The Economic Sufferings of the Young

The Economic Sufferings of the Young
(Unseen Studio/
Jeffrey A. Tucker

I saw an acquaintance packing up a pickup truck outside his apartment building.

“Moving out?” I asked.

“Yes, going to save some money.”

“Oh, if you don’t mind my asking, where is a cheaper place?”

“Mom and Dad.”

Yikes, OK, now I get it. Here’s a 30-year-old man with a good job and prospects for the future. But he has a huge student debt, and, like everyone, is faced with the terrible inflationary shift of the past few years. He has spent the past year struggling to make ends meet but then has nothing left over for any travel, entertainment, going out with friends, and so on. In other words, every bit of money goes toward paying for the essentials.

This situation is hardly unusual these days, but it was a rarity in the past. It makes no sense from the point of view of pretty much any successful 30-year-old in the whole of U.S. history. He’s not really in a position of being truly independent and so is defaulting back to living with his parents like he’s 16.

This situation affects millions of young people under the age of 30. They face a situation today that’s completely unlike anything I encountered when I graduated from high school. The world in those days, in the mid-1980s, is something unimaginable to young people today.

I took it all for granted. I left high school at 17 and immediately got my own apartment, and with a full-time job and a side gig, paid for my tuition, books, rent, groceries, and never once felt a sense of suffering. Sure, I had to budget carefully, but that trained me well, too. And I never again had to ask my parents for financial help.

That story is impossible to repeat in our time. Impossible. When I was young, half the kids worked in jobs and gained experience with business, customers, bosses, and bank accounts. Today, only one-third do. That means that vast numbers of kids graduate from college with absolutely no idea how the world actually works. They meet a terrible and bracing reality.

And the past several years have made matters far worse.

Just consider the first point of reference here. At 17, I easily got an apartment. I didn’t have some high income or a great credit score. But it was never an issue. Find a place at the right price and move in. Done.

These days—and there’s no particular reason you would know this—that’s utterly impossible. The credit standards for getting an apartment lease are over the top. You need two months rent plus deposit plus a verifiable income stream (after taxes and debt payments) many times your rent, plus a strong credit score, which requires some financial experience and a credit card. These days, it’s highly unlikely that anyone who just graduated from college will have all that.

That means that they must rely on a co-signer on the lease, meaning, of course, mom and dad, who suddenly face a $24,000 liability should anything go wrong. It also makes the young person wholly beholden to the parents, who have a strong financial interest in how the kid is spending money. In other words, despite having a college degree and a decent job, they’re not independent, not even at 24, or even at 30, because not much changes over six years with the level of indebtedness today.

Why has this happened? Two words: rent moratoriums. They were imposed by the CDC in 2020. People cheered as landlords were robbed. Now, here we are, with landlords super strict about vetting every aspect of the lives of new tenants. This is a consequence. That’s what you get when you game the market and pillage entrepreneurs. The revenge has seriously harmed the young.

None of this was an issue when I was young. It was completely normal that a 17-year-old would be gone from the house and independent, provided he or she is hard working and scrupulous about spending. Today, this is utterly crazy for anyone from the middle class who has college aspirations.

And let’s just talk about college itself. It’s nutty expensive, and there’s no way that a job can cover tuition. That means either you have to have rich parents, or you take out vast loans, which tie you down for many years after graduation with no real professional flexibility. It’s like a ball and chain.

And what do you get for it? That’s increasingly unclear. In most professions today, career advancement requires industry certifications plus experience. I’m sure you have met countless young people who say that their four years and the degree feel like a complete waste of time. Indeed, TikTok is filled with people complaining about this very fact.

And it’s not just a waste. It’s an enormous opportunity cost even aside from the financial expense. That’s four years of lost professional experience. In fact, the experience of college is mostly a way of untraining people for professional work. It gets young people used to a life of booze, parties, and pharmaceuticals designed to make all-nighters easier. True story: Many kids get out of college today with serious drug addictions, and that includes weed (if you think weed is harmless, you’re lying to yourself).

The past four years have made all of these trends vastly worse, to the point that young people today, who had to endure the absurdities of lockdowns during college plus the baloney of Zoom school, have had their lives drained of hope. They simply can’t see a way around all the barriers that have been put up to their success. Parents want to help but are at a loss as to the way to help their 20-somethings find a path to attainment.

It’s valuable to think about this generation as the Biden administration and media propagandists go on today about the glorious prosperity and labor situation in this country. The truth is that government policies of a huge range and variety have utterly wrecked economic prospects for a whole generation of the middle class. Only the rich can survive in this environment.

It’s a bitter irony that this is taking place today in a time when hardly anyone wants to talk about it. This dreadful experience has shaped a whole generation: the leaders of tomorrow. Are they being prepared to become responsible adults in a world of freedom or to become the shock troops for a new experiment in socialism? This is a major concern. Their education has denied them access to the main pillars of the Western tradition and replaced them all with a bunch of woke gibberish.

Let’s not end on a down note. There are still huge opportunities out there for young people who are hard working, outgoing, financially scrupulous, creative, and not addicted to substances. If all of that is true of you, you have every advantage. You can win this game. The tragedy is that these conditions pertain to such a tiny minority, whereas this used to be the common experience of most people in their 20s. Times have dramatically changed with new challenges and accumulating tragedies.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Jeffrey A. Tucker is the founder and president of the Brownstone Institute, and the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press, as well as 10 books in five languages, most recently “Liberty or Lockdown.” He is also the editor of The Best of Mises. He writes a daily column on economics for The Epoch Times and speaks widely on the topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.