There are three formidable obstacles confronting college graduates today. One, the economy, though improving at a glacial pace, is still a wreck. There are no jobs, and the jobs that do exist aren’t the kinds anyone in his right mind would have spent $100,000 to $200,000 to land. Two, nothing in most middle-class kids’ lives has prepared them emotionally for the world they are about to enter. Three, the legacy costs that society has imposed on young people will be a millstone around their necks for decades. Who’s going to pay for the health care bill? Gen Y. Who’s going to pay off the federal deficit? Gen Y. Who’s going to fund all those cops’ and teachers’ and firemen’s pensions? Gen Y. Who’s going to support Baby Boomers as they suck the Social Security System dry while wheezing around Tuscany? Gen Y.
Americans have never shrunk from adversity, so in the fullness of time young people may put on their game face, create new industries, discover fresh roads to affluence and solve the nation’s vexing economic problems. But all that lies far in the future. The immediate problem is psychological: the sudden, shocking realization that work as it is constituted in the early 21st century is going to be hell. In the workplace, you don’t get to pick your company. In the workplace, you do not get a trophy just for showing up. In the workplace, the boss gets to scream at you as a perk. Probably your first day on the job. Your boss, who doesn’t have an iPad, isn’t on Facebook, and doesn’t know how to text. Your boss, who doesn’t particularly care for Lady Gaga. Your boss, who probably has a night-school degree.