Strapped - Why America's 20- and 30- Somethings Can't Get Ahead
I just finished a very interesting book by Tamara Draut. Strapped - Why America's 20- and 30- Somethings Can't Get Ahead explained in precise detail some of the challenges my family has faced while trying to get out on our own, start a family and basically just get ahead financially. We have struggled every step of the way and even now in our upper 30's we still don't feel as if we have arrived financially. I thought it was just us. According to Draut, I'm wrong. Life is extremely hard for young people trying to make it on their own.
One of the biggest reasons why America's young adults can't seem to make it on their own is the cost of a college education. If they can figure out a way to get started and finish college, they typically do so with a massive pile of debt to show for it. But yet more than ever, a college education is very much needed if you want a decent job. But these decent jobs don't come with a high enough salary to pay back the debt. Even after obtaining the all important college degree, young adults find themselves hanging on by a shoestring trying to pay back their student loans. That is if they can find a job. On page 10 Draut says that
"Compared to older workers, young adults are more likely to be unemployed, hold part-time jobs or work as temps. Almost half of temp agency workers are in the 18-34 age group."
Those young adults that do not have a college education have it even worse. On page 29 Draut states that
"Nowadays, entering the real world with only a high school diploma is like going into battle armed with only a squirt gun."
Draut goes into great detail how difficult it is for young adults to quit relying on their parents. It is very expensive to live on your own and starting a family has been delayed so much for people that nowadays there are many people who don't start to think about having a baby until they are pushing 40. My guess is that is about 15 years later than previous generations. Older generations think this is because Generation X is so career oriented. But in reality, according to Draut, it is because they can't afford it.
More and more young adults are delaying leaving the nest so that they can get on their feet, so to speak. It is difficult to find a job and if you are able to, the low pay and high cost of health insurance, combined with student loan debt, makes it almost impossible to afford the rent of living by yourself. So you end up sharing an apartment well into your 30's - something previous generations did not do.
Another big issue that Draut sees as why young adults can't get ahead is politics. It is well known that my generation and younger have not taken an interest in politics, and typically don't even vote. The Baby Boomer generation out numbers us big time. In 2000 the eligible young-voter population made up only a fifth of all eligible voters. Compare this to the baby boomers - when they made up the young-voter population they were a third of all eligible voters (p197).
Most of the elected officials are baby boomers and they are not connecting with young adults. Not only that, they are changing the government to meet their needs as they age, not the needs of young people. Because young adults typically don't vote, they don't have much pull when it comes to laws. If we want government to help young adults (with funding for education or higher minimum wages for example) then we have to make our needs heard and start pushing the elected officials to meet our needs.
Strapped sums up what I have been feeling for years - it is hard to get ahead in America. While I found this book very interesting, it was also somewhat confusing as Draut jumped back and forth comparing numbers from the 1970s with numbers from the 1990s and 2000s. She didn't always compare the numbers the same way and it was hard to follow. Draut has a fairly good plan at the end of the book that could potentially solve some of the problems young American's face. It will be interesting to watch over the next decade to see if any of these ideas come to fruition. Overall, this book made me feel not so alone in our struggles, which I really appreciate. Strapped is definitely worth reading, if only to try to change your own outcome in life.