A challenging future for the young

by Hunter Harris / Beacon Staff • January 31, 2013

Opinionfnl verrill
The recession’s lingering effects have dimmed the prospects of a generation.
The recession’s lingering effects have dimmed the prospects of a generation.

I read and reread the words again, allowing the sheer weight of the statement to be felt. Perched atop my bed, 11 pages into End This Depression Now! I came across the most haunting sentence I’d ever read: “Truly, this is a terrible time to be young.” Paul Krugman, recipient of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Economics, New York Times columnist, and esteemed Princeton University economics professor had made it clear that as a young person in America, I was completely screwed. As if that weren’t enough, the most frustrating hit came next: There wasn’t some secret guide book holding the keys to ridding the U.S. of its economic crisis. Proper political plans of action were clear and ignored, deferred in favor of liberal bipartisanship.

Immediately, I felt cheated out of the future Sex and the City unknowingly promised me. By Krugman’s analysis, this economic calamity isn’t a transitory complaint as much as it is a long-term malady, making my dreamy, Carrie Bradshaw-esque future not just on the back burner but out of reach. No more cosmopolitan New York City existence, writing about politics and culture for the magazine of my dreams. Instead of discussing my rent-controlled Tribeca apartment whilst sipping cocktails with my urban family, I’d be lucky to be back at home, slurping cranberry juice in my childhood bedroom, living with my parents. In nine words, visions of the overpriced mini dresses and leather riding boots I’d splurge on as a financially independent woman with a career were now totally dashed.

Krugman’s prognosis became increasingly grim: Outside of the familiar statistics outlining unemployment among recent college graduates, the long-term effects of our inherited recession are harrowing. Referencing a study by Lisa Kahn, a Yale economist, Krugman concluded that the economy we are coming of age in will likely plague us for the rest of our lives. Kahn’s report, Krugman summarizes, found that “the graduates [of years of high unemployment] did significantly worse, not just in the few years after graduation but for their whole working lives.” 

Among students at a communication school, the uncertainty of employment and financial security after college is a nefarious and permeating force. Journalism majors make peace with the unpaid internships many will likely begin after graduation, just as my BFA acting friends have openly relegated themselves to positions as waiters and bartenders as they wait for a stroke of luck to start their career. Emerson doesn’t specialize in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields said to include the most profitable industries, and our concentrations are often more creative and less marketable, no matter the fiscal climate. 

This isn’t just an Emerson problem or a liberal arts curriculum problem; the largely depressed state of our economy is a generational problem, one that will only fester if further left untreated, devastating the job prospects of Emerson graduates more than those from many other schools.

In American politics, compromise and concession are intrinsic to the democratic process (as Steven Spielberg’s awards-darling Lincoln gently reminds us all), but some problems are too important to be muddled with. Perhaps it’s a youthful obsession with instant gratification, but I’ve grown tired of promises about the intentionally vague “road to recovery”.

In his 2009 inaugural address, President  Barack Obama promised for “action, bold and swift” regarding the recession, a commitment that, four years later, remains unfulfilled. The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was, as Krugman reminds, “designed to give a relatively short-term boost to the economy, not long-term support,” and its $787 billion price tag was far too tenuous to rescue an economy producing close to $15 trillion in goods and services annually. A valiant start, the act has been useful but fallen short of the size of a stimulus that could produce worthwhile change.

Bypassing partisan politics is not the only solution. Despite the tepidly liberal eight years of Bill Clinton’s presidency (in which he dismantled sections of the Depression-era Glass-Stegall Act, allowing commercial banks to engage in investment activities, an action that many economists hold accountable for the magnitude of today’s fiscal woes), conservative financial policies have largely governed since the 1980s, maximizing the wealth of a small gentry to the detriment of most Americans. Republicans have been unafraid to execute the style of audacious action President Obama promised — and it’s time for liberals to do the same.