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Generation Debtby Anya Kamenetz
Synopses & Reviews
In this thoroughly researched and rousing manifesto, Anya Kamenetz chronicles and questions the plight of the new "youth class": 18 — to 29-year-olds who are drowning in debt and therefore seemingly unable to "grow up." Many older adults perceive today's youth as immature slackers, "twixters," or "boomerang kids," who simply cannot get their act together, but Kamenetz argues that this perception is a misinformed stereotype.
Numerous economic factors have combined to create a perfect storm for the financial and personal lives of America's youth: a college degree is essential for employment yet financially crippling to many, government grants for education are at an all-time low, Social Security and Medicare are on their deathbeds, and our parents and grandparents are retiring earlier and living longer. How will we get ourselves out of this mess? By analyzing and explaining the causes of this phenomenon, Kamenetz demonstrates the urgent need for people to begin investing in our nation's youth. Generation Debt will get you thinking in new ways about American values — and America's future.
"Surveying the economic realities facing today's 20- and 30-somethings, 24-four-old Kamenetz decides, 'It's not too dramatic to say that the nation is abandoning its children.' Thanks to skyrocketing tuition and changes in federal funding, college students are graduating with an average of almost $20,000 in loans at the same time that jobs have become scarcer, real wages have dropped and the cost of health care has soared. Is it any wonder that kids are boomeranging home and racking up credit card debt? Kamenetz, who first wrote about these issues for the "Village Voice, intertwines an analytical overview of the new economic obstacles with interviews of the financially strapped and descriptions of her own experience struggling to make ends meet as a freelance journalist. Her book is livelier than Tamara Draut's similarly themed Strapped, but lighter in its analysis of law and policy. Most interestingly, Kamenetz documents how our perception of the crisis is shaped by self-centered boomers who have lost touch with their children's plight. More of a white paper than a guidebook, this volume doesn't offer under-40s much personal financial advice (that job is taken up by Generation Debt, see review below). It does, however, make clear how imperative it is that we find solutions to these problems as quickly as possible." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"If the threat of dirty bombs, bird flu and melting ice caps isn't enough to keep you up at night, a trio of new books has identified another looming disaster: financial insolvency among today's twenty- and thirty-somethings. Yes, in spite of their material trappings, from iPods to Xboxes, today's young people are behind the economic eight ball, according to Tamara Draut's 'Strapped' and... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) Anya Kamenetz's 'Generation Debt.' The third book, Carmen Wong Ulrich's 'Gener(at symbol)tion Debt,' offers fiscal self-help for this emerging niche market. You say you're more concerned with the plight of the crested shelduck than a flock of latte-guzzling boomerang kids? The authors are aware that their premise goes against the accepted stereotype of spoiled 'adultescents' who would rather sponge off their parents than get a real job. Their contention is that the postponement of adulthood may have more to do with socioeconomic conditions than with an epidemic of thumb-sucking fecklessness. The idea of struggling in your post-student days is nothing new. The problem, according to all three books, is that for today's young adults, those lean early years — the Top Ramen phase — may never give way to the stability and prosperity enjoyed by their boomer parents. A number of factors are blamed, chief among them student loans, credit cards, wage stagnation, the rising costs of health care and homeownership, the disappearance of pensions and the likely collapse of Social Security under the weight of all those retiring boomers. Much of the evidence used to support this bleak scenario, in which young adults can expect to toil away well into their seventies, is persuasive. Inflation-adjusted tuition at public universities has nearly tripled since 1980, while federal student aid has shifted from grants to loans. The average graduating student now carries a debt load of around $20,000 — and more than double that for grad school. Deregulation of the credit card industry and heavy on-campus marketing of plastic power haven't helped, either. All of this debt, as well as various other public policies unfriendly to the young, theoretically snowballs into a variety of social effects, from delayed marriage and parenthood to a widening gap between rich and poor. The more scholarly take on this tale of woe is found in 'Strapped.' Draut, director of the Economic Opportunity Program at the New York-based think tank Demos, offers diverse, thoroughly contextualized case studies with supporting statistical data, as well as the occasional outburst of advocacy. The thirty-something author knows whereof she writes, and occasionally references her own experience. But having already reached some milestones of adulthood — marriage, career — she also has some perspective on the situation. 'Generation Debt' author Kamenetz, on the other hand, is still mired in post-college flux, and her writing has some of the unfiltered indignation of first discovery. This is useful as a window into the angst that accompanies youthful financial and professional uncertainty, but complaints about economic inequality grate a little coming from someone whose parents covered a four-year education at Yale. Nor is it easy to muster much pity for a twenty-something journalist who has already published a book — 'Generation Debt' is based on her work for the Village Voice — when she laments that no employer has offered her a job with benefits. Kamenetz empathizes with the plight of her less fortunate peers and clearly intends her book as a public service, but she doesn't seem entirely aware of her own good fortune — or the difference between suffering under an oppressive system and not being handed your dream job immediately upon graduation. Whether you call it optimism or a sense of entitlement, that attitude plays into the cliche of a generation of Veruca Salts, clamoring for their golden ticket. In their rush to absolve young people of primary responsibility for their financial plight, Kamenetz and Draut are too quick to dismiss, or paint as virtues, the cultural and lifestyle factors that affect this generation's bottom line. The middle class may be sinking, but we're going down with plenty of stuff: BlackBerries, beauty treatments, yoga classes, therapy, restaurants, coffee, cable, cell phones and all of the other luxuries now considered staples. The one failing for which Kamenetz and Draut take their peers to task is a lack of political awareness. Today's young people don't follow the news or vote in large numbers, much less organize to lobby for their interests — unlike powerful boomer-centric groups such as the AARP. If they did, they might achieve another of the authors' cherished goals: grafting European social policy onto our free-market economy. A national health care system, tuition assistance and generous family leave and child-care subsidies could be paid for by — wait for it — taxing corporations and rolling back individual tax cuts. Penalizing big business to pay for social programs doesn't sound like a top agenda item for a Republican-controlled government, but you never know — first ethanol, then nine months of paid maternity leave. While they wait for a new New Deal, impecunious young folk may want to check out the third book in this group. The chatty, accessible Gener(at symbol)tion Debt skims over much of the same information covered by 'Strapped' and 'Generation Debt' but devotes most of its pages to practical advice for the young and equity-less, from banking and taxes to insurance, investing and homeownership. The underlying ideas are — or should be — intuitive: Spend less than you earn. Make a budget. Save, save, save. There are also guidelines for dealing with specific situations, such as harassment by creditors or identity theft, and day-to-day tips for staying out of money trouble. Leave those credit and debit cards at home when you go out, for one thing, and it'll be a lot harder to blow your budget. It's a cursory overview, but each chapter ends with a comprehensive list of resources — mostly of the online variety — for further information. You won't find the definitive answer to every financial pickle, but it's a good primer based on a sound economic principle: self-control. Ulrich also offers something even more valuable than a free credit report: hope. With a little education and some will power, she suggests, young people don't have to drown in a sea of red ink. It would be naive, even by the standards of this generation, to think that the sweeping legislative and philosophical changes urged by Draut and Kamenetz will occur overnight. We have a proud national tradition of ignoring depressing predictions, even when the sky is falling (global warming, anyone?). Rather than waiting idly for the deus ex machina of government intervention, it's nice to think that we twenty- and thirty-somethings could exercise a small measure of control over our own destinies — without moving to Canada. Amanda Henry is a thirty-something journalist who writes for the Tampa Tribune, VH1.com and Public Radio International." Reviewed by Amanda Henry, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"What keeps Kamenetz's book from devolving into a whiny, angst-ridden rant are the frightening facts...and the burden of incurring massive debts to stay afloat in college or launch a career." Library Journal
"From college debt to dead end jobs, and from marriage and relationships to politics in Washington, Generation Debt describes the obstacles facing the youth who will be the future leaders of our country. In this book Anya Kamenetz uses both compelling stories and hard data to demonstrate how the cards are stacked against this generation. Anybody who cares about the future of this country will want to read this book, and anybody who can help change that future must read it." Donald E. Heller, Associate Professor of Education, Pennsylvania State University, and editor of Condition of Access: Higher Education for Lower Income Students
Taking a compelling day-to-day look at the life experiences behind a massive economic shift, this rousing manifesto will have readers thinking in new ways about American values and about America's future.
An emerging spokesperson for a new generation passionately and persuasively addresses the grim state of young people today-and tells us how we can, and must, save our future.
The nature of youth is to question. So when twenty-four-year-old Anya Kamenetz started out as a journalist, she began asking hard questions about her generation for which no one seemed to have good answers. Why were college students nationwide graduating with an average of more than $20,000 in student loans? Why were her friends thousands of dollars in credit-card debt? Why did so many jobs for people under thirty-five involve a plastic name badge, last only for the short-term, and not include benefits? With record deficits and threats to Social Security, what kind of future was shaping up for the nation's kids?
Kamenetz became one of the youngest ever columnists for The Village Voice, where she earned a Pulitzer Prize nomination for her reporting on the new economics of being young. In Generation Debt, she talks to experts in economics, labor markets, the health-care industry, and education, and amasses a startling array of evidence that building a secure life, let alone surviving, is harder for young people today than it was thirty years ago.
Like Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, Generation Debt is a compelling day-to-day look at the life experiences behind a massive economic shift. Like Naomi Klein's No Logo, it is a deeply researched, rousing manifesto that will get you thinking in new ways about American values-and about America's future.
About the Author
Anya Kamenetz received her B.A. from Yale in 2002 and writes for New York magazine, Salon, The Nation, and The Village Voice, where she earned a Pulitzer Prize nomination for her contributions to the series Generation Debt: The New Economics of Being Young. She has appeared on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer as a spokesperson on the employment obstacles facing youth.
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