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Generation Debt: Why Now Is a Terrible Time to Be Young

Generation Debt: Why Now Is a Terrible Time to Be Young

3.5 2
by Anya Kamenetz

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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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 Gener@tion Debt, see review below). It does, however, make clear how imperative it is that we find solutions to these problems as quickly as possible. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Journalist Kamenetz is a 24-year-old Yale graduate who has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for her reporting. But her credentials belie the fact that she's actually a freelancer who can't land a full-time job with benefits. That makes her living proof of the book's thesis-that the economic outlook for today's twentysomethings is far different from that of their baby-boomer parents. Although today's young adults are more likely to be college grads than their parents, that means significantly less in terms of career success or economic stability. With cutbacks in grant funding for college, students are increasingly taking on student loans as well as credit card debt to finance their education. And the shadowy side of the new economy, with its low-wage jobs, unpaid internships, permanent temp assignments, and lack of benefits, offers little to its youthful workers. What keeps Kamenetz's book from devolving into a whiny, angst-ridden rant are the frightening facts about the changing labor market, higher education funding, the federal deficit, and the burden of incurring massive debts to stay afloat in college or launch a career. Interviews with dozens of young workers and students further drive home the point that Gen Y isn't exactly living large. Recommended for public and academic library business collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/05.]-Carol J. Elsen, Univ. of Wisconsin, Whitewater Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Apparently taking out all those school loans and paying for everything with credit cards hasn't been a recipe for generational economic health. A writer for the Village Voice and the Nation, Kamenetz focuses her first book on the increasing economic difficulties of today's American youth. Her primary aim here is to figure out exactly how the baby boomers financially screwed generations X and Y and to describe how the victims are trying to dig themselves out of the holes they're in. She devotes the bulk of her readable though scattershot text to examples of young people trying to get by in an America of diminished employment prospects and little financial security. She identifies many contributing factors: the gargantuan loans necessary for all but the very rich to get a college degree, which often doesn't pay for itself in post-graduation income; the shrinking federal safety net; rampant consumerism fueled by too-easily accessible credit cards with ruinous interest rates. This is worthwhile material, and many readers will feel embarrassed complaining about their own lives after plowing through tales of grinding borderline poverty, but Kamenetz doesn't satisfactorily string it all together. In a closing chapter looking at ways to turn things around, she relies too much on generational optimism and questionable comments, including that home-schooling is a "tremendously empowering and brave" way of avoiding educational regimentation and college debt. Kamenetz is at least able to make the strong point that the young can't look to people in power for help: "It is time for all of us to start living for the future."A decent guide to the coming financial reckoning.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.26(w) x 9.26(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
14 Years

What People are Saying About This

Donald E. Heller
"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."
Associate Professor of Education, Pennsylvania State University, and editor of "Condition of Access: Higher Education for Lower Income Students"

Meet 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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Generation Debt: Why Now Is a Terrible Time to Be Young 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book did a real good job at identifying the problem, but offered little to solve any of them. It is wonderfuld Ms. Kamenetz is able to bring this to the national level. However, if you actually want to find some practical solutions to keeping children away from this debt, you might want to try a book entitled Save Generations Y and Z, it at least offers some suggestions of what can be done to prevent children from accumulating debt.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the book. Kamenetz is an engaging writer who holds the reader's attention. Some of my favorite quotes from the book: 'If you look at where public resources are directed--toward the already wealthy, toward building prisons and expanding the military, away from education and jobs programs--it is easy to see a prejudice against young people as a class.' 'It's hard to commit to a family, a community, a job, or a life path when you don't know if you'll be able to make a living, make a marriage last, or live free of debt.' '. . . a [Social Security] tax cut for high earners today is really a massive tax increase for those whose careers are largely ahead of us.' Kamenetz does a good job describing the obstacles facing young people today. I'm a bit older than her interviewees (depending on which historian you pick, I was born in the last year of the Baby Boom or the first year of the Baby Bust). I certainly don't have much in common with the Vietnam generation. I managed to fall into some of the traps she discusses--I have a big chunk of student loan debt from graduate school, but eight years later I'm making about the same money now as I did before I got that extra degree. Facing twenty or so more years of payments, I agree with Kamenetz' message that young people should think twice before going into debt for their education. Kamenetz does a poor job in diagnosing some of the reasons for young peoples' economic problems. She says nothing about the increase in the U.S. population. The real problem with the Boomers is not that they were especially selfish, but that there were too many of them. The preceding WWII generation came home from the war with the idea that they deserved a happy suburban family life in return for their wartime sacrifices. They assumed the party was going to last forever, and that they could invite as many new people as they wanted. The result is they had lots of kids, and also let in enormous numbers of new immigrants. Unfortunately, all those extra people have meant big declines in quality of life. The Generation X and Yers are now having to deal with reduced expectations, because there just isn't enough land or resources for them to live like their parents or grandparents. Kamenetz misses the boat on some economic questions. She is puzzled by the recent jobless recovery, where there has been consistent economic growth but no new jobs created. The truth is that there was no recovery. The economic growth the government is so proud of giving us is nothing but the product of poor economic reporting. Economic growth is conventionally measured by GDP, which doesn't include any corrections for population growth, depletion of natural resources, pollution costs, or decline in the quality of life. More accurate economic measures such as the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW), show that there has been little or no real economic growth since the 1970s. Kamenetz is too optimistic about the potential for economic growth in the future, as well. The next decade or so is likely to bring serious economic problems in the U.S., as we pass the global oil peak. For more on this, I would suggest reading Kunstler's 'The Long Emergency.' Kamenetz is naive on the subject of health care. She proposes a national health care system, but that would not address the real problem. Having insurers pay for most health care costs has decoupled doctors from financial reality. The result is that a huge percentage of our health care dollars go to pay for heroic care for people who are terminally ill and in their last few months of life. Medicare has made this problem worse, by making taxpayers pay to insure people that private insurers would never be able to offer affordable policies to. I don't see any way to stop this runaway train other than to get rid of Medicare altogether. I know it sounds harsh, but the market is the best way to regulate who gets health care and who does not. Kamenetz nee