Disney World’s over. Now, let’s grow up.

October 8, 2009

Guelph Mercury, 07/10/09IH109296

It sure sucks to be young. What with all the health and freedom from mortgages, and all that.

But what about all these studies showing young people are bearing the brunt of this recession, which we’re told is now officially over? Unless it’s not.

That’s bad news for us whippersnappers, no? On the surface, it seems so.

This summer, unemployment among students aged 15 to 24 was 20 per cent, the highest for this age group since 1977, according to Canada’s Vital Signs 2009. Those of us who were able to get our careers started after college were the first to be shown the door once the economy went sour. In June, there were more than twice as many youths receiving employment insurance than there were a year earlier.

And yet, as youth unemployment doubled the national rate, employment among those 55 years or older actually rose, by five per cent. That doesn’t seem very fair. But hold on.

What if being this recession’s whipping boy is actually good for this generation? What if we needed to be shaken up? Because until now we’ve acted like a bunch of spoiled kids raised by parents whose child-rearing lessons went something like this: You want to be an astronaut, go be an astronaut. You’re more special than anyone else. You can be whatever you want to be. Go get ‘em, tiger.

No one ever told us you can’t get everything you want, when you want it. That’s why we spend like drunken sailors and treat saving for the future like it’s about as cool as getting the gout. That’s why we’re up to our necks in debt and living like we’re richer than we are. For the longest time, we were getting away with it.

So this harsh wake up might be just what we needed. A recent report in USA Today suggests this generation is recovering from the shock of the recession by embracing the simpler lifestyle. They’re becoming more entrepreneurial, and more realistic in their goals.

Depending upon how long the downturn lasts, the experts think this whole experience could shape our values and attitudes for the rest of our lives, in the same way the Depression shaped the attitudes of our grandparents. One psychologist called it “the end of Disney World,” and I’d say that’s a good thing.

We needed to be reminded there’s value in living simply and on a budget. That there’s nothing wrong with buying smaller house than you hoped you might have. That’s there’s value in waiting for the good life, and that there’s value in getting there on your own. In other words, it’s good, although certainly painful, to have your bubble burst once in a while.

You have to wonder, too, if some employers might be saying good riddance to all those Gen-Yers, or Millenials, or whatever other clever label they’ve come up with for people my age. Why? We have an enormous sense of self-entitlement, an impatience with delayed gratification and an expectation that the world is our oyster. We sound like royal pains.

After being coddled for most of our lives, is it any surprise we still have a fair amount of self-pity for what’s happened to us? According to the USA Today poll, some 60 per cent of those 18 to 29 feel “my generation has been dealt an unfair blow because of this recession.” Pass the tissues, will you? Because above all things, life is supposed to always be unwaveringly fair. Right? Right?

So maybe, if that USA Today report is right, this recession has been a good thing for young people. Maybe we are getting a new set of priorities as we watch our parents take out a second or third mortgage to afford that new car every five years, that big kitchen makeover and that new deck out by the pool.

Maybe more and more of us really are saying: If that’s the measure of a good life, they can keep it.

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based freelance writer. His column appears Wednesdays. He can be reached at greg_mercer@hotmail.com, and past columns can be read at gregmercer.ca.

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