Monday, March 1, 2010

"Y" is for "YUCKIES"..?

The Times' Ben Schott features this recently coined acronym in his vocab blog today; thereby infuriating hundreds of thousands of young people around the world. Or maybe just me. To let him off the hook, Scott wasn't the one who came up with the term, which stands for "Young Unwitting Costly Kids"; and in fact, no one seems to be taking credit for this sweet little nickname which manages to both insult and deflate the morale of its 20-something namesakes. Schott pulls the word from an article written by a self-proclaimed YUCKIE herself (pushing 30, I hardly feel she can call herself a 'kid' but that's a whole 'nother story) who goes into the boggy statistics behind the word. To sum it up, Gen Y is eating up their parents' 401K savings accounts, regular savings accounts, vacation cruise, and emergency savings accounts - as if their lives depended on it. Because with unemployment hovering around 50% for this age bracket, their lives, or at least their livelihood, indeed do depend on it. And they're eating up a lot more than just money, as scores of them head for greener pastures - and stocked cupboards - in their parents' homes. These are apparently called the 'boomerang' kids, but make no mistake, as the article mentions a half million 35-44 year olds moved back in with Mom & Dad in the UK last year. But no worries, the parents do get to join in on the fun of having a new generational nickname! Now dubbed the "baby-gloomers", they face growing financial uncertainty and with that, a less rosy picture of retirement as a result of their adult children's postponed professional incomes.

You know what I want to say to that? Boo-hoo. Thankfully, the author quickly changes her tune midway through the article and adopts the same tough love approach. I've got a mountain full of gratitude for my parents and the various types of support they've given me without question, but we cannot expect to feel sympathy for the set of Americans who embarked on their adult paths during an era of low-cost higher education, and unparalleled economic prosperity and growth; when one could realistically expect to retire at age 65, sell their house for more than they paid, and drive their motor home around the country without guilt of carbon emissions. Yes, in case you were uncertain, that was feigned romanticism. But the reason we shouldn't feel sorry is because that will only make us feel guilty and we all know what a mess that can lead to.

Times are tough right now. But I don't believe in feeling guilty for being where we are (or where we aren't) or sorry for anyone, not even my generation whose professional development and subsequent lifetime earning potential will take a dramatic nosedive in comparison to previous generations, including those 'baby gloom and doomers'. I'll even go one step further to say that I'm glad this change is taking place. Because although job security and guaranteed pension sounds great, these things also meant you were expected to stay in one place for the majority of your working life. At one company. At one job - or maybe a couple if you count promotions and such. We've seen enough dramatizations, both real-life and staged, of the mid-century businessman to realize that this formula has a serious tendency of producing depressed, creatively stifled and claustrophobic individuals (in movies, always with drinking problems). This outdated  model also meant that the company had ultimate control over the direction of one's career, or at least, more control than they have now.  I'm happy about the predictions that show our generation will be changing jobs something like every 18 months, and shifting through sectors and careers at a pace of about every 5-7 years. Doesn't this just mean more opportunities for growth, for success? For innovation to occur more rapidly? For people to have greater autonomy over decisions regarding work and the way they fit work into their lives? I wish more people would begin to embrace the change, rather than lamenting the loss of 'securities' which were tenuous to begin with. And so what? You're 27 and living with your parents, or you're 58 and you've got a 30-year old in your basement.  Imagine the types of cross-generational intelligence that could be fostered within these new models, and the benefits it could bring to our towns and communities. The picture may not be the rosiest one, but it sure isn't black. 

I'm hoping for the quick demise of this insulting and inaccurate term. We are young, and certainly costly, but we are far from unwitting. My impression is that we're fighting to overcome the challenges we're facing, through hard work, acute awareness, and passion that fuels it all. So...that would make: H.W.A.A.P.? Alright, we'll work on that too.


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