The Y(awn) Generation? I Beg To Differ

We only buy designer duds. The latest smart phone is No.1 on our priority list (if we even have a priority list.) For some members of Generation Y, saving is more like a mythological creature than something you actually do.

These are just some of the sentiments uttered by baby boomers and preceding generations about Generation Y. While browsing MSN Money, I came across an article that called the past 10 years a “lost decade” for young people. The piece, which was originally printed in SmartMoney magazine, looked at a study conducted by the labor organization AFL-CIO, which said during the past decade many 18- to 35-year-olds fell short on getting their own places, finding stable employment, and saving money for emergencies.

Aside from the startling statistics, even more intriguing was the underlining attitude of one of the subjects in the piece that was echoed by several people who commented on the article: Young people are lazy.

“It’s easier for younger people because they have less experience and they don’t cost as much,” said Robin Ryan, a career counselor and the author of 60 Seconds and You’re Hired.

So, has reality TV, iPhones, and the Web spawned a do-nothing generation? I think not.

First, it’s completely unfair to make a sweeping generalization about an entire generation.

Second, there are a confluence of factors that account for this perceived lethargy, and applying the standards of yore to the present only create an inaccurate understanding of the way young people operate.

How many parents teach their children financial literacy? Understanding the value of money and what to do with it starts in the home. According to the study cited in SmartMoney, a third of respondents cannot pay their bills and seven in 10 do not have enough saved to cover two months of living expenses. If parents are haphazard in their spending habits and finances, would it be wrong to expect for the kid to be the same way? Kids learn through observation.

Furthermore, how many times have you seen parents give their children allowance or money for doing absolutely nothing. No chores, subpar grades, and frankly a funky attitude. Take for instance one commentator, a 57-year-old father of three who said, “We [parents] pacified our kids way to much…Everyone wants a job that feels right. We should have made them work at McDonalds, and dig ditches and lay pipe…”

Giving children money or gifts for their hard work and achievements helps them to understand the value of money and the relationship between work and earning a reward. Unfortunately, some young people grow up never understanding this relationship.

Next, there is an economic paradigm shift taking place, so standards of yesteryear are not fit for today. Many baby boomers had wel-paying factory jobs from which an entire household could be supported. Even if a baby boomer did not graduate high school or college, there was a position at an automotive plant or other local manufacturer. Let’s not forget about the handsome retirement packages many received once their tenure was up. But these are the same packages that have forced many of those industries overseas and have put U.S. automakers in a tailspin.

Even in the past 10 years, wages have been depressed. According to the survey by the AFL-CIO, compared with 1999, more people this year under the age of 35 have lower paying jobs.

In some ways, given the large industrial boom the baby boomers and previous generations lived through, one could even surmise that in terms of landing a decent-paying job, it was easier for those generations than for GenYers.

As Jennifer Jannon, a regional director for Working American, the AFL-CIO’s community organization for nonunion workers told SmartMoney, young people are “literally putting off starting their adult lives because of the conditions they’re facing economically.”

“Young people are really yearning to move out on their own to start their adult lives,” she adds. “[But] they can’t find the type of work that supports an adult life.”

What do you think? Are GenYers just lazy?

–Renita Burns