I remember being at a study where somebody told me that it was a choice to go to college. After that study, I told one of my co-workers this, and she responded, “A choice? Everyone told me that I was going!” That is more of the impression that my classmates and many other peoples’ classmates had: college was a necessity, regardless of the area of study. Few people discussed trades, and even fewer people talked about avoiding college altogether. Programmers were the only types of people who avoided college, but that was supposedly because they were brilliant. Blurring the line between Generation X and Millennial were thousands of people who were told that school was the answer to wealth, or at least stability.
After college, all of us struggled to find employment. Suddenly, all those people who told us that “all we had to do was go to college” were eagerly smirking that we had no experience, that we were lazy, and that our majors were worthless. We graduated thousands of dollars in debt, but were sold cars and houses. No one would hire us, but everyone was offering unpaid internships and temp jobs. It became clear to us that most of the advice we received was designed to keep us deeply in debt without offering a clear way out. Our credit deteriorated, but people began to rely on it, especially for graduates of color.
The next steps were even more fraught. Marriage? Even dating cost money, and many of us were barely doing well to be able to afford our student loans. Most of the low wage jobs we were able to secure without experience left little for the necessities, and made many of the choices for us. If we were in unhealthy relationships, we stayed there because we knew that the cost of living would steadily rise. Health? We were lucky if we had any health insurance, and many of us attempted to travel to other countries where we might have healthcare. Consequently, dental care was one of the few “luxuries” that many of us gave up based on the cost of even preventative treatment.
Many returned to school. For years, people would return to school to acquire law degrees or masters’ degrees in business administration, and take on even more debt. Becoming a doctor was an aspiration for several people, but the cost meant that not everyone was able to be a doctor. Positions disappeared all the time based on employers’ insistence that everyone could work harder instead of hiring more positions. Stress would take its toll on relationships, but we needed to pay off the extensive debt from even more schooling.
Finally, our neighborhoods began to look different. Instead of children running up every corner, there were more pets than children. Since the nation assigned inherent worth to nuclear families, more people, espec began to refer to their pets as “children” to avoid being seen as irresponsible, which could mean the difference between promotions or new jobs. More people remained single, and there was a glamorization of what was really the result of not having enough money to invite someone to share life. No one could afford houses anymore, so everyone began to rent.
In some ways, these changes are not bad. After all, more people are becoming roommates again, meaning that the stigma of living with someone without being married is diminishing. Because nuclear families are decreasing, there is a shared sense of responsibility for people who might live alone or who might not have family living nearby. Most importantly, people are refusing to fall for the next big fad in training. Even though older people are suggesting trades, we have seen that show before, and we steer clear. The future will look much less like the past, and we are ready to see what those communities look like, not imitating an unsustainable reality.