A little--perhaps a lot--of sympathy may be in order here. Our kids--the young adults coming out of college and graduate school--are drowning in debt and a lot of other woes that ripple out from that. "It's a very different world than 20 yrs ago" says Nancy Molitor, a clinical psychologist who practices in the Chicago area. "Parents in their 50s and 60s don’t have any idea of the stress their children are under."
There's some $1 trillion outstanding student debt floating around out there. Molitor, who's also Public Education Coordinator for the American Psychological Association, saw the face of that debt up close and personally when she was a speaker at a seminar for graduate students in psychology. She asked the 150 students attending the seminar for a show of hands: How many of them had debt from college and graduate school? All hands went up. She then broke it down: How many had debt of $50,000 or less. Roughly 1/3 raised their hands. How many had debt of $100,000 or less? Another 1/3 raised their hands. When she upped it to $150,000, another 1/3 put up their hands. When she asked about debt above $150,000, ten hands shot up.
That's a lot of money to owe when you're getting out of graduate school and can't find a job--or can't find one that pays enough to start whittling down that debt. But psychology isn't the only field where young people are under stress. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, opportunities for college and graduate school graduates have tightened and are almost at a point of diminishing return. It is no wonder, Molitor says, that a lot of the young adults she sees feel "bamboozled." And a lot of them, she adds, turn their anger on their parents--for sheltering them from the harsh realities, for leading them to believe that doing well in college would mean a good job, a worthwhile career, a house and a life style similar to their parents. "They feel let down, she says.
It's also one of the reasons they're delaying marriage and are unwilling to start their own families. "These young adults feel like the debt is saddling them," Molitor reports. "It affects every decision they make. When you have debt you can’t take risks."
It's a point Daniel Burrus, futurist and author of Flash Foresight, riffs on as well. As he sees it, kids aren't being guided properly. They're going to college and majoring in things, like philosophy, that will never lead to a job. His solution: better guidance counseling, better education about school debt versus level of diploma versus job opportunity.
So where do we parents come into this? Certainly, we can help with the guidance and whether our particular children need to give up philosophy and concentrate on accounting or whether they--make that we--can afford to have them study disciplines that will enhance their critical thinking skills but not necessarily outfit them for a job in today's market.
Is there a parallel between the present crisis Burrrus and Molitor have observed, and a decade ago when the post 9/11 economy threaten to tank? George Bush famously offered his solution to the problem: Go shopping. Would that the solution to today's economic woes and job collapse were as simple as that. But maybe the fix is a variation on that theme: If we and our 401k plans can help our college and grad students reduce that debt, go pay it.