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The Gen-Y Outlook: Struggling to Find Optimism


Taking hit after hit, and wondering about the future.

Like it was for much of the US population, the last year was a rocky one for me. I saw my savings account depleted, my 401(k) become laughable, and I became intimately acquainted with the New York State Department of Labor's unemployment assistance website. All of these things have probably made me a good candidate for the anti-anxiety medications I've spent the last five years reporting on.

Yet, despite covering the markets at a major news outlet for two years, I never thought about any of these things (at least not very seriously) until I got that call from my boss to journey to the seventh floor where I was told that I'd be joining the ranks of the unemployed. Suddenly, all of those articles I had read -- and written -- about the death of print media, the dwindling economy, and falling profits came into sharp focus.

Therapy and drinking seemed like better solutions to the state of the economy than anything I was reading in the newspaper or hearing from our new president in one of his now-frequent addresses, but my anxiety levels really reached the breaking point when people started saying to me, "Be thankful, at least you don't have a family." Which begs the question: What if I want to start a family sometime in the near future?

I consider myself fortunate. I'm a well-educated 27-year-old from an upper-middle class family in New Jersey. I was raised to believe in the American dream: One day I would do better for my kids than my parents had done for me. I expected I would someday have a life much like my parents with a nice house in the 'burbs and a healthy, happy family that has two cars in the garage.

But all of that seems pretty much out of reach at the moment.

I can barely support myself while living with two roommates in an apartment with broken steps and a leaky ceiling. I can't imagine having to feed a family or pay mortgage payments. The prospect of owning a house -- something I dream of doing someday -- doesn't seem a reality when I know that my student loans and Visa (V) bills are going to take me the better part of my 30s (fingers-crossed) to pay off.

Older generations look at us Gen-Y kids and think of us as entitled, while I wonder how nice it must have been to grow up in the days of low gas prices, zero credit card debt, affordable insurance, and pension plans.

Those things just aren't part of my reality. I have little hope of ever seeing a dime of that money the government takes out of my paycheck each month for Social Security and the amount of comfort I have during my retirement depends entirely on my own savings savvy. Despite the huge overhaul to the health care system Congress is promising, I can't imagine ever looking at my medical bills with anything but disbelief.

So what can someone my age look forward to in terms of future financial stability or a comfortable retirement? Does the government, the corporate world, or any of the many market investors care if someone like me has a future in the long-term as long as Wall Street and its various interest groups begin to thrive again in the near-term?

Very little of the news I've read recently makes me believe that they do.

But maybe I should try being a little more optimistic about the future of our economy; I've landed on my feet at a thriving media outlet (one of the few) after several months of unemployment. If I can do it, maybe the other 27 million people who are still unemployed or underemployed in the US will make it through this recession to land in a better place as well.
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