A whine of the times? Generation Xers are griping, but with good reason

September 05, 1993|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Staff Writer

Staff Writer ason Rippon saw the help-wanted ad for an airlines ticket agent and, experienced job-seeker that he is, tried beat the rush by showing up early.

"But when I got there, there were about 300 people milling around. It was unnerving," says Mr. Rippon, 23. "And it was all ages -- from as young as 18 or 19, all the way up to people in their 50s."

While Mr. Rippon made the first cut in which about 30 applicants were invited back for interviews and typing tests, that crowd scene is symbolic of what he and other twentysomethings are wading into as they enter early adulthood: a world in which

they're squeezed from all directions and age groups.

Jobs? The economy continues its incredible shrinking act, and employers are letting go rather than hiring on. Popular culture? It's controlled by the self-referential baby boomers who impose their mark on everything. Government policy? They're too young for Social Security -- which will be depleted long before their time anyway -- and too old for the recent interest in children's issues. ,, The future? The deficit isn't getting any smaller, or the environment any cleaner.

"It's like they say -- we're the first generation that will do worse than our parents," says Mr. Rippon, who graduated from Western Maryland College a year ago.

It is what "they" say. Whether you're talking to or about twentysomethings -- we picked several recent Western Maryland grads as a representative group -- it's become conventional wisdom to note how downwardly mobile this generation is compared to their elders.

Yet to some of those elders, this seems to be just the youthful whining of a group that certainly isn't the first to come of age during tough times. Have they ever heard of, say, the Depression?

The current unemployment rate, for example, is nearly 7 percent, compared to the 25 percent unemployment rate of 1933 at the height of the Depression, says John Stinson, an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"The people today -- they have it easy," argues Joseph Del Brocco of Linthicum, who at 92 has been through a couple of world wars and the Depression. "They were born with silver spoons in their mouths. They should some time find out what it was like to really have to tighten your belt. You can't even compare [then and now] -- it's like night and day."

The issue has drawn lines between the generations. A recent Wall Street Journal article, for example, featured a group of twentysomethings complaining bitterly about their fate while sitting in, no, not the unemployment office, but a hot tub. That drew a mocking column from 60-year-old Mike Royko, noting that these aren't the first college graduates who didn't immediately get perfect, fat-salaried jobs at the top of their chosen professions.

"There are going to be age wars," predicts Bill Strauss, co-author of the recently published "13th Gen" (Vintage Books), short for the 13th generation since America was founded, or the group born between 1961 and 1981. "This generation is the first with a higher poverty rate than older people. The first one not to show educational improvement over the preceding generation, the first one with fewer professionals. And this is happening as seniors are prospering."

By his definition, members of the "13th Gen" are percent unemployment rate of 1933 at the height of the Depression, says John Stinson, an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"The people today -- they have it easy," argues Joseph Del Brocco of Linthicum, who at 92 has been through a couple of world wars and the Depression. "They were born with silver spoons in their mouths. They should some time find out what it was like to really have to tighten your belt. You can't even compare [then and now] -- it's like night and day."

The issue has drawn lines between the generations. A recent Wall Street Journal article, for example, featured a group of twentysomethings complaining bitterly about their fate while sitting in, no, not the unemployment office, but a hot tub. That drew a mocking column from 60-year-old Mike Royko, noting that these aren't the first college graduates who didn't immediately get perfect, fat-salaried jobs at the top of their chosen professions.

"There are going to be age wars," predicts Bill Strauss, co-author of the recently published "13th Gen" (Vintage Books), short for the 13th generation since America was founded, or the group born between 1961 and 1981. "This generation is the first with a higher poverty rate than older people. The first one not to show educational improvement over the preceding generation, the first one with fewer professionals. And this is happening as seniors are prospering."

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