Things aren’t looking good for millennials. Tied up in the “American dream” is an assumption that you’ll do better than your parents, but those of us between the ages of 18 and 34 are predicted to be the first generation to actually do worse financially. Time Magazine recently boiled down some depressing figures from a U.S. Census Bureau report. According to the article, “millennials are worse off than the same age group in 1980, 1990 and 2000″ when looking at median income, leaving home, employment, and poverty.
In Disinherited: How Washington is Betraying America’s Young, Diana Furchtgott-Roth and Jared Meyer systematically explain how current policies and laws are hurting the youngest workers. This book isn’t simply a rant against the baby boomers and Washington, instead it is a carefully thought-out, heavily researched examination of the concerns that millennials face and what can be done to eliminate these issues. One of my favorite quotes from the book summarizes the theme: “Time and time again, Washington has shown its unwillingness to tackle the main moral and economic issues facing the nation. The longer our leaders delay, the harder it will be to undo the damage wrought by economic policies that are betraying America’s young.”
Disinherited is broken down into four parts: “Stealing from the Young to Enrich the Old,” “Keeping Young People Uneducated,” “Regulations that Cripple the Young,” and “Where To from Here?” The chapters are a healthy mix of stats and figures, charts, and anecdotal evidence. For example, a chapter on problems in primary and secondary education, while it backs up points with numbers, offers a lot more anecdotal evidence and interviews with specific individuals than some other chapters. I prefer more of this evidence, but more numbers-oriented people will certainly be satisfied as well.
Something I really appreciated is that the authors are careful to avoid ad hominem attacks. While the subject of the book is how the young of America are at a disadvantage, it does not blame an entire generation of baby boomers, nor specific politicians, or even any one political party. When talking about specific policies, it does name names, but never accuses these politicians of malicious intent, nor does Disinherited personally attack them. In the introduction to the book, the authors say that “while the problem is bipartisan in nature, the solution is, too.” The book accurately lists issues that come from both sides of the aisle, again, focusing on the issues, instead of specific people or parties. It does not praise the current administration, but does acknowledge that it “inherited problems.” Bad policies often come from good hearts, not spiteful or self-serving intentions. Too often emotional subjects, like many of those found in the book, bring out nasty language and accusatory statements. The authors understand that many of these policies hurting millennials come from genuinely good hearts and people who, unfortunately, did not foresee the long term consequences of their policies.
The chapters each have a consistent layout of problem, cause, and solution. I was the most interested in chapter 4, titled “Drowning in College Debt.” It offers a good example of how Furchtgott-Roth and Meyer lay out each chapter.
They start with a problem: young people are graduating with exorbitant debt—averaging $25,000—and have to put off milestones like starting a family, buying a house… etc.
They go into the multifaceted cause of this crisis: Government spending on “Pell grants, student loans, and tax credits” was initially intended to make education easier for low-income students, but may have actually raised the cost of higher education for everyone. Creating more financial aid has enabled schools to raise tuitions and government loans with low rates and high acceptance have increased the demand for a higher education. Many high school counselors do not encourage students to attend trade schools or community colleges. There is an extremely high emphasis put onto following your passions, regardless of considering the labor market demand of someone with that skillset. Certainly, students should be allowed to pursue their dreams, but with a clear understanding of what life after graduation will look like.
After dropping all this unhappy information, the chapter does suggest some solutions. It began by describing Berea College, a school with no tuition. Students all have to work a certain number of hours, but can graduate completely debt free. The chapter also discusses the reforms to financial aid that President Obama has called for—aid received would be directly tied to the institution’s ranking, giving the institution proper incentives: “The ranking would be based on their tuition costs, scholarships awarded, outstanding loan debts, graduation and transfer rates, and graduates’ earnings and career prospects.” Also suggested was amending interest rates for student loans:
Currently the same interest rate of 4.66 percent for direct undergraduate loans applies to everyone regardless of future career prospects. Tying the rate paid to past academic performance—in high school, community college, or university—would provide an incentive for students to pick schools that better fit their skills, potential, and ability to pay. The rate should also depend on what major students select, because choice of major correlates with repayment potential.
Whether you agree or not with the authors’ suggested causes and solutions to the problems, they give solid reasoning why they came up with what they did. They pull information from many different sources, not just one organization or even one ideology. Their graphs are clearly labeled with sources cited.
While there is a lot of data and research, Disinherited is a fairly easy and short read at 128 pages. The introduction to the book is tremendously helpful as it summarizes each chapter in one paragraph. If you don’t have time to read the entire book or if there are only one or two subjects you’re interested in, it’s worth reading the introduction and then skipping to the chapter you need. However, I recommend reading it all because there were a lot of issues I learned about that I never would have discovered on my own. The book deals with a lot of unhappy themes and sometimes seems very negative about the current state of America, but Meyer and Furchtgott-Roth do offer common sense solutions to each problem they address, never leaving the reader completely without hope.
Disinherited: How Washington is Betraying America’s Young is available from Encounter Books on May 12.