Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Jennifer Silva discusses how the erosion of traditional markers of adulthood, like marriage, a steady job, and a house, has changed life for working class Americans. Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty is based on interviews with working-class people in Lowell, Massachusetts, and Richmond, Virginia, and looks at the economic insecurity, deepening inequality, and uncertainty about marriage and family many young adults face.


Jennifer Silva

Comments [14]

P. Murray

3.) Distrust in the U.S. government is its own doing | It may be a miscalculated view for some, to believe that their government is the sole malefactor in the quest to achieve socio-economic security in this country. However, it is not a far-fetched concept. In a nation where its Federal Justice System has unabashedly been stripping away civil voting protections piece by piece, where the ability to call into question the conduct of institutions such as the National Flood Insurance Program or the Federal Prison Systems has led to rampant, almost blindingly unconscionable (and documented) corruption in both their respective fields, where the harrowingly disparate views of the two major political parties have put the equivalent of a gigantic stopper into the pipeline of the basic activities necessary to have our government function as it was intended, where our over-funded military and defense departments have been over-worked and kept in a constant state of international conflict for the continuation of our skewed concepts of a stable free-market economy, and where people can get - and have gotten - away with murder, but find it practically impossible to escape the federal crime of evasion of a taxation system which, when scrutinized, is all but an Unconstitutional and fraudulent garnishment of the living wages of its's an almost comical idea to question why the younger generations, who, thanks to technology and social media, are being clued into a far more transparent - and, in some cases, ineffectual - government process, find it difficult to place their confidence in their government.

Contrary to what our author has witnessed in her study group, I do have faith in a higher power/consciousness/being/whatever you wish to call it, and at my worst moments, meditation/prayer/whatever you wish to call it has helped me retain my focus on my goal of being a fully employed professional musician. I also believe in the power & importance of community, and in finding common ground in our humanity in spite of our self-labeled differences. That being said, I'm not surprised at the state of affairs in which my generational colleagues find themselves, but one has to ask whether the notion of blaming them is something that is fair, or even feasible, all things being considered. The old structures of stability are breaking down because they were built on finite concepts of socio-economic longevity (i.e. fossil fuels, low-tech industry requiring man-power, governmental secrecy, isolationist imperialism, Judeo-Christian morality, etc.). Whether or not this shift in paradigm will welcome in a new age of American progress will not be determined by what myself and others in my generation are willing to do; it will be guided by how those who have come before us will accept our desire to pave a new way for those who will come after us, and allow us to do so without judgment or fear.

Aug. 14 2013 10:02 PM
P. Murray

2.) Self-reliance is the bastard child of generational disappointment | For decades, the older generations have all but written off any hope for their children, or their children's children, as a means of bringing balance to their stylized view of the American Dream. This kind of dismissal of the newer members of the working poor has led its ranks to despise seeking help, choosing, instead, to wallow in their own set of despairs (debt, unemployment, etc.) until something comes along to shift their fortunes. Believe me, it's not that we don't want to work, but as any economic trajectory can tell you, the pickings for non-vocational education-based work are slim-to-none, and often times, vocational jobs are relegated to the nepotistic & close-knit hiring practices of the Unions who oversee them. Because individual apprenticeships have all but disappeared - due to both a lack of desire for sons & daughters of vocational workers to follow in their family's footsteps and the discarding of such practice in the general workforce - the kinds of so-called "stable" work opportunities are held fast by their current employees. I work as a freelance musician, and I can assure you that, unless you're paying a teacher or producer to educate you in your respective field, finding professionals to take you into their camp and get you work as a means of carrying on the tradition is, in and of itself, and tradition that is practically lost.

Aug. 14 2013 10:02 PM
P. Murray

A few things to consider, from a struggling - but happy - member of this working-class/working-poor generation:

1.) College is not for everyone; it's a business | We've been duped into believing that a college degree is the only way to get even a foot onto the socio-economic ladder, to say nothing of actually climbing it. This is, in part, the successful result of the marketeering & advertising firms representing higher education institutions, in collusion - whether knowingly or unknowingly - with the various financial institutions which offer astronomical amounts of credit to young people to "help" pay for higher education. Any economist can tell you that young adults in America who themselves will most likely have little to no credit built before their mid-20's and a small amount of income offer little to society at large as an independent consumer or contributor to the growth of the American GDP, unless they are signed into some sort of program which requires them to hand over large amounts of income on a regular basis. But any astute young adult who is aware of their fledgling financial life would not look twice at taking out major sums of money for any reason, for the simple fact that repayment would be nearly impossible - unless the reason were presented as something wholly necessary for their societal and economic survival. Ergo, college. With thousands of dollars in credit now under their belt, young adult students have been helplessly roped into their first - and, chances are, their highest - cycle of debt, one from which it will take years to bring current, and, thus, providing ample funding for colleges, banks, and loan companies to continue their method of business exchange.

Aug. 14 2013 10:01 PM
Roy from Queens

I love it when the older generation demean the younger one, not realizing it too has a short memory span itself. Growing up, I always wanted to go to college because I was too smart than the other kids, let have a menial job. I didn't get my dream job to work for a publishing company (a lot of menial temp job, I had), but I'm happy working as a background actor while writing screenplays and scripts. Not everyone's meant for college, but not everyone wants to work in a department store, fix cars or flip burgers after high school graduation.

Aug. 13 2013 05:02 PM

Ever since moving from a wealthy school district to a neighboring poor school system which serves mainly minority students (mostly hispanic), I have been very aware of how the emphasis on college prep for high school students is so misguided. Many of these kids should be guided towards vocational training, but the vocational training program has been downsized significantly over the past few decades because of the emphasis on college readiness. The result is that, as your guest says, many kids graduate high school with no prospects other than minimum wage type jobs. The school district's goal seems to be simply to increase it's Regent's Diploma graduation rate.

Aug. 13 2013 02:08 PM
Nick from UWS

This is the most technically and culturally ignorant and incompetent generation this country has ever seen. There are kids out there who don't know what the President does or even looks like. They know nothing about nothing, except how to use an iPad. Knowing what happened on the latest episode of "Girls" or "Breaking Bad" is not knowledge.

Aug. 13 2013 02:03 PM
Nick from UWS

You are forgetting that this is the generation that grew up completely with the internet, with the warped and isolated view of the world that implies.

Aug. 13 2013 01:58 PM
Larry from Brooklyn

Since when is college vocational training? A university education is not a job training program- what I expect my students to use in any field they decide to go into is their thinking, communication, & problem-solving skills. Being educated is about more than "training." I think students are ill-served if they are being told they are getting "training" in most BA/BS programs.

Aug. 13 2013 01:57 PM
Michael P. Gaughan from Brooklyn

The working Class is bigger then you realize. If you work for someone else in any collar You ARE Working Class.

Aug. 13 2013 01:55 PM
Dan from North Bergen

The problem with the nursing shortage:
The nursing shortage has to do with nursing homes; aka providing care for aging baby boomers.
However, most graduating millennials aren't don't really want to work in this field (which we find to be extremely depressing).
We want to work in more exciting fields like Pediatrics and Emergency Care. But these fields require, as a prerequisite in the vast majority of cases, years of experience in the field. Which results in millennial nurses who can't find jobs.

Aug. 13 2013 01:52 PM
Gary from Port Washington

The one thing that overwhelms me about this generation of kids is their level of ignorance. For the most part, they don't read books or newspapers and are generally ignorant of history, literature and most older cultural references. Forget about any understanding of Shakespeare, mathematics and most science. I recommend to many of them to read the New York Times and listen to Public Radio and Public TV. I mention Leonard Lopate to them and they don't even know who he is. They are self absorbed and lack any curiosity. The only good thing is the top ten percent is educated and read and will take over the world and will produce. I can only imagine if they can write or do advanced mathematics. There are many high skill jobs that lack people qualified to do the work. It is a new economy that requires high skills and training they these kids don't get.

Aug. 13 2013 01:46 PM
David from Fredericksburg, VA

A large part of the problem is lazy employers insisting on college graduates for jobs that don't need them. A college degree doesn't make you smart or a great worker.

I worked at a large company doing accounting work - 4 of us had the same job. One person had a degree and she was as dumb as a bag of rocks, the rest of us had to pick up the slack and fix her mistakes.

There was nothing about that job that required a college degree - there are hundreds of thousands of such jobs and employers are using college as a screen so they don't have to review so many resumes.

So now people have to go deeply into debt to get a so-so job. We are watching the end of the middle class in this country.

Aug. 13 2013 01:44 PM
Nick from UWS

If today's young people would take their heads out of their digital behinds, iPhones etc etc etc, for five frigging minutes, and have some direct contact with life, which most young people today seem to find far too frightening, they might be able to handle adulthood easier.

Aug. 13 2013 01:37 PM
Meredith from NYC

Could the guest give any info comparing how the working class in other advanced countries manage their transition to adulthood? Where despite economic change, they can go to college without high debt, or get job training set up by govt/ with union and business partnerships. This may account for their narrower wealth gap and higher economic mobility than the US. Examples might be Germany, the Nordic countries and France? Any info that you've found would be interesting.

Aug. 13 2013 01:11 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.