Greener Pastures

When I went to college I got a credit card, as is often the case.  As a full time student, with a fixed income that I was supposed to be saving all of (didn’t happen) I needed a way to pay for things that were beyond the confines of my lowly checking account.  Things like text books, and plane tickets to France, and occasionally groceries.  This credit card of mine also happens to be attached to my parent’s bank account so that those things can actually be paid for.

Well I recently had to renew this credit card as it was about to expire and since I haven’t bought my plane ticket home yet, that would certainly have been a problem.  When it came I was checking it out, as you do and the new expiration date caught my eye.  It expires in 2018, three years from now, and my first though was ‘God I hope I’m not still using my parent’s credit card then’ and then I realized that I almost certainly will be.  Even if I didn’t intend to go to Graduate school, being financially independent a mere two years after college is almost certainly unfeasible.  

So I was thinking about that, and remembering that sometime in Middle School or something we were asked in Home Ec when we thought adulthood really started.  I remember thinking it came with financial independence and thinking it would be immediately after college.  But that was 2007 or 2008.  And then today I read this. It’s obstensibly an article about how the companies who created the ‘sharing economy’ are more or less screwing over Millenials while making them think they’re being thrifty and resourceful.  I however kind of took it to be about how Millenials will always be poor or at least financially unstable.

It’s a very good read, and I recommend it if you like reading things about Millenials that don’t take the stance of ‘they’re awful and no good’ or are at all interested in how ‘the sharing economy’ is impacting normal people.    Unlike the people mentioned in the article I don’t really participate in this type of economy.  I’m pretty sure Uber is actually evil, and I don’t think AirBnb is that much better, though I have been known to buy things from Etsy.  Plus I don’t like the use of the term ‘sharing economy’ applied to these companies, there is after all, no real sharing involved.  As the article points out you are still paying a company for a service.  I think sharing refers more to things like couch surfing, whose local events I like to keep an eye on, and which is actually sharing.

But anyway, as I was reading it I kept noting the details of the people appearing within.  Young creative class people, and people following their passions even though they don’t provide financial stability.  Her interviewees run the gamut from freelancers, to future PhDs, to a full time government worker whose Etsy shop provides a needed extra income, and I really faced the fact that in a few years my life will probably be very similar to those examples.  I will not own a house or a car, and I may still be trying to find a full time job that can support me.

It also made me realize, probably for the first time, that the possibilities available to me in this economy are fundamentally different than the ones available to my parents.  My parents met in Graduate school, and my Mom got a full time tenure track professor job right after her PhD.  This was uncommon then, but is basically like catching a unicorn now.  Not to mention that she was able to support me, my sister, and my other Mother, who stayed home to raise us, in suburban Long Island, on this one salary.  There is probably no part of that story that I could duplicate if I tried.

This was shocking sure, by the time I knew what an economy was it was already in tatters, so to see clearly what the effects of that were is jarring.  But I’m also more than a little divorced from the reality shown in the article and my impossible imaginary future.  I’ve known for a while that I don’t want the same lifestyle as my parents, so realizing I can’t have it isn’t incredibly devastating.  I’m also banking on being in a better position by the end of my schooling than that depicted in the article by virtue of my stead fast mission to not end up in the U.S.

I’ve written about this before, but the short story is that the overall political and culture of welfare in the United States just does not jive with my ideas of how it should operate, and I don’t think it will change within my lifetime or at least not within a time frame where it would be of benefit to me or my children.  For example, I think women should get paid leave when they have a baby.  So does almost every other country as illustrated by the chart below.  The U.S. however currently only guarantees unpaid leave for full time jobs.  I can see myself having my first child in about 7-9 years, and since the dialogue in the U.S. About this issue still basically equates maternity leave with vacation, (which we also don’t guarantee btw) I don’t really foresee this changing much by then. 

As I get increasingly close to having to actually fend for myself in the economy, I’m realizing even more just how messed up it is.  The U.S. Is still stuck on rugged individualism, my country expects me to be able to make it by myself in almost every way until I retire, while supplying me with an economic climate where that ideal is possible only for the independently wealthy.  It’s a Catch-22 that I am only too happy to not get in the middle of.    Because, while an informal survey of my Facebook fee would suggest that my chances of becoming gainfully employed shortly after graduation are better than average, There are still plenty of people moving between short term teaching and volunteer gigs years after graduation, and that scares the hell out of me.

I’m looking forward to the day where I can leave, and go to a country which already has a functioning social welfare net and where I know my family and I can enjoy the type of lifestyle I’m looking for.  Urban, with a work-life balance, and time off to travel.  In the U.S. It sounds like a pipe-dream, but in other countries it is reality.  Millenials are the best educated American generation ever, about a third of us go on to college, and with more people going to college obviously more people will study abroad, putting ever more people into contact with countries where mountains of monetary pressure aren’t heaped on the young.  And I’m wondering just how many of us are going to do what our ancestors did, and leave our homes for a better future abroad.


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