I've been hearing the statistics for awhile now, and being about halfway between Generation X and Generation Y, I can look both backwards and forwards. I have noticed what the New York Times just recently wrote about: The tendency for Generation Y to eschew driver's licenses, to stay put, and to live at home. Interestingly, Todd and Victoria Bucholtz, who wrote the article, see this as a negative thing — a really problematic factor for both this generation's and America's prosperity.
I disagree. I think this lower-mobility generation is a positive change and a harbinger for a more community-minded, greener future. Because the Gen Y kids I know are no less passionate and excited about what's next — they just want to build it at home.
First, the most obvious point — that kids aren't moving out of the family home until later and later ages. In the NYTimes, they report, "According to the Pew Research Center, the proportion of young adults living at home nearly doubled between 1980 and 2008, before the Great Recession hit." If we can't totally attribute this to the economy, as they point out, perhaps the explanation has nothing to do with economics.
Maybe it's because for the first time in generations, parents and kids genuinely understand each other better and want to spend time with each other. Which I would think most people see as a good thing, something that parents of this Generation Y have been really striving for. Who wants to slave away for years to afford to raise a couple of kids, pay mountains of cash for college and then have the progeny move across the country and only speak to you once a month because they can't stand you?
The authors critique the younger generation for not wanting to move a few states away for better jobs and "opportunities" (defined in pure economic terms), but what if we all stopped moving around for a better paycheck and made our home towns, cities and states more like places we want to live? What if we like where we live, the community we are a part of, and we don't want to leave it all behind in the name of "upward mobility"? Seems like plenty of kids have seen their parents strive to make more money at the cost of the elders' health and sanity and are saying "no thanks." That makes them smart, not unambitious.
And is everyone owning — and driving — a car really such a great thing? This new generation gets that the answer is no (and technology means that people young and old can organize, learn and communicate better than ever before, sans the massive carbon emissions that come with random moves in order to do such things). According to the Times, "Back in the early 1980s, 80 percent of 18-year-olds proudly strutted out of the D.M.V. with newly minted licenses, according to a study by researchers at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. By 2008 — even before the Great Recession — that number had dropped to 65 percent. Though it’s easy to blame the high cost of cars or gasoline, Comerica Bank’s Automobile Affordability Index shows that it takes fewer weeks of work income to buy a car today than in the early 1980s, and inflation-adjusted gasoline prices didn’t get out of line until a few years ago."
Could it be that today's young adults are understanding the foolhardiness, unhealthfulness and social isolation that car culture brings — and are rejecting it? If the next generation grows up investing more of their time and energy into public transportation, community spaces like gardens and sports fields, and less into single-minded acquisition of a car so that they can drive around and not interact with anyone they don't know, then I say, good for them.
What do you think? Is Generation Y unambitious and anti-mobility, or just community-minded and environmentally savvy?
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