What’s ahead: quakes in the labor market

When college graduates cobble together employment between washing dishes, cleaning homes and working at a tourist resort on one hand. On the other, working 60 hours a week for a national trade association as an intern because the compensation of $200 a week (aka $3.33 an hour) as an intern?

There’s a generational schism at play. The differing realities make me think of the type of earthquake where one tectonic plate is buried or smashed underneath the other. It is easy for to personalize, making my generation of Gen Y the plate causing the Millennials to collapse, go underground — and seemingly perish — under the weight of the forces at play. However, I think that the hulking plate is actually that of the Boomers, who’s spending, entitled sense of self has qualified them for a bevy of entitlements without having to consider the bill, and who’s widespread hoarding has amassed mutual funds, multiple homes and the fallacy of consuming limitlessly.

Somehow, these behaviors became enmeshed and messed with the popular imagery of the American Dream. McMansion homes even after there were no children, and oftentimes not even a partner, to occupy residences exceeding 2,000 square feet. The delusion that 401ks, 403bs and investment portfolios would rise into perpetuity even though build on a tenuous form of global capitalism where “capital chases global labor, and labor chases global capital,” in the words of Hamid Dabashi.

Yet, this earth is a closed system so one generation has to be a counterbalance to another, just as one continental shelf subsumed another as global homeostasis is sought/maintained.

The current tensions reveal the tremors before larger quakes. Bigger shocks that realign and remake the map and the lands that we’ve known for generations. A seismic shift that may take as little as 10 seconds with a legacy that lingers for generations.

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Yet, just as some people live on less than $2 a day, others live on $20,000 a year. While others struggle to live within their means of $80,000 a year. I recognize that the cost of living, the status and expense of living varies greatly from one person to the next. And so, the work norms vary greatly between three different people. And, the norms that one generation was accustomed to are not the same as others.

The diverging classes demonstrate how young, middle class college graduates of today are not graduating or arriving into the same labor market as existed 15 years ago. The changing labor market has not only had stagnant or declining wages but fewer job benefits that accompany full-time employment. If health care is provided, the employee’s burden is greater than it was. Yet, my history lessons remind me that employer-based health insurance has only been a creation in the US for the last 70 years or so. And, that is not how most other societies in the world have constructed a social system to provide medical expertise, and health care.

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