is the leading cause of death among U.S. college students.
Furthermore, finishing high school and completing a college degree is not enough for success because finding a job is a tremendous challenge. In 2008, when the students of today's class of 2012 first arrived on campus, the Wall Street investment bank Lehman Brothers collapsed, the financial crisis flared and the recession deepened. What timing for new college students! So those freshmen had to adapt to the collapsing U.S. economy, and while the world emerges from the worst crisis since the Great Depression, finding a job in the U.S. is still very difficult.
There are many new college graduates looking for a job, although their youthful optimism has been extinguished by the poor job market in the U.S. A Harvard University Institute of Politics survey conducted over last March and April shows that young Americans in their early 20s are pessimistic about immediate job opportunities. "Creating jobs and lowering the unemployment rate" was considered more important than any other issue for the new graduates.
On top of this, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis says, "The recession has reconfirmed the value of having a college degree in a globally competitive job market." To fit into the job market nowadays you have to have the best qualifications to compete with others.
The depressing labor market has mainly hurt the 9.5 million Americans who are 30 or under, who make up 41 percent of the nation's underemployed, a much higher number than their labor force share of 27 percent, reports Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank.
On the other hand, marriage has been falling for years. In a study, the Pew Research Center found that in 2011, barely half of U.S. adults were married, the lowest percentage ever, and the birth rate fell to its lowest level since the earliest year of reliable statistics, 1920.
It seems everything is related to the economy. When the economy is growing there are more job opportunities. When people have solid jobs they think of marriage and starting a family. Also, a dream of having a good, high-paying job is a great motivation to students for academic success. Chloe Sevigny, 37, an American film actress and fashion icon, says: "I feel like we were the last generation, and there's this big divide before and after the 1990s. I feel sorry for the kids today. It's all too much." Do you agree? "Is the economy creating a lost generation?" asked Robert J. Samuelson in The Washington Post once. That question is worth taking seriously and giving serious thought to. Young people are on their way to making a start in a prosperous world, yet everything is collapsing around them. Most probably the U.S. needs to find new methods and ways to help young people to be optimistic, happy and achieve success. But how?
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This article was previously published in Today's Zaman.