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深深的忧虑…我是来自美国的苦逼青年




01/07/2018

深深的忧虑…我是来自美国的苦逼青年

原注:2017年过去了。这一年出了很多事儿,很多人——包括年轻人——不知是怎么挨过来的。不过我们并不孤单。近日,大洋彼岸就有位35岁的中青年代表在《赫芬顿邮报》上发文,对他们国家年轻人的现状与未来表达了深深的忧虑和……脆薄的希望。

下文原载于 Huffington Post,原标题为Why millennials are facing the scariest financial future of any generation since the Great Depression,作者Michael Hobbes,虎嗅编译(有删减)。



编译|成长的人生

有件事儿,我觉得说破无毒。

十年了,我巴望着能自立门户十年了。可自从大学毕业后,我一直没有稳定工作。房租是节节高升,如今已几乎占到了我收入的一半;存款却层层缩减,比北极冰帽融化的速度还要快。

对了,我今年35,是千禧代中的老梆子了。

有关我和我同类的统计数据铺天盖地。“他们”说我们当中越来越多人都常年蹭住在父母家;说我们不断推迟着结婚、买房和要孩子这三件人生大事,表现得比任何一代人都拖拉;还说我们的问题都是自己造成的——我们的学问名不副实;我们乱花钱;我们不学编码;我们生活与消费习惯不良,结果“合力”毁灭了粮食产业、百货公司、高尔夫球场和那些正经餐馆……还有,只要跟年过40的人提及“千禧代”,你马上就会听到“特权阶级”这一评价。

身为年轻人真不痛快。不但要时刻绷紧弦应付生活,还要在那帮亲自给我们上弦的人那儿洗耳恭听诸般教训。

但实际上,只要稍加审视就能发现,对千禧代的上述定义武断而偏颇。那些刻板印象只该投射到我们中一小撮最不像样,或者最富有、最白的年轻人身上。要知道,我们中的大多数人没上过大学、没有舒适体面的工作,当然,也拼不起爹妈。而我们所处的真实环境,又比大多数人意识到的更可怕。

我们背负的学贷比父母辈至少高出三倍;相较于1975年的年轻人,我们拥有住房的几率仅为他们的一半;1/5的千禧代身处贫困;按现在的走势,我们中许多人必须工作到75岁才能退休,这还只是表面症状。

我们同前代年轻人之间素质上的差异并不大,但所处环境与前代环境之间的差异却大得很:工资停滞不前,所有行业千疮百孔。但与此同时,教育、住房和医疗等生存必需服务的“售价”却高入天际。

是,我们是拥有社保及福利系统,但所有原先能保我们免于破产的系统都在遭受锈蚀。婴儿潮世代尚有运气杀入中产,而我们却连这点运气都够不着。种种原因累加到一起,就难怪我们“荣幸地”成为史上第一代比父母辈穷困的人了。

所以,真正能定义千禧代的只有四个字:不确定性。“有时我是直喘气,直觉得有什么东西要从胸膛里蹦出来。”吉米·马特星戈说,“我已经25了。当初来上班时我拿的是全美最低工资,如今,我还待在这老地方。”

每周的周一到周四,吉米都来牙科诊所上班;周五她去当保姆;周末她给人看孩子。即便如此,她的脚步还是撵不上房租、车租和学贷的上涨。于是几个月前,她不得不申请破产,可就连申请所需的钱,也是借来的。

她当然不是独一个。从底特律的收银员到西雅图的护士,类似的故事我听得多了。日益紧逼的焦虑已席卷了美国分布于各收入阶层的千禧代。

我们很容易把经济衰退看成是导致这一切的罪魁祸首,因此可能仍寄望于所谓的复苏。但实际上,今天的窘况是几十年来各种经济弊政添砖加瓦、日积月累、最后又万箭齐发才导致的结果,所谓经济衰退,只不过是加速了这一进程而已。如今,对年轻人而言,美国经济早已变成一台巨型增压机,除非发生转机,否则年轻人的灾难将变成全美国的灾难。

要想理解这冰冻三尺的过程相当不易。别急,咱们跟着下文一步步来。

生错了年代?

至今斯科特都记得那次集体面试的场景。

十来个人西装革履地围坐在一圈折叠椅里,面对着一位心情愉悦的HR助理。一个接一个地,这些人争相向她“表白”:为啥自己才是这份时薪高达11美元的工作——银行柜员——的最佳人选。

那是2010年,斯科特刚从大学毕业,只拿着副修科目经济学的学士学位(此外还背着3万美元的学贷)。从某些方面看,他是这次面试中最不合格的人选——其他申请者不但有研究生学历,还有工作经验。不过,有些人看上去已50多岁了。“期间那位助理告诉我们,这种面试每周都进行三次。”斯科特说,“当时我就知道我没戏了。”

经过半年毫无结果的应聘、面试、应聘、面试后,斯科特终于返回了他中学时就打过工的餐馆,从此开始东奔西走。当服务员、卖衣服、洗地毯……直到他获悉:当公交司机每小时能挣22美元,还能拿到全额福利——这是他能赚到的最多的钱了。如今他干这行已有一年,但还蹭住在家里。当然,每个月他都会劈出几百美元和他妈妈共担房租。

理论上斯科特可以再去申请银行工作。但一来,他仍没有任何工作经验,二来他的学历也太老了。他不是没考虑过去读个硕士学位,但这就意味着他要再次背上五位数的债务,并且两年内无工资无福利可拿。再说,就算读成了,他也30“高龄”了。30岁的人再去干一份收入还不如现在的低价工作吗?好歹他现在干得好好的,再过半年就能搬出母亲家,并且再过20年(对,20年)学贷就能换完了呀。

现如今的美国有成千上万个斯科特。从某种意义上说,他们似乎真有些“时运不济”。

因为据统计,2007年的高校毕业生尚有一半多走出校门后就能就业,可到了 2009 年,这样的“幸运儿”就只有不到 20% 了。此外,2010 年的某份报告还显示,失业率每上升1%,当年毕业之人的就业起薪就要下降6%——8%,而这种颓势将延续数十年之久。同时该报告还表明,那些在1981年前后大衰退期间毕业的人们,跟十年后才毕业的人们相比,几十年来的平均收入一直处于下风,直到2010年还是如此。“每次经济衰退都会坑得一批人再也爬不起来。”哈佛大学经济学教授斯普里格斯如是说。


2007年毕业生与2009年毕业生收入对比图

千禧代当然不会独蒙恩宠。那些毕业时赶上“年景不好”的苦孩子们,大都经历了“一落千丈”的日子。据估计,有48%持有学士学位的人都已被“大材小用”。但这就是他们的现实:哪怕是最低薪水的工作也要求一纸文凭,而这纸文凭只会在一个快餐店经理的眼前一飞而过。

当然,他们并不是最底层的受害者。三分之二连大学校门都没进过的千禧代才是。从2010年至今美国增加了1160万个工作岗位,其中1150万个都要求应聘者至少受过大学教育。而2016年,高中毕业生的失业率是大学毕业生的三倍,贫困率则是后者的三倍半。

如果你肯追根溯源,你就会发现:经济衰退并不是所谓的“暂时受挫”,而是各类弊病长久累积后导致的集中爆发。哈,真亏了那些旁观者了!四十年来他们——不管是政客、父母还是那些神气活现的杂志——都在不断叮嘱我们要刻苦学习、要建立自己的品牌……可他们没看见吗?整个经济已经全变了。

几十年来,美国的就业市场增加的大都是些低薪、低技能、临时性和短期性工作,想从事我们父母辈曾从事的工作,几率是越来越低了。因此,其实早在经济衰退开始前,高中及大学毕业生的失业率就开始逐年“稳步”提升了。难怪《风险大转移》的作者、耶鲁大学政治学家雅各布·哈克要说了:“国家经济有波动是不假,但在波动之外,那股大潮早已从远处赶来了。”

从上世纪七十年代起,好工作(注:相对低薪、低技能、临时性和短期性等工作而言)的招聘率就开始下降了,而婴儿潮一代们几乎无人注意到这一变化。美联储压制了通货膨胀;各企业开始向高管支付优先认股权;养老基金开始被投向高风险资产……这些作为叠加到一起后,终于导致了大量资金涌入股市。从1960到2013,投资人们持股不抛的平均时间从8年缩短到了4个月。同时差不多也就是在这些年间,金融业逐渐变成了“沙拉克之坑”(注:沙拉克,《星战》中的怪物。它深藏地表下,靠陷阱捕获猎物)。它吸走了全美企业约1/4的利润,并完全扭曲了企业的激励制度。

因为,想获取即时回报的心劲儿让企业投资人们变得无情起来。当股票尚是长期投资时,股东们会让CEO把财力投向诸如员工福利之类的事上,因为他们那时尚承认:员工是确保公司长治久安的重要人力因素。可一旦股东们在即时回报的冲击和利诱下失去了这等远见,他们就会过分关心财报上的数字,以至认为:任何不追求短期利益的行为都是对他们的背叛。

这种心态蔓延开来不久后,新的“模式”便统领了全美企业。私募股权公司和商业银行先是将企业撤出市场,然后便裁员或将工人外包,最后再把这些企业回售给投资人——此之谓:重组。据悉,仅在上世纪80年代,财富500强企业中就有1/4被以上述或其他方式“重组”。于是终于,企业不再是那个要对工人、退休人员或社区负责的“家长”了。

再后来,这副理念的贯彻越来越彻底。取悦股东的戏码在各企业依次上演,而高管们则纷纷挑起大梁。工会成了他们的眼中钉;高薪支付成了亟待削减的奢侈品;乃至到后来,干脆连员工都成了负累。对此,康奈尔大学的经济学家露丝玛丽·巴特评价说:“企业认为提高股价的最快方法是:雇佣兼职工、降低工资并全面使用劳务工。”

按照她的说法,30年前不管走进美国哪家酒店,你都会发现:从清洁工到保安再到调酒师,所有员工都是该酒店自主招聘的,每人都遵循同样的薪资标准、享受同样的待遇。如今,酒店可能还是那家酒店,员工却是来自五花八门的劳务公司了。

2015年,据政府问责局估计,有40%的雇员都受雇于某种临时合同。自经济下行以来,增加就业岗位最多的行业不是科技业、零售业或护理业,而是各种“临时帮工”,包括理发师、助产士、核废料检查员等。什么Laundry,什么 Rent-A-Guard、Watery Margarita……各种没名头的小劳务公司遍地开花,他们到处吸纳就业者,然后再将其派往各大企业。

此类外包造成的后果——或者干脆说,其真正目的——就是让雇员只能拿到比过去低得多的薪资。为此巴特曾在一篇论文中提出:就业者被迫成为劳务派遣工后,薪资最高会下降40%。譬如2013年,孟菲斯市解雇了所有的校车司机。当某些司机通过劳务公司重新上岗后,却发现薪资已从15美元/小时陡降到了10美元/小时。还有沃尔玛的那些装卸工,他们也是劳务派遣工。每天早上他们都会上工,但如果无工可做,他们当天就分文没有。

“这是导致薪资不平等的真正原因。”美国劳工部工资与工时部前主管大卫·韦伊说,“通过将业务转移给劳务公司,企业就只需支付服务费而不需支付薪资了。同时这还意味着,从此企业就不需培训员工、为其提供福利并帮助其实现职业晋升了。”

这种转变影响的是整个经济,但首当其冲的却是千禧代。在旧世代,我们的父辈总能扎根一处以换取多年的经验和硬铮铮的收入;如今到了新世代,我们却多半要“放一枪换一个地方”,打零工一样地度过整个职业生涯。我们没多少机会受训,也不太可能指望工会帮我们争取福利。还有,优步等“零工经济”的鼻祖们会不断优化他们那该死的算法。他们会被优化得越来越精明,精明到掐表给我们计算薪资(只要探测到我们停止干活,就马上中止薪资追加,迟一秒都不行),而我们却要日益受其摆布了。

但这并不能都赖企业。那些五花八门的行业协会也功不可没。过去三十年来,这帮人成功地说服了诸多州政府,致使成百上千个传统职业都陆续出台了一条前所未有的规定:持证上岗。对那些既存从业者而言,协会领导们的这局算盘打得非常漂亮。因为行业门槛高了,能挤进来的新人就少,而他们这些既存者能赚的也就更多(A级水管工每小时最高能挣67美元,2016年数据)。

多么大的差别啊。横比结果是:对大多数发达国家而言,人们不需获得官方许可就能从事理发、侍酒等行业,但在美国不行;纵比结果是:六十多年前,美国还只有5%的就业者需要持证上岗,如今这个比例却涨到了30%。

这并不是说持证上岗就一定是无理要求。但关键是:一证难求。为了换取一纸证书,申请人不但要支付高达两三万美元的学费,还要接受三五年的培训及无薪(或低薪)实习。

总之在美国,任何一条通往稳定收入的路都是用钱铺成的;但反过来说,有时你使钱也铺不成一条康庄大道。“我可真是在花钱买工作”,29岁的营养师艾琳娜(化名)如是说。为了拿到硕士学位,她不得不去德州某医院“实习”一年。名为“实习”,她却要跟该院的员工承担同样的工作、付出同等的时间。可是,就这样一个长达一年、附带免费培(gong)训(zuo)的“实习”机会,还是她额外又掏了2万美元的学生贷款才换来的。

教育成本的不断上升、技术职业壁垒的不断增厚,以及成为派遣工之几率的不断提高……这一切叠加在一起,终于不动声色地将经济衰退引发的风险从企业身上转移到了个人身上。对父母辈而言,工作是生活无虞的保证,但对我们而言却是场赌博。中途但凡有闪失,我们几乎就会百分之百地陷入灾难。

变穷不是突发,而是渐进

就像飞机失事一样,穷困鲜有是一桩不幸造成的。它往往是一连串不幸——譬如失业加上车祸,再加上被赶出房门——前后叠加、彼此催化后才产生的最终恶果。

这恶果的蔓延速度极快。对此,杜克大学的教授安尼路德·克里舒那给出了十分令人惊心的描述。过去15年来,他采访了1000多位掉入穷坑后又成功出坑的人。结果发现,不管是在印度、肯尼亚还是美国,情况都如出一辙。

我们常常认为贫困在美国就像一个死水塘,每年在里头挣扎的都是同一群人。可实际上,克里舒那说,美国的贫困跟别国一样,就是一个活水湖,时刻都有新的流进与流出。并且,“有贫困之危的人口要远远多于已致贫的人口。”他说。

所有人都生活在永无稳定的状态。

从1970到2002,短短三十来年间,一位美国成年人意外失去至少一半家庭收入的可能性翻了一番还多。而在年轻人身上,这种危险显得尤为残酷。上世纪70年代,当父母辈还处于我们如今的年龄段时,他们有24%的可能性跌到贫困线以下;到了90年代,这一几率就上升到了37%。这一趋势看来只会愈演愈烈。譬如,从1979到2014,只有高中文凭的年轻人的致贫率就翻了两番多,达到了22%。“千禧代觉得他们随时都可能一无所有。”哈克说,“而这种可能性的确在日益提高。”

下面这个事例就很能说明问题。加百利今年19岁,住在俄勒冈的一个小镇。为了上艺术学院学习音乐,他攒起了钱。去年夏天,他前往一家保健品公司打工,给人家搬箱子、配材料。这自然不是什么光鲜活儿,但起码一小时能挣十二块半。他就指望靠这个攒够本钱,然后去证明自己呢!

可不久,他妹妹就遭遇了车祸。由于母亲不敢请假,加百利便挑起了这个担子。他给老板打电话说自己得请假一天,好把妹妹从医院拉回家。

结果第二天,劳务公司便致电说:他被解雇了。原来,该公司有条规定是:凡因意外及突发事件缺勤满三次者,都要被开除。之前他已经因生病请过两次假,所以现在……只能认了。

如今,加百利转战快餐店Taco Time,并跟母亲、姐妹们一起挤在拖车里过日子。母亲的钱都用来支付妹妹的医药费了,他只能把大部分薪水掏出来负担家里的柴米油盐。当然,他还想进艺术学院,但现在既然只能勉强维持温饱,他就只能暂(wu)时(xian)性(qi)地妥协了。

目前,他正在考虑是否参加当地一家非营利组织办的电工培训班。唔~从音乐到电工……对此他只说了一句话:“我不明白为什么想做点事就那么难。”

答案简单到残酷。在一个薪资不稳、保障网络已被撕碎的环境中,一次霉运就能将人打入长年的挣扎。

渐行渐远的社保与福利

过去四十年来,政府与民众的关系发生了深刻变化。政治理论家Yascha Mounk曾在《责任时代》中写道:上世纪八十年代前,美国人认为自己对周遭之人皆有责任,而保障弱势群体的基本生存更是整个国家的责任。可后来,在里根和克林顿两位总统的领导下,“责任”的涵义变了。它变成了“各人自扫门前雪”,同时也变成了:那些原先由国家无偿赋予你的,现在你要自己削尖脑袋去争取了。

从1996年起,能接受政府现金资助之贫困家庭的比例就从68%下降到了23%。主因之一是:申请标准已经严苛古怪到需要申请人“削足适履”了。就拿“贫困家庭临时救助计划”(下文简称TANF)来说吧。它是为家有幼童的贫困家长而设立的,原先的资助方式很简单,就是直接给现金。可现在,在该计划的执行上,许多州都对申请人提出了一条非分之求:孩子的母亲要尽快就业。甚至有些州还规定:母亲必须在生产后的第二天就申请工作或登记受训。

孩子尚在襁褓,母亲就要离开他们,这样的要求只会令相关贫困家庭雪上加霜。

当然,这还只是冰山一角。援助的日益稀缺与苛吝真是不胜枚举。譬如住房援助。对许多人而言,这是失业后唯一的救命稻草,但现在早已无人提及(啊不是完全没有,2014年时,巴尔的摩还有7万5000人争抢1500张廉租券哪)。譬如食品券,虽仍能普惠众生,但每顿饭只能补贴我们一块四毛钱了。再譬如……

再譬如性命攸关的医保。

1980年,全美有五分之四的员工能享受医保。现在,只有一半多雇员有此“殊荣”。尤为扎眼的是,26到34这个年龄段的人——也就是千禧代的“中坚力量”,其未参保比例竟然是各年龄段中最高的!是,美国有奥巴马医改,它罕有地拓宽了美国医保的庇佑范围,但上述年轻人仍与此无缘。因为如果买奥巴马的账,他们就要面对高昂的月度保费和自付额,如无人资助,他们根本无力负担。所以,他们只好“望保兴叹”。

距离破产只差一场事故

没有医保几乎就相当于裸奔。一个意外事故就能把你打入贫病交加的恶性循环。

“我们距离一无所有只差一场意外”,西雅图一位专打破产官司的律师艾希莉·劳勃对我说。据她所言,大部分35岁以下的客户都是从一场车祸或一纸医疗账单起滑向破产的。“你付不起钱了嘛,所以就去Moneytree申请贷款咯。结果又还不起,于是要债人就专拣你上班时打电话给你,让你老板知道这一切。最后老板就烦了,把你一开了事,你就更没辙了。”她这样总结说。照她的看法,这类客户若要免遭破产,十有八九只有一条路——啃老。

可是抱歉,不是人人都有老可啃。最明显的证据莫过于:白人家庭与非白人家庭之间贫富差距大得很。不知从何时起,通向财富的路——包括优质教育、获得信贷等——已永远向少数族裔关闭,所以自从经济衰退以来,贫富差距是有增无减。譬如,从2007到2010年,黑人家庭的退休金收入缩水了35%,而白人家庭,因为来钱渠道更多,其退休金收入则增长了9%。

这样累积下来,千禧代中的有色族裔就成了倒霉鬼中的倒霉鬼。白人年轻人虽也不轻松,但好歹,他们获得遗产的可能性是黑人年轻人的五倍(数据源自资产与社会政策研究所)。因此,他们中相当一部分人还能接受无薪实习、偿还学生贷款以及支付房子首付。与之形成鲜明对照的是:足有67%的黑人家庭和71%的拉丁裔家庭活得捉襟见肘,不但没有遗产,就连三个月的生活费他们也掏不出来。

这种情况下,有色千禧代们还能指望家人资助吗?他们反过来供养家人还差不多。但等着他们的无疑是个无底洞。

每一分加薪、每多打一份工所增加的收入,以及每次跳槽增加的薪资,似乎都会被新的账单和债务吞噬,这就是他们的现实。难怪有数据显示:毕业四年后,黑人的平均学贷偿还额只有白人的一半,而拖欠的可能性却是白人的三倍。抛开其他因素不谈,二者之间财富再生能力的不均等是不容忽视的。有数据显示,中产阶级白人家庭每多赚一美元,就能增加5.19美元的财富,而黑人家庭却只能增加区区69美分。


黑白之间的财富差异逐年加大

老无所依去啃谁?

觉得还不够沮丧吗?那就好好想想我们老来的命运吧。

根据员工福利研究所的分析,股市回报率只要下降2个百分点,年轻人就得想办法大幅增加退休金储蓄,否则他未来能领到的养老钱将少得可怜。此外,我们还得“自作自受”,承担因自己不愿多生孩子而必会导致的老无所依。2016年,美国生育率继续走低,每1000名育龄妇女中仅有62.3名新生儿降生,知道这样下去意味着什么吗?

答:意味着当千禧代退休时,平均每人只能得到两位美国工人的供养。而在1950年,这个数字是17。

遥不可及的晚年尊严

听说许多老辈人都是用老办法为自己堆聚起一个幸福晚年的。我们自然也不会放过这个目标,可有人恐怕就是做不到。

泰龙每搬进一栋新公寓,就会把自己脱得一丝不挂,然后躺在客厅地板上。

这是一种仪式,用来纪念那些幕天席地的日子。在佐治亚州,他曾无家可归长达四年。每天他就在长椅上过夜;热天要去面试时,他就骑单车提前一小时到地方,好赶在握手前把浑身上下晾干。后来他终于找到了活儿,可又被同事撞见在加油站的洗手间里洗澡。再后来,同事说他“闻起来一股‘无家可归’的味儿”,倍感难受的他便辞职了。

23岁时情况有所“改观”——他有地方住了。只是仍然居无定所,飘来荡去。从西雅图到柯克兰,再从塔科马到莱克伍德,六年了。中途他有过女友和儿子,只是都散了。

如今他就在莱克伍德的一处建筑工地当保安,薪资达到了有史以来的最高水平:17美元/小时。不过,由于是劳务工(当然了),他不能请病假也没有健康保险。还有,他那间一居室的出租屋每月都要价1100美元……这不是他自己充阔气,而是因为:当初找房时只有这家主人不要求他一次性付清定金,他别无选择而已。

按照合同,他每月1号就要付租金,可工资都是7号才发,于是房东又让他每月多交100美元的“滞纳金”。这样,刨去房租和车费,每月他只有200美元糊口了。跟他初次见面是11月27日,当时他就告诉我说:他账户里空空如也,为了支付汽油钱,他昨晚已经把滑板典当了。

说不出的悲哀啊。

对千禧代的负面报道一直是铺天盖地,可谁又知道,有多少人都像泰龙一样,拿着不到3万美元的年薪却坚持自食其力呢?

我的房子在哪里?

我们这代人的悲哀都是房子惹的祸。

先说说买房。在写此文时我碰到的最令人愤怒的对话竟然发生在我跟父亲之间。那天他老人家轻描淡写地告诉我说,他29岁就买下了人生第一栋房子。那是在1973年,他搬到西雅图担任大学教授,年薪约7.6万美元,而那房子售价是12.4万美元。

如今,我比当年的父亲年长六岁,可赚得却没他多。西雅图的房价当然比我争气多了,其中位数已经蹿到73万美元上下了。哈,老少两代,老子用20个月的薪水就换来了一个窝,儿子却要十多年不吃不喝才能得偿所愿!

再说说租房——对于没受过高等或足够职业教育的年轻人而言,这个话题可能尤为残酷。

从大萧条后,优质工作越来越往大城市集中。刚开始时,大城市还显得傲娇但友好:租金虽高,但也只到薪资的膝盖骨。可进入八十年代后,前者就开始猛蹿个子,其速度快到什么程度呢?哈佛大学的一项研究表明,1970年,若一位非熟练工搬到高薪资地区,他只要用21%的薪资缴纳房租;可得到了2010年,他就得掏出64%的薪资了!按照该研究的参与者之一丹尼尔·舒格的说法,美国第一次向非熟练工表态:不,你别想着从犹他州搬到纽约就能过上好日子,这是不现实的。

千禧代也是分阶层的。大城市的房价之高,把一部分三无人员(无遗产、无高等教育履历、无甚过人之处)死死钉在了两难之境:到底是蜗居小镇,还是去大城市受罪?“两害相权取其轻”,在这里仿佛就是一句笑话。

写到这里终于可以下个结论了。我们的确十有八九成不了父母辈所期许的人中龙凤,但原因却在于:我们是在一个病入膏肓的体系中挣扎求成。移民和买房曾一度被我们视作通向繁荣的门户,因为父母辈年轻时亲身验证过。但现在,规则已变,我们却被撇在原地,继续玩着不可能赢的游戏。

我,一个苦逼青年的建言献策

首先要申明的是:老日子已一去不回,任何想要重建婴儿潮世代之经济条件的尝试,都会是不合时宜而只能导致雪上加霜。

所以只能另找角度了。首先政府服务要彻底地推陈出新。

像“普遍基本收入”(Universal Basic Income)就该尽快推广开来,让每位公民都能无条件领取一份收入。有数据显示,这类扶贫理念拥护者甚多,从学术界到跟扶贫不沾边的科技界都有。甚至后者还出了位先于政府的行动派——孵化器Y Combinator。它正筹划每月向1000位中低收入者发放1000美元呢。我又想到像食品券、TANF、公租屋和有政府补贴的日托服务等补助措施还各有各的用处,因此,如果Y Combinator等先行者们愿意“多走一里路”,在开拓新服务的同时能多腾出一只手来改善下旧服务,那就更好了。

还有就是,“可移动福利”喊了这些年,也可以落地开花了。

这种福利灵活机动,能随着劳务工从一份工跳到另一份工,让他们不再无依无靠。落实的办法也很简单,譬如启动专项基金,规定所有用工企业都要有所投入,然后让基金跟着工人跑就行了。其实这不是什么新发明,而是早有先例。譬如有些建筑工人就能享受Hour Bank这项计划,让福利随身而动。再譬如好莱坞的演员和技术人员,他们的健康及退休基金也是“跟着戏走”。此外,这两类人都不需要自己去跟资方谈福利,只要派工会上就可以了。

再有就是要增加就业了。

在这方面政府几十年来的态度多是:只暗示公民不够努力,自身却长期不采取有力措施以大规模增加就业。好在也不是没有反例。像密西西比州,它2010年就实施了一项激励计划:凡新增员工(以低收入母亲和长期失业者为主)并为其发放薪资的企业,都能从该州州政府领取一定比例的补贴。据悉,该项目取得的成果颇为惊人,譬如有数据表明,项目结束后的当年,长期失业者的平均薪资较前一年增加了9倍。

密西西比州的成功并非个案。乔治城的贫困与不平等研究中心研究了40年来的15个增加就业项目,结果发现:在改善弱势劳动者命运、降低长期失业率方面,这类项目行之有效、很有前途。

用投票权当砝码

美国并非无药可救,办法仍然有的是。可在继续絮叨之前,我们先想想另一桩事实吧:我们在试图说服谁?是特朗普那一干对我们计划毫不感兴趣的人。他们是政客,只关心能左右其政治生涯的角色们,因此,虽然近年来各地方政府的良心人士都在“小打小敲”地帮助我们,但还远远不够。

这里给大家提个醒:在美国11个最大城市中,租房者的数量已经超过了有房者。这意味着什么?某种程度上这意味着,又穷又酸的我们有潜力成为强大的政治群体。没错,投票权。无论如何,重视和亮出手里的投票权,迫使政客们倾听我们的声音,这是我们重建新生的唯一机会。

或者,正如作家肖恩·斯科特所说的那样:“我们要么参与政治,要么让政治对我们为所欲为。”

结语

就是这样。我们所继承的这个“宜老不宜少”的时代并非必然,也并非不可逆转。

对前辈而言,他们要回答的问题是:到底要把些机会留给后代,还是继续囤为己用。要知道从1989年至今,以62岁以上之人为“户主”的家庭,其财富中值增长了40%;而以40岁以下之人为“领导”的家庭,其财富中值却下降了28%。所以婴儿潮世代们,这真的取决于你们了:你们是想要更低的税收、更多的车位呢,还是想让子孙后代活得体面点、老得从容点?

至于我们,当然也不必坐以待毙。虽然常常受制于不可控制的巨大力量并因此而惯于无助,但别忘了:很快我们就能成为实际的掌控者。问题是,在我们年纪渐长、权力在握后,我们的后代会否有一天也写下同样的文章?我们既可以任凭经济基础瓦解,看自己会否受到现世报,也可以帮助建立公平的未来。或许这话听起来很天真,但我仍觉得:我们有底气这样思考。





Comments:

(1/8/2018 @又惊又奇)

美国苦逼青年教育不够,不知道受大政府的害还要求宣扬搞烂经济的大政府,还每人基本收入$1000。点子可能源于法国社会主义。此文让我记起法国大选中也出了个叫Hamon 就此类政治主张,让法国每人领基本的€800. 当时我以为我的法文太烂没听懂,让一沙龙里的美国朋友翻译。他说这人相当于美国的 Bernie Sanders. 法国共产党至今还是很活跃,我听完劈口就问“钱从哪里来?法国的经济已糟成这样了,大堆穆斯林难民还要安顿?!” 很多法国人居然耸耸肩说法国是个美丽富裕的国家不用愁,不少人去站队。正如在美国周围不少苦逼的millennials 仍旧反川、热爱放空头支票的Bernie Sanders... 输都不知道怎么输的,永无出头之日,What a vicious cycle! 

再则,我反感左翼的流行霉体Huffington Post 领着年轻一代误入歧途。希望群友的孩子别上当。那老板 Adrianna Huffington 明明一希腊移民,只有美国给了她成功机会,难道还有把腐败的希腊政府进口过来吗?是装睡么,真该醒醒

Agenda Grinding America Down (Documentary DVD) - Published on Oct 13, 2010


(1/7/2018 @Nancy)

这文章读着很奇怪啊. 特别是结尾, 简直是啃吾老及人之老.


(1/7/2018 @Jack)

文章中弥漫着依赖大政府福利制度的情绪。连民主党的JFK都说过:别总问国家要为你做什么,想想你能为国家做什么。现在很多年轻人都不努力,向往大政府福利制度。


(1/7/2018 @Tom)

人家 undocumented immigrants can make it, 这些 college graduates can't make it?




FML
Why millennials are facing the scariest financial future of any generation since the Great Depression

By Michael Hobbes

Like everyone in my generation, I am finding it increasingly difficult not to be scared about the future and angry about the past.

I am 35 years old—the oldest millennial, the first millennial—and for a decade now, I’ve been waiting for adulthood to kick in. My rent consumes nearly half my income, I haven’t had a steady job since Pluto was a planet and my savings are dwindling faster than the ice caps the baby boomers melted.

WHAT’S A MILLENNIAL ANYWAY?

Unless otherwise noted, we mean anyone born between 1982 and 2004

We’ve all heard the statistics. More millennials live with their parents than with roommates. We are delaying partner-marrying and house-buying and kid-having for longer than any previous generation. And, according to The Olds, our problems are all our fault: We got the wrong degree. We spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need. We still haven’t learned to code. We killed cereal and department stores and golf and napkins and lunch. Mention “millennial” to anyone over 40 and the word “entitlement” will come back at you within seconds, our own inter-generational game of Marco Polo.

This is what it feels like to be young now. Not only are we screwed, but we have to listen to lectures about our laziness and our participation trophies from the people who screwed us.

But generalizations about millennials, like those about any other arbitrarily defined group of 75 million people, fall apart under the slightest scrutiny. Contrary to the cliché, the vast majority of millennials did not go to college, do not work as baristas and cannot lean on their parents for help. Every stereotype of our generation applies only to the tiniest, richest, whitest sliver of young people. And the circumstances we live in are more dire than most people realize.

• We’ve taken on at least 300% more student debt than our parents
(Source: The College Board, Trends in Student Aid 2013. Calculations based on average per-student borrowing in 1980 and 2010.)

• We’re about 1/2 as likely to own a home as young adults were in 1975
(Source: U.S. Census, young adults ages 24-35.)

• 1 in 5 of us is living in poverty
(Source: U.S. Census, young adults ages 18-34.)

• Based on current trends, many of us won’t be able to retire until we’re 75
(Source: Projection for the class of 2015 based on a NerdWallet analysis of federal data.)


But it’s not just the numbers.

What is different about us as individuals compared to previous generations is minor. What is different about the world around us is profound. Salaries have stagnated and entire sectors have cratered. At the same time, the cost of every prerequisite of a secure existence—education, housing and health care—has inflated into the stratosphere. From job security to the social safety net, all the structures that insulate us from ruin are eroding. And the opportunities leading to a middle-class life—the ones that boomers lucked into—are being lifted out of our reach. Add it all up and it’s no surprise that we’re the first generation in modern history to end up poorer than our parents.

This is why the touchstone experience of millennials, the thing that truly defines us, is not helicopter parenting or unpaid internships or Pokémon Go. It is uncertainty. “Some days I breathe and it feels like something is about to burst out of my chest,” says Jimmi Matsinger. “I’m 25 and I’m still in the same place I was when I earned minimum wage.” Four days a week she works at a dental office, Fridays she nannies, weekends she babysits. And still she couldn’t keep up with her rent, car lease and student loans. Earlier this year she had to borrow money to file for bankruptcy. I heard the same walls-closing-in anxiety from millennials around the country and across the income scale, from cashiers in Detroit to nurses in Seattle.
GLOSSARY FOR GRANDPA
Terms to know but never say out loud
FML Fuck My Life
FTW For The Win
TFW That Feeling When








It’s tempting to look at the recession as the cause of all this, the Great Fuckening from which we are still waiting to recover. But what we are living through now, and what the recession merely accelerated, is a historic convergence of economic maladies, many of them decades in the making. Decision by decision, the economy has turned into a young people-screwing machine. And unless something changes, our calamity is going to become America’s.


CHAPTER 1 NEVER-ENDING JOB INSECURITY FTW

What Scott remembers are the group interviews.


Eight, 10 people in suits, a circle of folding chairs, a chirpy HR rep with a clipboard. Each applicant telling her, one by one, in front of all the others, why he’s the right candidate for this $11-an-hour job as a bank teller.

It was 2010, and Scott had just graduated from college with a bachelor’s in economics, a minor in business and $30,000 in student debt. At some of the interviews he was by far the least qualified person in the room. The other applicants described their corporate jobs and listed off graduate degrees. Some looked like they were in their 50s. “One time the HR rep told us she did these three times a week,” Scott says. “And I just knew I was never going to get a job.”

After six months of applying and interviewing and never hearing back, Scott returned to his high school job at The Old Spaghetti Factory. After that he bounced around—selling suits at a Nordstrom outlet, cleaning carpets, waiting tables—until he learned that city bus drivers earn $22 an hour and get full benefits. He’s been doing that for a year now. It’s the most money he’s ever made. He still lives at home, chipping in a few hundred bucks every month to help his mom pay the rent.

In theory, Scott could apply for banking jobs again. But his degree is almost eight years old and he has no relevant experience. He sometimes considers getting a master’s, but that would mean walking away from his salary and benefits for two years and taking on another five digits of debt—just to snag an entry-level position, at the age of 30, that would pay less than he makes driving a bus. At his current job, he’ll be able to move out in six months. And pay off his student loans in 20 years.

There are millions of Scotts in the modern economy. “A lot of workers were just 18 at the wrong time,” says William Spriggs, an economics professor at Howard University and an assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Labor in the Obama administration. “Employers didn’t say, ‘Oops, we missed a generation. In 2008 we weren’t hiring graduates, let’s hire all the people we passed over.’ No, they hired the class of 2012.”

You can even see this in the statistics, a divot from 2008 to 2012 where millions of jobs and billions in earnings should be. In 2007, more than 50 percent of college graduates had a job offer lined up. For the class of 2009, fewer than 20 percent of them did. According to a 2010 study, every 1 percent uptick in the unemployment rate the year you graduate college means a 6 to 8 percent drop in your starting salary—a disadvantage that can linger for decades. The same study found that workers who graduated during the 1981 recession were still making less than their counterparts who graduated 10 years later. “Every recession,” Spriggs says, “creates these cohorts that never recover.”




Sources: “Cashier or Consultant? Entry Labor Market Conditions, Field of Study, and Career Success,” by Joseph G. Altonji, Lisa B. Kahn & Jamin D. Speer, Journal of Labor Economics, 2016; and “The long-term labor market consequences of graduating from college in a bad economy,” by Lisa B. Kahn, Labour Economics, 2010. Projections assume initial earnings of $50,000 and are based on the researchers’ analysis of earnings during periods of growth and recession from 1980 to 2011.



By now, those unlucky millennials who graduated at the wrong time have cascaded downward through the economy. Some estimates show that 48 percent of workers with bachelor’s degrees are employed in jobs for which they’re overqualified. A university diploma has practically become a prerequisite for even the lowest-paying positions, just another piece of paper to flash in front of the hiring manager at Quiznos.

But the real victims of this credential inflation are the two-thirds of millennials who didn’t go to college. Since 2010, the economy has added 11.6 million jobs—and 11.5 million of them have gone to workers with at least some college education. In 2016, young workers with a high school diploma had roughly triple the unemployment rate and three and a half times the poverty rate of college grads.

Once you start tracing these trends backward, the recession starts to look less like a temporary setback and more like a culmination. Over the last 40 years, as politicians and parents and perky magazine listicles have been telling us to study hard and build our personal brands, the entire economy has transformed beneath us.

For decades, most of the job growth in America has been in low-wage, low-skilled, temporary and short-term jobs. The United States simply produces fewer and fewer of the kinds of jobs our parents had. This explains why the rates of “under-employment” among high school and college grads were rising steadily long before the recession. “The way to think about it,” says Jacob Hacker, a Yale political scientist and author ofThe Great Risk Shift, “is that there are waves in the economy, but the tide has been going out for a long time.”


The decline of the job has its primary origins in the 1970s, with a million little changes the boomers barely noticed. The Federal Reserve cracked down on inflation. Companies started paying executives in stock options. Pension funds invested in riskier assets. The cumulative result was money pouring into the stock market like jet fuel. Between 1960 and 2013, the average time that investors held stocks before flipping them went from eight years to around four months. Over roughly the same period, the financial sector became a sarlacc pit encompassing around a quarter of all corporate profits and completely warping companies’ incentives.

The pressure to deliver immediate returns became relentless. When stocks were long-term investments, shareholders let CEOs spend money on things like worker benefits because they contributed to the company’s long-term health. Once investors lost the ability to look beyond the next earnings report, however, any move that didn’t boost short-term profits was tantamount to treason.

The new paradigm took over corporate America. Private equity firms and commercial banks took corporations off the market, laid off or outsourced workers, then sold the businesses back to investors. In the 1980s alone, a quarter of the companies in the Fortune 500 were restructured. Companies were no longer single entities with responsibilities to their workers, retirees or communities.

They were Lego castles, clusters of distinct modules that could be separated, optimized, sold off and put back together.

Businesses applied the same chop-shop logic to their own operations. Executives came to see themselves as first and foremost in the shareholder-pleasing game. Higher staff salaries became luxuries to be slashed. Unions, the great negotiators of wages and benefits and the guarantors of severance pay, became enemy combatants. And eventually, employees themselves became liabilities. “Corporations decided that the fastest way to a higher stock price was hiring part-time workers, lowering wages and turning their existing employees into contractors,” says Rosemary Batt, a Cornell University economist.
Hours of minimum wage work needed to pay for four years of public college
BOOMER: 306
MILLENNIAL: 4,459
(Source: National Center for Education Statistics. Calculations based on tuition for four-year public universities from 1973-1976 and 2003-2006.)
Thirty years ago, she says, you could walk into any hotel in America and everyone in the building, from the cleaners to the security guards to the bartenders, was a direct hire, each worker on the same pay scale and enjoying the same benefits as everyone else. Today, they’re almost all indirect hires, employees of random, anonymous contracting companies: Laundry Inc., Rent-A-Guard Inc., Watery Margarita Inc. In 2015, the Government Accountability Office estimated that 40 percent of American workers were employed under some sort of “contingent” arrangement like this—from barbers to midwives to nuclear waste inspectors to symphony cellists. Since the downturn, the industry that has added the most jobs is not tech or retail or nursing. It is “temporary help services”—all the small, no-brand contractors who recruit workers and rent them out to bigger companies.

The effect of all this “domestic outsourcing”—and, let’s be honest, its actual purpose—is that workers get a lot less out of their jobs than they used to. One of Batt’s papers found that employees lose up to 40 percent of their salary when they’re “re-classified” as contractors. In 2013, the city of Memphis reportedly cut wages from $15 an hour to $10 after it fired its school bus drivers and forced them to reapply through a staffing agency. Some Walmart “lumpers,” the warehouse workers who carry boxes from trucks to shelves, have to show up every morning but only get paid if there’s enough work for them that day.

“This is what’s really driving wage inequality,” says David Weil, the former head of the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor and the author of The Fissured Workplace. “By shifting tasks to contractors, companies pay a price for a service rather than wages for work. That means they don’t have to think about training, career advancement or benefit provision.”

This transformation is affecting the entire economy, but millennials are on its front lines. Where previous generations were able to amass years of solid experience and income in the old economy, many of us will spend our entire working lives intermittently employed in the new one. We’ll get less training and fewer opportunities to negotiate benefits through unions (which used to cover 1 in 3 workers and are now down to around 1 in 10). Plus, as Uber and its “gig economy” ilk perfect their algorithms, we’ll be increasingly at the mercy of companies that only want to pay us for the time we’re generating revenue and not a second more.

But the blame doesn’t only fall on companies. Trade groups have responded to the dwindling number of secure jobs by digging a moat around the few that are left. Over the last 30 years, they’ve successfully lobbied state governments to require occupational licenses for dozens of jobs that never used to need them. It makes sense: The harder it is to become a plumber, the fewer plumbers there will be and the more each of them can charge. Nearly a third of American workers now need some kind of state license to do their jobs, compared to less than 5 percent in 1950. In most other developed countries, you don’t need official permission to cut hair or pour drinks. Here, those jobs can require up to $20,000 in schooling and 2,100 hours of instruction and unpaid practice.

In sum, nearly every path to a stable income now demands tens of thousands of dollars before you get your first paycheck or have any idea whether you’ve chosen the right career path. “I was literally paying to work,” says Elena, a 29-year-old dietician in Texas. (I’ve changed the names of some of the people in this story because they don't want to get fired.) As part of her master’s degree, she was required to do a yearlong “internship” in a hospital. It was supposed to be training, but she says she worked the same hours and did the same tasks as paid staffers. “I took out an extra $20,000 in student loans to pay tuition for the year I was working for free,” she says.

All of these trends—the cost of education, the rise of contracting, the barriers to skilled occupations—add up to an economy that has deliberately shifted the risk of economic recession and industry disruption away from companies and onto individuals. For our parents, a job was a guarantee of a secure adulthood. For us, it is a gamble. And if we suffer a setback along the way, there’s so little to keep us from sliding into disaster.


CHAPTER 2 TFW THEY BROKE THE SAFETY NET

Becoming poor is not an event. It is a process.

Like a plane crash, poverty is rarely caused by one thing going wrong. Usually, it is a series of misfortunes—a job loss, then a car accident, then an eviction—that interact and compound.

I heard the most acute description of how this happens from Anirudh Krishna, a Duke University professor who has, over the last 15 years, interviewed more than 1,000 people who fell into poverty and escaped it. He started in India and Kenya, but eventually, his grad students talked him into doing the same thing in North Carolina. The mechanism, he discovered, was the same.

We often think of poverty in America as a pool, a fixed portion of the population that remains destitute for years. In fact, Krishna says, poverty is more like a lake, with streams flowing steadily in and out all the time. “The number of people in danger of becoming poor is far larger than the number of people who are actually poor,” he says.

We’re all living in a state of permanent volatility. Between 1970 and 2002, the probability that a working-age American would unexpectedly lose at least half her family income more than doubled. And the danger is particularly severe for young people. In the 1970s, when the boomers were our age, young workers had a 24 percent chance of falling below the poverty line. By the 1990s, that had risen to 37 percent. And the numbers only seem to be getting worse. From 1979 to 2014, the poverty rate among young workers with only a high school diploma more than tripled, to 22 percent. “Millennials feel like they can lose everything at any time,” Hacker says. “And, increasingly, they can.”

Here’s what that downward slide looks like. Gabriel is 19 years old and lives in a small town in Oregon. He plays the piano and, until recently, was saving up to study music at an arts college. Last summer he was working at a health supplement company. It wasn’t the most glamorous job, lugging boxes and blending ingredients, but he made $12.50 an hour and he hoped he could step up to a better position if he proved himself.

Then his sister got into a car accident, T-boned turning into their driveway. “She couldn’t walk; she couldn’t think,” Gabriel says. His mom wasn't able to take a day off without risking losing her job, so Gabriel called his boss and left a message saying he had to miss work for a day to get his sister home from the hospital.
Average annual stock market returns on 401(k) plans
BOOMER: 6.3%
MILLENNIAL: 2.9%
(Source: “The changing equation: Building for retirement in a low return world,” BlackRock, October 2016. Percentages based on average returns from 1978-2016 for boomers and projected returns from 2016 onward for millennials.)
The next day, his temp agency called: He was fired. Though Gabriel says no one had told him, the company had a three-strikes policy for unplanned absences. He had already missed one day for a cold and another for a staph infection, so this was it. A former colleague told him that his absences meant he was unlikely to get a job there again.

So now Gabriel works at Taco Time and lives in a trailer with his mom and his sisters. Most of his paycheck goes to gas and groceries because his mom’s income is disappearing into the family’s medical bills. He still wants to go to college. But since he can barely keep his head above water, he’s set his sights on an electrician’s apprenticeship program offered by a local nonprofit. “I don’t understand why it’s so hard to do something with your life,” he tells me.

The answer is brutally simple. In an economy where wages are precarious and the safety net has been hacked into ribbons, one piece of bad luck can easily become a years-long struggle to get back to normal.

Over the last four decades, there has been a profound shift in the relationship between the government and its citizens. In The Age of Responsibility, Yascha Mounk, a political theorist, writes that before the 1980s, the idea of “responsibility” was understood as something each American owed to the people around them, a national project to keep the most vulnerable from falling below basic subsistence. Even Richard Nixon, not exactly known for lifting up the downtrodden, proposed a national welfare benefit and a version of a guaranteed income. But under Ronald Reagan and then Bill Clinton, the meaning of “responsibility” changed. It became individualized, a duty to earn the benefits your country offered you.

Since 1996, the percentage of poor families receiving cash assistance from the government has fallen from 68 percent to 23 percent. No state provides cash benefits that add up to the poverty line. Eligibility criteria have been surgically tightened, often with requirements that are counterproductive to actually escaping poverty. Take Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which ostensibly supports poor families with children. Its predecessor (with a different acronym) had the goal of helping parents of kids under 7, usually through simple cash payments. These days, those benefits are explicitly geared toward getting mothers away from their children and into the workforce as soon as possible. A few states require women to enroll in training or start applying for jobs the day after they give birth.


The list goes on. Housing assistance, for many people the difference between losing a job and losing everything, has been slashed into oblivion. (To pick just one example, in 2014 Baltimore had 75,000 applicants for 1,500 rental vouchers.) Food stamps, the closest thing to universal benefits we have left, provide, on average, $1.40 per meal.

In what seems like some kind of perverse joke, nearly every form of welfare now available to young people is attached to traditional employment. Unemployment benefits and workers’ compensation are limited to employees. The only major expansions of welfare since 1980 have been to the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, both of which pay wages back to workers who have already collected them.

Back when we had decent jobs and strong unions, it (kind of) made sense to provide things like health care and retirement savings through employer benefits. But now, for freelancers and temps and short-term contractors—i.e., us—those benefits might as well be Monopoly money. Forty-one percent of working millennials aren’t even eligible for retirement plans through their companies.

And then there’s health care.

In 1980, 4 out of 5 employees got health insurance through their jobs. Now, just over half of them do. Millennials can stay on our parents’ plans until we turn 26. But the cohort right afterward, 26- to 34-year-olds, has the highest uninsured rate in the country and millennials—alarmingly—have more collective medical debt than the boomers. Even Obamacare, one of the few expansions of the safety net since man walked on the moon, still leaves us out in the open. Millennials who can afford to buy plans on the exchanges face premiums (next year mine will be $388 a month), deductibles ($850) and out-of-pocket limits ($5,000) that, for many young people, are too high to absorb without help. And of the events that precipitate the spiral into poverty, according to Krishna, an injury or illness is the most common trigger.

“All of us are one life event away from losing everything,” says Ashley Lauber, a bankruptcy lawyer in Seattle and an Old Millennial like me. For most of her clients under 35, she says, the slide toward bankruptcy starts with a car accident or a medical bill. “You can’t afford your deductible, so you go to Moneytree and take out a loan for a few hundred bucks. Then you miss your payments and the collectors start calling you at work, telling your boss you can’t pay. Then he gets sick of it and he fires you and it all gets worse.” For a lot of her millennial clients, Lauber says, the difference between escaping debt and going bankrupt comes down to the only safety net they have—their parents.

But this fail-safe, like all the others, isn’t equally available to everyone. The wealth gap between white and non-white families is massive. Since basically forever, almost every avenue of wealth creation—higher education, homeownership, access to credit—has been denied to minorities through discrimination both obvious and invisible. And the disparity has only grown wider since the recession. From 2007 to 2010, black families’ retirement accounts shrank by 35 percent, whereas white families, who are more likely to have other sources of money, saw their accounts grow by 9 percent.

The result is that millennials of color are even more exposed to disaster than their peers. Many white millennials have an iceberg of accumulated wealth from their parents and grandparents that they can draw on for help with tuition, rent or a place to stay during an unpaid internship. According to the Institute on Assets and Social Policy, white Americans are five times more likely to receive an inheritance than black Americans—which can be enough to make a down payment on a house or pay off student loans. By contrast, 67 percent of black families and 71 percent of Latino families don’t have enough money saved to cover three months of living expenses.

And so, instead of receiving help from their families, millennials of color are more likely to be called on to provide it. Any extra income from a new job or a raise tends to get swallowed by bills or debts that many white millennials had help with. Four years after graduation, black college graduates have, on average, nearly twice as much student debt as their white counterparts and are three times more likely to be behind on payments. This financial undertow is captured in one staggering statistic: Every extra dollar of income earned by a middle-class white family generates $5.19 in new wealth. For black families, it’s 69 cents.
Sources: “The Road to Zero Wealth,” Institute for Policy Studies, September 2017 and “Household Wealth Trends In The United States, 1962-2013: What Happened Over the Great Recession?” National Bureau of Economic Research, December 2014.
Want to get even more depressed? Sit down and think about what’s going to happen to us when we get old. Despite all the stories you read about flighty millennials refusing to plan for retirement (as if our grandparents were obsessing over the details of their pension plans when they were 25), the biggest problem we face is not financial illiteracy. It is compound interest.

In the coming decades, the returns on 401(k) plans are expected to fall by half. According to an analysis by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a drop in stock market returns of just 2 percentage points means a 25-year-old would have to contribute more than double the amount to her retirement savings that a boomer did. Oh, and she'll have to do it on lower wages. This scenario gets even more dire when you consider what's going to happen to Social Security by the time we make it to 65. There, too, it seems inevitable that we’re going to get screwed by demography: In 1950, there were 17 American workers to support each retiree. When millennials retire, there will be just two.

There’s one way that many Americans have traditionally managed to build wealth for themselves, to achieve some kind of dignity and comfort in old age. I’m talking, of course, about homeownership. At least we’ve got a shot at that, right?


CHAPTER 3 RIP YOUR CHANCES OF AFFORDING A HOME


Whenever Tyrone moves into a new apartment, he lies down naked on his living room floor.

It’s a ritual, a reminder of the years he spent without a floor underneath him or a ceiling above. He was homeless for four years in Georgia: sleeping on benches, biking to interviews in the heat, arriving an hour early so he wouldn’t be sweaty for the handshake. When he finally got a job, his co-workers found out that he washed himself in gas station bathrooms and made him so miserable he quit. “They said I ‘smelled homeless,’” he says.

Tyrone moved to Seattle six years ago, when he was 23, because he’d heard the minimum wage there was almost double what he made in Atlanta. He got a job at a grocery store and slept in a shelter while he saved. Since then, his income has gone up, but he’s been pushed farther and farther from the city. First stop was subsidized housing in Kirkland, 20 minutes east across the lake. Then a rented house in Tacoma, 45 minutes south, sharing a bedroom with his girlfriend and, eventually, a son. The breakup is why he’s now in Lakewood, even farther south, in a one-bedroom right next to a freeway entrance.

And it’s already such a strain. Tyrone earns $17 an hour as a security guard at a building site, his highest wage ever. But he’s a contractor (of course), so he doesn’t get sick leave or health insurance. His rent is $1,100 a month. It’s more than he can afford, but he could only find one building that would let him move in without paying the full deposit in advance.

Since rent is due on the 1st and he gets paid on the 7th, his landlord adds a $100 late fee to each month’s bill. After that and the car payments—it’s a two-hour bus ride from the suburb where he lives to the suburb where he works—he has $200 left over every month for food. The first time we met, it was the 27th of the month and Tyrone told me his account was already zeroed out. He had pawned his skateboard the previous night for gas money.

Despite the acres of news pages dedicated to the narrative that millennials refuse to grow up, there are twice as many young people like Tyrone—living on their own and earning less than $30,000 per year—as there are millennials living with their parents. The crisis of our generation cannot be separated from the crisis of affordable housing.

More people are renting homes than at any time since the late 1960s. But in the 40 years leading up to the recession, rents increased at more than twice the rate of incomes. Between 2001 and 2014, the number of “severely burdened” renters—households spending over half their incomes on rent—grew by more than 50 percent. Rather unsurprisingly, as housing prices have exploded, the number of 30- to 34-year-olds who own homes has plummeted.

Falling homeownership rates, on their own, aren’t necessarily a catastrophe. But our country has contrived an entire “Game of Life” sequence that hinges on being able to buy a home. You rent for a while to save up for a down payment, then you buy a starter home with your partner, then you move into a larger place and raise a family. Once you pay off the mortgage, your house is either an asset to sell or a cheap place to live in retirement. Fin.

This worked well when rents were low enough to save and homes were cheap enough to buy. In one of the most infuriating conversations I had for this article, my father breezily informed me that he bought his first house at 29. It was 1973, he had just moved to Seattle and his job as a university professor paid him (adjusted for inflation) around $76,000 a year. The house cost $124,000 — again, in today’s dollars. I am six years older now than my dad was then. I earn less than he did and the median home price in Seattle is around $730,000. My father’s first house cost him 20 months of his salary. My first house will cost more than 10 years of mine.

Which prompts the question: How did housing in America become so freaking expensive?


Here’s your city. Here’s downtown. That’s where lots of the good jobs are.
Most people want to live fewer than 30 minutes from work. So, for much of the 20th century, big cities built housing close to jobs.
When the inner ring of suburbs filled up, cities built freeways to whisk workers to the next.

But then those suburbs filled up. Traffic got worse. Thirty-minute commutes became 45-minute commutes.

Demand for houses close to downtown exploded.

There’s a simple fix for this problem: Build more housing close to jobs.



For a long time, that’s what cities did. They built upward, divided homes into apartments and added duplexes and townhomes.

But in the 1970s, they stopped building. Cities kept adding jobs and people. But they didn’t add more housing. And that’s when prices started to climb.

So much of this can be explained by one word:

ZONING

At first, zoning was pretty modest. The point was to stop someone from buying your neighbor’s house and turning it into an oil refinery.

But eventually people realized they could use zoning for other purposes.

In the late 1960s, it finally became illegal to deny housing to minorities. So cities instituted weirdly specific rules that drove up the price of new houses and excluded poor people—who were, disproportionately, minorities.

Houses had to have massive backyards. They couldn’t be split into separate apartments. Basically, cities mandated McMansions.

We’re still living with that legacy. Across huge swaths of American cities, it’s pretty much illegal to build affordable housing.



And this problem is only getting worse.

That’s because all the urgency to build comes from people who need somewhere to live. But all the political power is held by people who already own homes.

For homeowners, there’s no such thing as a housing crisis.

Why?

Because when property values go up, so does their net worth. They have every reason to block new construction.

They do that by weaponizing environmental regulations and historical preservation rules.

They force buildings to be shorter so they don’t cast shadows. They demand two parking spaces for every single unit.

They complain that a new apartment building will destroy “neighborhood character” when the structure it’s replacing is… a parking garage. (True story.)

All this extra hassle means construction takes longer and costs more.

Which means that the only way most developers can make a profit is to build luxury condos.

So that’s why cities are so unaffordable. The entire system is structured to produce expensive housing when we desperately need the opposite.

The housing crisis in our most prosperous cities is now distorting the entire American economy. For most of the 20th century, the way many workers improved their financial fortunes was to move closer to opportunities. Rents were higher in the boomtowns, but so were wages.

Since the Great Recession, the “good” jobs—secure, non-temp, decent salary—have concentrated in cities like never before. America’s 100 largest metros have added 6 million jobs since the downturn. Rural areas, meanwhile, still have fewer jobs than they did in 2007. For young people trying to find work, moving to a major city is not an indulgence. It is a virtual necessity.

But the soaring rents in big cities are now canceling out the higher wages. Back in 1970, according to a Harvard study, an unskilled worker who moved from a low-income state to a high-income state kept 79 percent of his increased wages after he paid for housing. A worker who made the same move in 2010 kept just 36 percent. For the first time in U.S. history, says Daniel Shoag, one of the study’s co-authors, it no longer makes sense for an unskilled worker in Utah to head for New York in the hope of building a better life.

This leaves young people, especially those without a college degree, with an impossible choice. They can move to a city where there are good jobs but insane rents. Or they can move somewhere with low rents but few jobs that pay above the minimum wage.

This dilemma is feeding the inequality-generating woodchipper the U.S. economy has become. Rather than offering Americans a way to build wealth, cities are becoming concentrations of people who already have it. In the country’s 10 largest metros, residents earning more than $150,000 per year now outnumber those earning less than $30,000 per year.

Millennials who are able to relocate to these oases of opportunity get to enjoy their many advantages: better schools, more generous social services, more rungs on the career ladder to grab on to. Millennials who can’t afford to relocate to a big expensive city are … stuck. In 2016, the Census Bureau reported that young people were less likely to have lived at a different address a year earlier than at any time since 1963.

And so the real reason millennials can’t seem to achieve the adulthood our parents envisioned for us is that we’re trying to succeed within a system that no longer makes any sense. Homeownership and migration have been pitched to us as gateways to prosperity because, back when the boomers grew up, they were. But now, the rules have changed and we’re left playing a game that is impossible to win.

We start earning less money, later. We have more debt and higher rent.
Which means we aren’t able to save.
Which means we can’t buy a house or prepare for retirement.
Which means that unless something changes…

All of us are headed for a very dark place.



CHAPTER 4 LOL EVERYTHING MATTERS

The most striking thing about the problems of millennials is how intertwined and self-reinforcing and everywhere they are.

Over the eight months I spent reporting this story, I spent a few evenings at a youth homeless shelter and met unpaid interns and gig-economy bike messengers saving for their first month of rent. During the days I interviewed people like Josh, a 33-year-old affordable housing developer who mentioned that his mother struggles to make ends meet as a contractor in a profession that used to be reliable government work. Every Thanksgiving, she reminds him that her retirement plan is a “401(j)”—J for Josh.

Fixing what has been done to us is going to take more than tinkering. Even if economic growth picks up and unemployment continues to fall, we’re still on a track toward ever more insecurity for young people. The “Leave It To Beaver” workforce, in which everyone has the same job from graduation until gold watch, is not coming back. Any attempt to recreate the economic conditions the boomers had is just sending lifeboats to a whirlpool.

But still, there is already a foot-long list of overdue federal policy changes that would at least begin to fortify our future and reknit the safety net. Even amid the awfulness of our political moment, we can start to build a platform to rally around. Raise the minimum wage and tie it to inflation. Roll back anti-union laws to give workers more leverage against companies that treat them as if they’re disposable. Tilt the tax code away from the wealthy. Right now, rich people can write off mortgage interest on their second home and expenses related to being a landlord or (I'm not kidding) owning a racehorse. The rest of us can’t even deduct student loans or the cost of getting an occupational license.

Some of the trendiest Big Policy Fixes these days are efforts to rebuild government services from the ground up. The ur-example is the Universal Basic Income, a no-questions-asked monthly cash payment to every single American. The idea is to establish a level of basic subsistence below which no one in a civilized country should be allowed to fall. The venture capital firm Y Combinator is planning a pilot program that would give $1,000 each month to 1,000 low- and middle-income participants. And while, yes, it’s inspiring that a pro-poor policy idea has won the support of D.C. wonks and Ayn Rand tech bros alike, it’s worth noting that existing programs like food stamps, TANF, public housing and government-subsidized day care are not inherently ineffective. They have been intentionally made so. It would be nice if the people excited by the shiny new programs would expend a little effort defending and expanding the ones we already have.

But they’re right about one thing: We’re going to need government structures that respond to the way we work now. “Portable benefits,” an idea that’s been bouncing around for years, attempts to break down the zero-sum distinction between full-time employees who get government-backed worker protections and independent contractors who get nothing. The way to solve this, when you think about it, is ridiculously simple: Attach benefits to work instead of jobs. The existing proposals vary, but the good ones are based on the same principle: For every hour you work, your boss chips in to a fund that pays out when you get sick, pregnant, old or fired. The fund follows you from job to job, and companies have to contribute to it whether you work there a day, a month or a year.

Small-scale versions of this idea have been offsetting the inherent insecurity of the gig economy since long before we called it that. Some construction workers have an “hour bank” that fills up when they’re working and provides benefits even when they’re between jobs. Hollywood actors and technical staff have health and pension plans that follow them from movie to movie. In both cases, the benefits are negotiated by unions, but they don’t have to be. Since 1962, California has offered “elective coverage” insurance that allows independent contractors to file for payouts if their kids get sick or if they get injured on the job. “The offloading of risks onto workers and families was not a natural occurrence,” says Hacker, the Yale political scientist. “It was a deliberate effort. And we can roll it back the same way.”

Another no-brainer experiment is to expand jobs programs. As decent opportunities have dwindled and wage inequality has soared, the government’s message to the poorest citizens has remained exactly the same: You’re not trying hard enough. But at the same time, the government has not actually attempted to give people jobs on a large scale since the 1970s.

Because most of us grew up in a world without them, jobs programs can sound overly ambitious or suspiciously Leninist. In fact, they’re neither. In 2010, as part of the stimulus, Mississippi launched a program that simply reimbursed employers for the wages they paid to eligible new hires—100 percent at first, then tapering down to 25 percent. The initiative primarily reached low-income mothers and the long-term unemployed. Nearly half of the recipients were under 30.

The results were impressive. For the average participant, the subsidized wages lasted only 13 weeks. Yet the year after the program ended, long-term unemployed workers were still earning nearly nine times more than they had the previous year. Either they kept the jobs they got through the subsidies or the experience helped them find something new. Plus, the program was a bargain. Subsidizing more than 3,000 jobs cost $22 million, which existing businesses doled out to workers who weren’t required to get special training. It wasn’t an isolated success, either. A Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality review of 15 jobs programs from the past four decades concluded that they were “a proven, promising, and underutilized tool for lifting up disadvantaged workers.” The review found that subsidizing employment raised wages and reduced long-term unemployment. Children of the participants even did better at school.

But before I get carried away listing urgent and obvious solutions for the plight of millennials, let’s pause for a bit of reality: Who are we kidding? Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are not interested in our innovative proposals to lift up the systemically disadvantaged. Their entire political agenda, from the Scrooge McDuck tax reform bill to the ongoing assassination attempt on Obamacare, is explicitly designed to turbocharge the forces that are causing this misery. Federally speaking, things are only going to get worse.

Which is why, for now, we need to take the fight to where we can win it.

Over the last decade, states and cities have made remarkable progress adapting to the new economy. Minimum-wage hikes have been passed by voters in nine states, even dark red rectangles like Nebraska and South Dakota. Following a long campaign by the Working Families Party and other activist organizations, eight states and the District of Columbia have instituted guaranteed sick leave. Bills to combat exploitative scheduling practices have been introduced in more than a dozen state legislatures. San Francisco now gives retail and fast-food workers the right to learn their schedules two weeks in advance and get compensated for sudden shift changes. Local initiatives are popular, effective and our best hope of preventing the country’s slide into “Mad Max”-style individualism.

The court system, the only branch of our government currently functioning, offers other encouraging avenues. Class-action lawsuits and state and federal investigations have resulted in a wave of judgments against companies that “misclassify” their workers as contractors. FedEx, which requires some of its drivers to buy their own trucks and then work as independent contractors, recently reached a $227 million settlement with more than 12,000 plaintiffs in 19 states. In 2014, a startup called Hello Alfred—Uber for chores, basically—announced that it would rely exclusively on direct hires instead of “1099s.” Part of the reason, its CEO told Fast Company, was that the legal and financial risk of relying on contractors had gotten too high. A tsunami of similar lawsuits over working conditions and wage theft would be enough to force the same calculation onto every CEO in America.
56% of millennials with student loans have delayed a major life event—including getting married or having kids—because of their debt
(Source: Bankrate Money Pulse survey, July 2015. Percentage is for young adults ages 18-29.)
And then there’s housing, where the potential—and necessity—of local action is obvious. This doesn’t just mean showing up to city council hearings to drown out the NIMBYs (though let’s definitely do that). It also means ensuring that the entire system for approving new construction doesn’t prioritize homeowners at the expense of everyone else. Right now, permitting processes examine, in excruciating detail, how one new building will affect rents, noise, traffic, parking, shadows and squirrel populations. But they never investigate the consequences of not building anything—rising prices, displaced renters, low-wage workers commuting hours from outside the sprawl.

Some cities are finally acknowledging this reality. Portland and Denver have sped up approvals and streamlined permitting. In 2016, Seattle’s mayor announced that the city would cut ties with its mostly old, mostly white, very NIMBY district councils and establish a “community involvement commission.” The name is terrible, obviously, but the mandate is groundbreaking: Include renters, the poor, ethnic minorities—and everyone else unable to attend a consultation at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday—in construction decisions. For decades, politicians have been terrified of making the slightest twitch that might upset homeowners. But with renters now outnumbering owners in nine of America’s 11 largest cities, we have the potential to be a powerful political constituency.

The same logic could be applied to our entire generation. In 2018, there will be more millennials than boomers in the voting-age population. The problem, as you’ve already heard a million times, is that we don’t vote enough. Only 49 percent of Americans ages 18 to 35 turned out to vote in the last presidential election, compared to about 70 percent of boomers and Greatests. (It’s lower in midterm elections and positively dire in primaries.)

But like everything about millennials, once you dig into the numbers you find a more complicated story. Youth turnout is low, sure, but not universally. In 2012, it ranged from 68 percent in Mississippi (!) to 24 percent in West Virginia. And across the country, younger Americans who are registered to vote show up at the polls nearly as often as older Americans.

The fact is, it’s simply harder for us to vote. Consider that nearly half of millennials are minorities and that voter suppression efforts are laser-focused on blacks and Latinos. Or that the states with the simplest registration procedures have youth turnout rates significantly higher than the national average. (In Oregon it’s automatic, in Idaho you can do it the same day you vote and in North Dakota you don’t have to register at all.) Adopting voting rights as a cause—forcing politicians to listen to us like they do to the boomers—is the only way we’re ever going to get a shot at creating our own New Deal.

Or, as Shaun Scott, the author of Millennials and the Moments That Made Us, told me, “We can either do politics or we can have politics done to us.”

And that’s exactly it. The boomer-benefiting system we’ve inherited was not inevitable and it is not irreversible. There is still a choice here. For the generations ahead of us, it is whether to pass down some of the opportunities they enjoyed in their youth or to continue hoarding them. Since 1989, the median wealth of families headed by someone over 62 has increased 40 percent. The median wealth of families headed by someone under 40 has decreased by 28 percent. Boomers, it's up to you: Do you want your children to have decent jobs and places to live and a non-Dickensian old age? Or do you want lower taxes and more parking?

Then there’s our responsibility. We’re used to feeling helpless because for most of our lives we’ve been subject to huge forces beyond our control. But pretty soon, we’ll actually be in charge. And the question, as we age into power, is whether our children will one day write the same article about us. We can let our economic infrastructure keep disintegrating and wait to see if the rising seas get us before our social contract dies. Or we can build an equitable future that reflects our values and our demographics and all the chances we wish we'd had. Maybe that sounds naïve, and maybe it is. But I think we're entitled to it.


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