The Social Struggle of Our Time

Every generation is, in part, defined by social struggle. The 1950's and '60's witnessed the Civil Rights Movement while '80's and '90's grappled with issues regarding gay rights and abortion. Of course, these issues are not limited to a particular time frame. But as the baby-boomers move toward retirement, their children are in their early years of their political and social journey. This raises the question of what will be the defining struggle of Generation Y as it comes of age?

It is impossible to predict with any degree of certainty the next 50 years. Nevertheless, the preeminent social issue of our generation has emerged – the survival of the middle-class.

The middle-class has long been the engine that propels the American Dream; the driving force seeking the promise of upward mobility. However, this force has been paralyzed and is at risk. If we look carefully at current trends and events, we realize that we are entering the social struggle of our time.

First, the federal government is running a projected $1.6 trillion deficit in 2011 while the national debt has eclipsed $14 trillion. With the extension of the Bush-era tax breaks, many economists believe the financial situation will creep even further into the red. Eventually, something has to give and someone has to pay.    

Next, the student-loan debt has surpassed that of credit cards. In June of 2010 Americans owed approximately $826.5 billion in revolving credit while outstanding student loanst totaled just over $829 billion. It is estimated that one-third of federal student loan debt has accrued in the last four years. Couple these figures with the exponential rise in college tuition. This year the average tuition, room and board at an in-state public school reached $16,000 while private schools topped $37,000. In other words, student debt is only going to increase.     

But a college degree is synonymous with a good job, right? Not necessarily. Look carefully and we see the economy growing in two areas. On one side, high-paying jobs that demand a lot of education; jobs in the medical field and the upper-echelons of science and business are gaining. These jobs require expensive education. On the other hand, low-wage service jobs that don’t need much education are also gaining. Most recently, McDonalds ‘Hiring Day’ in which the company sought to add 50,000 new employees in a single day, is an example of this. While corporations boast of growing jobs, recognize they are being added at opposite ends of the spectrum leaving a void in middle-class job production.

How do we address this issue? To start, politicians can begin debating these troubling facts as statesmen rather than bickering along party lines – a tall order, no doubt. Next, it is necessary to have an honest conversation about the affordability and value of higher education. Young Americans owing tens of thousands of dollars upon graduation isn’t promoting a healthy middle-class. Finally, it is in our best interest to innovate a new era of domestic manufacturing. No matter how hard we try we aren’t going to consume our way out of this problem. 

However, this only touches the surface and is by no means a comprehensive solution. Have you one, I urge you to weigh on the matter. It’s imperative that a real discussion begin

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons