USELESS

Like many people in their thirties, I consider age 31 an appropriate time to do some reflection on my station in life. Personal goals and feelings aside, one thing that strikes me is how completely useless I am to the economy.

Our post-industrial economy, as I and people much smarter than me have pointed out continuously, is based entirely on consumer spending. The negative trade balance "knowledge and services" economy exports nothing of interest to the rest of the world but manufacturing jobs and Treasury debt. Our economy hums along when people spend money like drunken sailors and comes to a screeching halt when we can't or won't. This has always been the case to some extent in America, but the recent economic troubles have placed this reality in the spotlight. I don't have to look very hard to figure out why recovery is nowhere in sight.

I'm 31. According to the American Dream, I am supposed to have some small kids, a house, two Fords, a down payment on a boat, and two vacations per year. In non-1950s reality, I have been renting for 13 years and driving the same car for 11. I haven't been on a vacation in three years (and that was a car camping trip which cost about $200). I go out to eat maybe twice weekly, see around one movie per month, and buy a new $399 laptop every 18 months when the previous one falls prey to the high quality of its Taiwanese components. Maybe the economy would be better if more people joined me in not buying things that we can't afford. But the reality is that these are the kinds of major purchases that oil the gears of our economy.

All of us – whether we buy nothing or buy what we can't afford – face the same fundamental problem: we simply lack anything resembling a stable career. Or we have a stable job that pays dick. Like so many industries, my field is slowly but decisively moving toward a no job security, no benefits "temp" model. We call them adjuncts, VAPs, Lecturers, and other euphemisms but it all means the same thing: at-will employment on a year-to-year basis for about $25-$30,000. It's far from poverty wages for my childless ass; I lack none of life's essentials. But this is pretty much it for me, the full extent to which the economy is going to benefit from my existence. I have no reasonable expectation of ever being able to buy a home (perhaps I could scrape together a down payment by 40, at which point a 30 year mortgage would basically mean I'd be buying my own coffin). Liz and I talk about going on a honeymoon with the wistfulness one usually reserves for phrases like "I want to walk on the moon someday." I might be able to swing a new car in five or ten more years.

The moral of the story could simply be that I am a big loser or that I'm simply forgoing middle-class spending rituals that are wholly superfluous. But I don't believe the situation I describe here is exceptional; what percentage of 30-somethings would fit this description? Our parents' generation decided to cash out ("If we ship all the jobs overseas our IRAs will go through the roof! And then all of our kids will be lawyers, or something!") and it's not a mystery why we are floundering in the present and for the foreseeable future. I read a lot about our economic troubles, even the stuff I don't understand, but I really needn't look far to figure out why automakers are on life support and home prices are cratering. Sure, there are macro-level explanations – asset price bubbles and so forth – but we might do well to give in to the seductive simplicity of reasons like "We can't afford this shit anymore."

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52 Responses to “USELESS”

  1. Amanda Says:

    I agree with you Ed. I've spoken with many people about the value/non-value of purchasing a home in these times, and basically everyone I know who does own a home (besides my poverty stricken parents) realizes that they won't pay it off before they are dead and so they basically use it like a credit card, refinancing every so often and using the money to buy those cars or trips we're supposed to have. I just don't see a home ever, ever happening. And we're with you on the honeymoon thing too. :-(

    Luckily my Nissan is only 4 years old and gets not so bad gas mileage for a smaller SUV (20-25mpg). I hope it lasts us for as long as yours has!

  2. 16shellsfromathirtyaughtsix Says:

    If I recall correctly the academics and students didn't even used to pay taxes in Europe because they were so highly regarded. We've, um, come a long way I guess.

    Re: your laptop – I'd recommend buying a custom job from somebody in the cs department at your university. Mine I bought for $200 in early '07. It's built entirely from recycled parts and I've never had one problem with it.

  3. RosaLux Says:

    Yea, there are lots of interesting statistics about the decline of real wages and other quality of life indicia over the last few decades, but what it all comes down to is that most people in our generation work Draconian hours for shit pay, or are unemployed, and all of us are going to have to deal with the fact that the rosy bourgeois life that we always expected – the vacations, two cars, two kids, etc. – may not happen. The latest economic meltdown sealed the deal, but the middle class has been slowly vanishing into oblivion for a long time now.

    The defining feature of our generation (and by "generation" I mean people in their 20s and early 30s who grew up hearing from their boomer parents that they were unique and special and could do anything they wanted), the defining feature is massive letdown, subverted expectations.

  4. Maren Says:

    The saddest thing is how out of touch my parents are with our generation's situation. I've pretty much made my peace with it, but my mom won't let up on how I should be buying a house while prices are down, and even my boss, who's only eleven years older than me at 39, doesn't seem to understand why I can't just buy a car outright now that my highly aged one is on its last legs. But then, the super-sad thing is that my mom's family is straight-up blue collar and my dad's family is borderline, so I was supposed to be the generation that got to live that rosy bourgeois lifestyle, or even better — meanwhile it's about all we can do to pay those law school loans each month while living in a one-bedroom apartment with the unheard-of luxury of a washer/dyer in unit. So much for living the dream.

  5. Prudence Says:

    I dream of a washer-dryer in my apartment, but I live in a miniscule cuckoo clock, so I'd probably have to sleep on top of it to fit it in. And because I'm European, that doesn't seem very odd.

    And Ed & Liz: you need to set up a Paypal or something for your honeymoon fund. I'd happily shovel a few bucks your way so that you can enjoy some luxe car camping of your choice, and I dare say I'm not alone.

  6. Wauwatosa Whacko Says:

    Work for the government, as I do. Good wages and benefits. Job security is excellent, considering our elected officials will never make any hard decisions about what we can and cannot afford.

  7. Shane Says:

    I agree with Prudence about the "Ed and Liz go wild" fund.

    I would also add that for our generation in particular, the amount of student loan debt we have been encouraged (and been stupid enough) to incur is a significant factor. Despite having a non-temp position in academia which pays moderatly well, the only job my husband could find in the community is working on the grounds crew on our campus (despite having a college degree and a professional trade). Even so, combined we make a really decent living that ought to be more than enough to sustain our small family. And yet, we barely make all the ends meet each month because of our student loan payments which are almost $1000 a month. And the amount of student debt we have is relatively moderate compared to many people I know in my age bracket.

    One more thing I will add, last month I found out that despite having never been late or missed a single loan payment on my student loans, two of my biggest loans were going in to automatic default. The reason: my parents, who had cosigned on the loan 10 yeas ago when I originally took it out, filed bankruptcy because of the losses they took on a home they couldn't sell. It turns out if any signer to a student loan files for bankruptcy the loans automatically go in to default regardless of one's ability or willingness to continue paying according to the terms of the loan. So now both loans go to collection agencies (which will tack on about another $50K in fees and then demand full payment, at which point I have to renegotiate new terms with them and have no nice low student loan interest rate anymore.

    Unfortunately, I am not even an extreme case.

    http://finance.yahoo.com/college-education/article/108846/the-555000-student-loan-burden?mod=edu-continuing_education

    I think we will see a big shift in the next generation, as ours has learned from our mistakes. "Good"debt is still debt that will cripple you until your old age while you pay it back. Unfortunately for many of us of our parents made just too much to qualify for most susbstantive aid programs, but not enough to actually pay for any of the costs of our education.

  8. Shane Says:

    I completely agree with Prudence's idea for the "Ed and Liz Go Wild" account!

    Also, for our generation in particular student loan debt is a huge factor in this equation. When you are spending $1000 a month just to pay off your education, that is a lot of potentially disposable income you are not spending on cars, boats, vacations, etc.

  9. doug Says:

    Ed, you write well enough that many of us often would be willing to pay something. Put the tip jar on the page, man….
    I wanted to say that after your essay a while back on 'success'.

  10. johnnyboy Says:

    Ed, with your following you could put GoogleAds on this blog and make a bit. Just sayin'.

  11. Misterben Says:

    Here's another vote for the Ed and Liz Go Wild" paypal account. I begin each day by reading this blog, along with the editorial columns in the Washington Post and NYT, and most of the time this blog is far better than anything Broder or Dionne (or whoever) have to say. I would gladly toss a few bucks in the jar from time to time.

  12. Hazy Davy Says:

    I complained about the same circumstances, 10 years ago. And I was told I wasn't the first.

    (Also, Intel. We export.)

  13. jeneria Says:

    I'm 33, about to be 34. I am one of the lucky ones. I landed a non-TT (the school doesn't do TT, it's promotion-based) job at an engineering college with my English PhD. My husband, however, has gone from a gainfully employed environmental scientist to adjuncting at the University of Phoenix because we moved right as the recession hit and the city we live in now doesn't have much of an environmental market. It's hard watching him kill himself to get certified to teach online for peanuts.

    Anyway, I remember in 1992-1993 an article projected that we would be the first generation to not have it better than our parents, that we would be the first generation to struggle to reach those American milestones. I've never forgotten that article, but I never thought it would come so true.

  14. displaced Capitalist Says:

    I completely agree with Maren about how the older generation is so out of touch with how tough the economic times are–even when they're on the brink of poverty!

    I recently had a 60-something friend tell me that I (at age 33) should be buying a multi-unit house like he did in the 70s and rent out the other units. He tells me that I can probably get one cheap since he bought one for $10k in 1972.

    Yeah. Right. Lets do the math shall we? According to an inflation calculator I found online, $10k in 1972 is equal to $49k in 2007. Meanwhile the neighborhood that my friend was talking about is still seeing prices in the millions even after the housing bubble burst. $49k != $1,000k.

    The older generation truly doesn't get it.

  15. Kulkuri Says:

    Back in the sixties when I was stationed in Bangor, ME the powers that be didn't want any manufacturing jobs, they wanted to be the retail capital of Maine. What they refused to understand is that for people to have money to buy stuff they need jobs that will pay enough for them to buy stuff. As Sen. Simon said back in the eighties or nineties, "You can't build a sound economy delivering pizzas to each other".

    As for buying a house a lot depends on the location. If the prices aren't ridiculously high, it makes sense to buy a house, but only as a place to live. The bullshit about making enough on a house to finance your retirement ain't going to happen. Also treating the house like an ATM is a recipe for disaster.

  16. John Says:

    And the sad thing about it is, even those of us that aren't in dire straights aren't contributing to the economy out of sheer disgust for the system.

    I'm one of the lucky ones. My parents hammered the importance of education deep enough into my skull that I worked my butt off through high school while everyone else was slacking, and I managed to land enough scholarships, grants, and federal loans to get my 4-year bachelor's in CompSci with only about $12K in student debt — and this I paid off by spending my first post-education year at home with my mother, devoting what would otherwise be rent and utilities costs to paying off those loans so that I could start my adult life debt-free. I then picked up a modest studio apartment with very basic furnishings, and here I am at nearly 24, contributing almost nothing to the economy.

    My car is a 2000 Ford that I'll be running into the ground. When it finally fails on me, I will use my savings to purchase a slightly-used vehicle for cash, outright, and then run that one until it eventually breaks down for good. When I purchase a home, fates willing, it will be a modest $50K to $75K affair that I will also pay cash for — this means I'll be renting into my 30s to build up the base, but I've resigned myself to that. My home-owning friends are always extolling the virtues of getting myself into mortgage debt — just think, the money you're spending on rent will actually be spent on yourself! But I tell them the same thing every time: If I lose my job tomorrow, I am out three months' rent (two notice plus one penalty, about $2K) and can move back in with my mother, if absolutely need be. If I were to get a mortgage and then lose my job, I owe some motherfucker $150K+. I simply refuse to take part in the predatory lending market we've built as a nation. I refuse to line the pockets of men who prey on the poor and gullible. I refuse to be a wage-slave

    But over it all, I'm a pragmatist. There is no such thing as job security any more, and all of my plans are based on the idea that I could lose my job at any moment. With that world view, being in debt is an insane idea unless I have absolutely no other choice. My parents sustain their level of living, slightly above mine, by being buried in credit card debt up to their eyeballs and wondering how they're going to make the bills each month. I live a slightly more modest life that contributes absolutely nothing towards our economic recovery, but I can say that I don't owe anybody anything, and never will.

  17. NYD Says:

    I wonder how things are going to look in fifteen or twenty years, when the boomers are fully and completely out of the picture and generation Unpaid Internship is in the economic driver's seat. There seems to be a 30 – 40% salary premium on having been born in the late forties – early sixties. I am in the same field as my father, with greater credentials, making less than he did at my age (27). And that isn't adjusted for inflation, it's dollar for dollar less.

    He has done well for himself, and I fully expect to reach the same level in my career. But I do not expect to make anything like what he does.

    At least he sees the writing on the wall too. He was telling me when I was 12 that my generation would be the first American generation to see living standards decline.

  18. SeaTea Says:

    My friend is a lovely woman in her early 40's. She makes somewhere around $500k a year as a salesperson for a major software corporation based in Chicago. She didn't need to be super-brilliant, or to have some specialized degree that took her eight years to obtain. She just got into the right line of work and makes a shit-ton of money.

    You're young enough to do whatever you want. If making money and having more power to determine your future is important to you, go back to school and do something about it, or shift your job search into areas where moving up in that way is possible.

    I went back to college when I was 35 part-time while still working full time. Graduated when I was 42. Doubled my salary. It's possible.

  19. Kevin Beasley Says:

    Ed,

    First, I'd like to thank you. Your blog is one of the few things that keeps me sane working the third shift. Second, I agree with your analysis of the situation facing people in their 20s and 30s. There was an article that appeared in The Atlantic on the intersection between the current economic situation and its impact on the up-and-coming generation (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/201003/jobless-america-future) that may be of interest. I thought it did a pretty good job at pinpointing some of my own personal concerns on the issue.

  20. JohnR Says:

    Maren says: "The saddest thing is how out of touch my parents are with our generation's situation." Ah, self-absorbed youth… I'm 51 and my parents are exactly the same. This down-stepping has been going on for a while, for a number of reasons.
    Anyway, I sympathize with your situation, Ed. However, don't fall into the trap of thinking that "us" = "everyone". I gave up doing what I really enjoy doing because it paid dick and I couldn't support a family on it. Now I do a job I often hate and make enough to support a family, take a vacation every 3 or 4 years, go out to eat a couple times a month at the neighborhood diner, and see maybe 3 movies a year at the theater. To tell you the truth, I'm scared about the economy; I've never been so scared. But at least I have a house. And in addition, since I spent the boom years paying down debt instead of diving into the debt pool, I anticipate that I may be able to start saving money for retirement in 5 or 6 years. You can too! Ask me how…
    And hey, throw up a tip jar or a Paypal (ecch) link. It's not 'pan-handling', it's 'payment optional in appreciation of services rendered'.

  21. Jex Says:

    @ John : your big wise plan to avoid debt is to save up enough to buy an impossibly cheap house (that is the price range for buildings missing copper, at least around here) or, failing that, to move back in with your mother, who you admit is already saddled with debt. I'd look into an alternate plan if I were you, parents aren't an eternal resource and cities are razing those cheap properties.

    @SeaTea : I believe that Ed has addressed the "bootstraps, use them" issue in the past. The point of this post is that there is a generation of people who don't even have boots, and what is more, they have given up even really wanting them. Bootstraps are a distant fantasy, like having a pet zebra.

  22. Andrew Says:

    While I do agree with the points made, I guess it's what you make of the situation. Yeah, houses aren't a reality for most people and blah blah blah. It seems like most people's comments are: "I don't buy expensive things because I don't need them. I'm mad because I can't buy expensive things." Check it out, go outside… the sun is still shining and the flowers are still blooming (well, depending on location anyway.) A quote: "To hell with poverty/let's get drunk on cheap wine."

    By the way, I've been reading GaT for a long time now and it seems like it's been getting increasingly negative the past year or so. I'm sorry to hear about your pet passing, that sucks man. I think the only time I've cried in the past 15 years is when my dog died, so I feel ya. None the less, it seems like there's been a permanent rain cloud over this blog for a while now. How about instead of NPF, have "The world's not about to end and something I actually enjoy is happening" Friday. TWNATEASIAEIHF… it's catchy!
    Thanks for the the years of dedicated writing though, it's appreciated!

  23. Misterben Says:

    Reasons to be positive: I actually think our nation will be better off once we go through the current/upcoming period of contraction and decline, and adjust to a more realistic vision of ourselves and our prospects. We've been addled by stupid delusions of grandeur and imagined wealth for so long that we're not seeing things clearly anymore, and we'll be happier and healthier once we shed our delusions, get our house in order, and start seeing our place in the world for what it is.

    Reason to be "negative": Getting from where we are now to the future described above is going to be a long, ugly, difficult, possibly extremely violent and chaotic process. Our leaders – in the public sector, private sector, media, the academy, the arts – are by and large either not telling us the truth, or are themselves deluded. We have a lot of work to do, and it's not going to be easy.

    One of the many reasons I appreciate this blog is that Ed does a great job of telling it like it is, in a straightforward but very well-written way. Ed, please don't give up your incisive commentary in favor of "All Kittens Friday".

  24. Crazy for Urban Planning Says:

    Ed does a good job expressing my feelings. I turn 30 this May and I'm just hoping to have a job by then. I think the problem here is Americans desire to go shopping and accumulate stuff. The short internet movie entitled "the story of stuff" (www.storyofstuff.com/) is quite interesting, the point is we shouldn't define ourselves based on shopping and buying more stuff anymore.

  25. Zamboni Sam Says:

    Ed, I'm with you on all of this.

    However, I do think you're missing an opportunity to make a little extra money. Seriously – throw some google or adbrite ads on your page. It won't be fuck-you money, but I'm sure you could probably use and extra two or three hundred bucks every now and then. Never touch it, just see as your honeymoon fund.

    And I agree with Andrew, you do seem to be pretty negative and cynical these days. But maybe if you were making a little extra scratch from the fruits of your labor here, you might see it differently.

  26. Ed Says:

    I reel at the implication that there was ever a time at which I was positive.

  27. Daniel Says:

    If you are semi-employed like I am or unemployed, go online at Careerbuilder or Monster and look around for jobs. You'll see how truly shitty the job market is when they recommend the same damn jobs you already applied to and got turned down.

  28. Maren Says:

    JohnR says: "Ah, self-absorbed youth." You know, I had to reread your handle a couple of times to make sure you weren't actually my dad (he'd be "JonA"), because he also gave up his dream job, works a job he often hates so he can barely pay his mortgage and support his (second) family while taking vacations every couple of years, and he's freaking miserable and spent every second of my childhood, adolescence, and 20s telling me to choose a different path.

    I know the refrain of every younger generation is "Parents just don't understand." What's especially difficult now, and what the heart of Ed's post seems to be, is that our parents don't fully understand the way the Eisenhower-era dream is crumbling, and that "buy a house while the prices are low!" isn't the greatest advice if you don't want to be saddled with yet more debt and a house you can't resell even at a loss should you need to, because the market is dead. The old paths to success are disappearing — my friend with a law degree from Stanford couldn't get hired for almost a year after graduation because every time he'd get an interview set up somewhere, the firm would dissolve and go into bankruptcy immediately after — and we're having to redefine what success is, period.

    I also feel like I, and others of my age, would be less bitter about our situations if Hollywood/advertising/people in general didn't keep touting all this stuff as hallmarks of a happy and successful life. We were given expectations; we're trying to downshift those expectations in line with reality; and it doesn't help the process when home ownership and boat ownership and fancy car ownership are still considered badges of adulthood.

  29. Crazy for Urban Planning Says:

    bravo daniel! i get so tired of applying for jobs and never hearing anything back from these jerks…

  30. grendelkhan Says:

    buy a new $399 laptop every 18 months when the previous one falls prey to the high quality of its Taiwanese components

    Offtopic, but since I use mostly cheap, previously-owned versions of big-ticket items, I thought I'd add my two cents.

    I get my technology on about a four-year lag plan; I have family members who work in the IT field, so I get old wireless routers, WiFi cards, spare memory, by recycling them rather than buying them outright. I got my current laptop off of eBay for under $250, and, apart from a wireless card that needs replacing, it's running as well as it did when I got it. ThinkPads seem to wear better than the other laptops I've had or worked with; they're not very pretty, but the build quality is excellent–I've never had a hinge fail or any of the surfaces wear down. Usually, after a few months, the finish on the trackpad wears off and the hinges get wobbly. Plus, most of the parts are user-replaceable (better to get a $15 keyboard than a whole new laptop) if you have an eyeglass repair kit and some patience.

  31. moonbat Says:

    On an individual level, Ed, it comes through that you were never really taught about making money. All the people here (and I count myself in this crowd) encouraging you to put up a "Donate" button and maybe run ads – turn this blog, your insights, wit, and writing ability into a trickle of cash – evidently this didn't occur to you. The way you chose your career evidently didn't take into account the probability that money would be tight – a discovery you apparently only recently made.

    I concur with a couple of voices upstream that given your age, talents, and smarts, you could transition into something that would generate a lot more cash, if that's what you want.

    But it all begins with mindset. If you think it's hopeless, then it is – via self-fulfilling prophecy. I encourage you chuck the negativity. One place to start might be reading "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" – which might strike home, as "Poor Dad" was someone who never learned about money, and who dutifully accumulated degrees and climbed the career ladder, trusting that the system would take care of him, only to end up mostly broke.

    But in a generational sense, you are completely on the mark. Over the last few decades, our country has gone through an enormous contraction of opportunity, especially for those who trusted that the system would take care of them, as it mostly did for earlier generations. The crash has only intensified the gutting out of the 1950s American dream – which has already been going on for a few decades.

    This is the time to pull away from the crowd, and the mass helplessness and negativity this crash and contraction of opportunity has engendered. You need a fresh, positive, and creative mindset to see this as an opportunity to exercise the talents you do have. The crowd may go down with the ship, but you don't need to.

  32. displaced Capitalist Says:

    Buy gold and guns Ed! Those are the only currency that will have any value in the New World Order!!

  33. Overlady Says:

    Why Ed, you are not useless to the economy! The "underclass", those who labor long hours for little pay and no security, are the DRIVERS of the economy! The wealth you produce goes right UP the chain to the college administrators and others of higher social rank that you.

    You are very useful.

  34. Ed Says:

    I have expressed many times on here the reasons that I will not have advertising on this thing. Every square inch of modern life is pasted over with advertising. I refuse to contribute to that, and it certainly isn't worth subverting a rather deeply-held principle for the $5 per month I'd make by plastering banner ads everywhere. Not like you're going to click the links to take you to the new Ann Coulter book anyway.

  35. Mike Says:

    Well timed. i'm hearing echoes of Joe Stack's rant in this for sure. Common story.

    http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/02/18/stack.letter.pdf?hpt=T1

  36. Prudence Says:

    "I have expressed many times on here the reasons that I will not have advertising on this thing. Every square inch of modern life is pasted over with advertising. I refuse to contribute to that, and it certainly isn't worth subverting a rather deeply-held principle for the $5 per month I'd make by plastering banner ads everywhere. Not like you're going to click the links to take you to the new Ann Coulter book anyway."

    You have struck the warm fuzzy feeling of faith into my cold atheist heart. Honeymoon fund– make it happen, Ed & Liz!

  37. nate Says:

    I know the refrain of every younger generation is "Parents just don't understand."

    I believe the Fresh Prince said as much, once.

    I don't want to go off on a "fuck the baby boomers" rant (and this is insanely off topic anyway), but I was at a poker party the other night, and the host (maybe 40), put on the Who and everyone got all excited.

    Now, I've got little for or against the Who, but fuck me, how long am I going to have to go through life listening to baby boomer bands? I was born listening to classic rock, have had to hear it everywhere, my whole life, until now I'm pushing middle age, and I swear, I'll probably be in a nursing home breathing my last with "The Long Run" playing.

  38. Maren Says:

    I believe the Fresh Prince said as much, once.

    Hopefully I got that song stuck in your head now, as was my intention. And hopefully you will not breathe your last to the sounds of the Who's 2010 Superbowl concert, which was just painful. Just because you don't look like a walking piece of beef jerky Keith and Mick, Roger Daltrey, doesn't mean you can still sing.

  39. JohnR Says:

    Nah, you don't need ads, Ed – all you need is cash, so just put up some sort of email address we can all use to pop you a little by Paypal. I get enough pleasure out of this site that I'd be happy to drop you a few pesos every now and again – heck, the Rude Pundit clears enough out of me every year to buy a big mess o' Big Macs.
    I'm actually glad you two are sticking to your guns and toughing it out doing things you enjoy; just don't overdo it unnecessarily. There are going to be times when you have to choose between being right and being married; there may also be similar times involving principles. Painful sacrifices are surprisingly often worth it. Anyway, whatever path you take, it's easier as a team.
    Oh, and Maren, do your homework and your chores before you even think about the TV, or you're grounded for a week!

  40. Matt L Says:

    Hey Ed,

    Hang in there man. I'm in my 40s. I thought the same thing when I was in my 30s, in grad school and working as a lecturer. Its Ok, things will get better. Its not going to be the fairytale existence of an R1 2/2, but even those kind of suck. But you'll have a job and you will be able to wake up every morning and look at yourself in the mirror and see the semblance of dignity looking back at you.

    I also went through something similar when I graduated from college in the 1990s. Back then, I lived with my girlfriend in a converted garage and had many temp jobs, including working in a gravel pit. It gets better. You and Liz will be able to afford a house. Start saving for the honeymoon, and go someplace.

    I'm sorry I've ignored most of the other comments. I just wanted to let you know its all OK when you come out on the other side.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  41. jazzbumpa Says:

    Hey, kids – you're talkin 'bout my g-g-generation.

    While I respect the integrity of your anecdotes, we are not all decrepit fossils.

    And If you want something positive, check Bouphonia on Fridays. you'll get an overdose.

    Meanwhile, the economy is in the sewer, and B. Hoover Obama is doing far to little to help. The sad truth is the American dream really did end with my generation. I've known this for decades. But that doesn't make my goddamned fault.

    Good luck, kids,
    JzB

  42. BillCinSD Says:

    I can't think of much worse than working a job I hate to afford a little extra spending and a vacation every couple of years. I mean excluding the truly bad things that can happen.

  43. ElJay Says:

    Hey Shane, if you're reading the comments, see if you can consolidate your student loans before they default. Since you have more than one and presumably have a credit record now, unlike when you took them out, you can probably consolidate them and get your parents off them and keep a decent interest rate, as long as you do it before they actually default. Also avoids the collections mess. If they do default, the first thing you say to the first collections agent you hear from is "I want to consolidate." They'll help you do it, because that way they get paid like they collected the full amount from you.

  44. Patti Says:

    Don't feel bad about the No Honeymoon thing. We spent a day at Holiday World in the week after our wedding. We took a longer trip to Texas months later, after we had opened the envelopes, and I had found a FT job in Indiana, and knew how much we could spend. I like to call this fiscal responsibility. Maybe we'll take a nice trip for our 5th Anniversary…

    When I consider that the Monday after my parents got married, my Grad-Student mother had finals, and my Army Officer father had to be on base at Ft. Knox, it could be worse. Their Hawaiian honeymoon was 2 years later – Dad's R&R from Saigon. I'm not exactly jealous here.

  45. Andrew Says:

    Where I live, you'd be homeless if you only made $25-30K per year. $30K per year of post-tax money is MY HALF of what my wife and I contribute to joint checking just to pay the mortgage, insurance, property taxes, and utilities on our three-bedroom house. Six years ago when we rented we were paying almost $20K annually in rent.

  46. Nan Says:

    You want job security? Suck it up, and start perusing the postings at USAJOBS.opm.gov.

  47. Larkspur Says:

    Like jazzbumpa, I too respect the integrity of your anecdotes (although I admit to being semi-decrepit).

    My life seems weird to me sometimes. I should be a comfortably-situated, obnoxious boomer, but I'm just obnoxious. I'm in late middle age, unmarried, no children. I drive a 1988 Honda Civic, I've lived in the same pleasant but very modest apartment since most of y'all were toddlers. I know my ABCs. I had actual parents. They were strange and alienating, but they were a mother and a father, and there was a roof and meals, but I think that through a combination of various factors I don't totally understand, and wouldn't burden anyone by analyzing, I failed baby boomerhood.

    But I can still prove I'm a boomer, because I'm going to quote Lenin at you. "When the train of history makes a sharp turn, some passengers fall off." For me, this happened in 1970, and basically I've been hiking down the train tracks ever since. I used to think that I hadn't become the person I started out to be, but after many years, I've realized that mythical person wasn't ever going to happen. I AM the person I started out to be.

    When Obama's campaign and election brought Bill Ayers back into the spotlight, I have to tell you I did a lot of reflecting on Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. They are a few years older than me, and god knows THEIR train made some sharp turns, and they fell off, went underground, and worked crap jobs for years before turning themselves in.

    And then they both got back onto the train. They'd gotten married, had children, and after the criminal justice system was done with them, they resumed their educations and turned back into upper middle class professionals.

    Why didn't I? At least a part of the reason is that they inherited an upper class sense of entitlement. And I get it that there's a kind of cultural obtuseness that makes so many Americans operate under the phony assumption that the 1950s were not only ideal, but normal. Every day in every way, things get better and better. Parents have kids and those kids grow up with a little bit more than their parents had, and that's the way it's always been, the end, unless you totally fuck it up.

    Well, no, not exactly. Post WWII is an historical anomaly. It's good to remember that. I've worked hard all my life at a variety of pink and blue-collar jobs. The most I've ever earned was about $50K per year as a paralegal. (I went to night school for the certificate and everything. It was supposed to have been a smart career choice, but things didn't shake out the way I and my colleagues hoped. When times got rough, the law firms economized not by reducing attorneys and relying on cheaper paralegals: they reduced support staff and paralegals, and hired squadrons of nervous young lawyers as contract workers: no benefits and not nearly as much money as lawyers were supposed to make.)

    I have a point and I think I'm getting to it. Okay: sometimes you can work hard and know your ABCs and you still don't score big. I made (or failed to make) my choices, and according to every popular metric I flunked out. But that assumes that the financially comfortable baby boomer consumerist archetype is typical and usual. Maybe it's not so much.

    Anyway: try hard to distinguish what you want from what you think you are supposed to want. Try to keep a sense of historical perspective, because otherwise you blame yourself for not automatically being able to spin straw into gold like everyone else always has. I'm kind of poor, and I don't have much boomer cred, but I'm not in debt, I didn't take anyone down with me, and damn, people: I'm in Northern California and there are wildflowers and late winter waterfalls everywhere.

  48. davidly Says:

    My annual income peaked at 21,000 in my mid twenties. I kept that job for two years and left voluntarily. My income has decreased steadily each year, and now I can boast having everything I need (short of a medical emergency) under 7000 euros per year. Not boasting, but I ain't doin' shit for the economy either. Nor will I place ads on my already google-ized diary.

    Keep it up you guys! We are the only support we got.

  49. Robert Says:

    Wow, this brings up a lot for me. I retired back in January of '09 from twenty-foiur years of Federal civil service (medical retirement), at 48. My husband, who is four years younger, works as a baker, after having had his corporate division was eliminated about two years ago. Our sons are twelve and eight. We actually DO own a house; it's our second one. One car, which is about nine years old. We don't do a lot of expensive things, other than raising children. As a partial result, we have very little credit card debt and the car is paid off. The mortgage (5%, interest only for the next four years) is the big expense.

    And we consider ourselves EXTREMELY fortunate. Back in high school, I would not have foreseen that, approaching fifty, I'd be legally married to my husband, adopted father of two sons, and a homeowner. Makes me realize that any attempt I make to foresee the future my kids will live to see is foredoomed. My dad certainly would not have predicted MY life.

  50. Charles Says:

    Can anybody remember when the times were not hard and money not scarce?

  51. Bum Bag : Says:

    my wireless router at home overheated when i used p2p heavily for 24 hours for the next 25 days ::

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