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November 03, 2021

Has a "Lost Generation" been created among young workers?

For ambitious kids graduating universities these days, the message they’re getting is somewhere between “The world sucks” and “No, really. The world sucks. Run and hide while you can.”

But joking aside, there are legitimate concerns for the future of twentysomethings – grads on the hunt for promising work being forced to settle for much less.

To many, this might be a case of earning your stripes. BusinessWeek, however, disagrees.

Indeed, growing up in the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression has its pitfalls, but the news outlet wonders if its fallout might be creating a kind of “Lost Generation” among young professionals who’ve been tossed by the recession’s wayside.

As the magazine puts it, “the most enduring harm is being done to young people who can’t grab onto the first rung of the career ladder.”

It does stand to wonder, then, just how deep and long-lasting the damage being done here is.

In the U.S., for example, the unemployment rate among 16-to-24-year-olds is up around 18% -- a significant spike from 13% a year ago.

How long that will last is anyone’s guess, but the concern here is what will happen when today’s young jobless finally do find the opportunity to work.

BusinessWeek speculates there will be rampant dissatisfaction for the working world, brought on by the jading of the very demographic that’s supposed to be our future.

“You’re going to have multiple generations fighting for the jobs that are going to come back in the recovery,” one source says, noting twentysomethings are likely to be even more upset when they find any new education they received while waiting out the downturn might not be worth much for entry-level positions.

Now, again, it’s easy to sit here and say, “Tough luck, kids. Life ain’t easy, but you’ll survive.”

Yet consider the effect an idled youth has on employers, too. The vital, go-get-‘em attitude brought on by would-be star workers is missing in many of today’s businesses.

And, you could argue industry might develop elements of contentment with payrolls existing of mainly older, complacent employees.

What’s more, there’s a lesson to be learned by countries that’ve been down this path before.

According to BusinessWeek, Japan is a good example. When the country’s severe downturn hit in the early ‘90s, many young workers couldn’t find jobs. Now, those employees (today in their 30s) account for 6 in 10 reported cases of depression, stress and work-related disabilities in Japan.

I know, this is a lot to take in. But you can also see there might be some fire to this smoke.

So what do you think? Is the concept of a “Lost Generation” really that far off and, if not, how lasting is the harm being done here?

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...