Are Generational Differences Turning from a Gap into a Chasm?

Samuel  J. Scott is a “pissed-off Gen Y.”  At first blush, you might just write him off as a young, whining, immature, and unindustrious kid.  But after a brief look at his bio, you will likely take pause at what he has accomplished to date in his young life.  So why is he so angry?

Scott, like many Gen Y and Gen X, are frustrated by the lies they’ve been sold and the economic plight they’ve been delivered.  A recent Pew Research Center report suggested that the generational gap, despite being the widest in 40 years, is more subdued than the rift that the Baby Boomers experienced with their parents.  But “more subdued” infers a sense of unwarranted complacency.  “Subdued” doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the feelings of resentment are less intense.  In fact, the longer this recession drags on and Baby Boomers hang on to their jobs, inter-generational differences will likely widen from a bridgeable gap to a disruptive chasm.

If Scott’s resentment offers even a glimpse of how other Gen X and Gen Y feel, employers (and politicians) are in for the biggest challenge of their lives.   After reading a few of Scott’s comments (below), I can’t help feeling some empathy with Scott and his cohorts.  

We were told that everyone needed to go to college to have a good life, so we gladly took out tens of thousands of dollars in student loans to get a bachelor’s degree. When we saw that we had no competitive advantage because everyone else had a bachelor’s degree as well, we took out tens of thousands of dollars in additional loans for a master’s degree. Now, we have tens upon tens of thousands of dollars in debt by the time we are thirty, but we see that plumbers and mechanics are earning more money than we do.

We are dismayed that people who stupidly took out mortgages that they could not afford are getting assistance from the government, but no one will ever help us with our student loan payments. In fact, the government even amended bankruptcy laws so that student loans are now prevented from being erased in bankruptcy proceedings.

We have jobs for which we probably didn’t even need the college degrees in the first place.

We work for companies that are cutting our health insurance, no longer offering pensions or retirement plans, and constantly thinking about shipping our jobs to India or China, and we will probably never have Social Security because the program will be bankrupt.

We see that Baby Boomers are refusing to retire and allow us to obtain higher-level positions in companies so we can now afford homes, families, and student-loan payments.

We are disheartened that government officials are always criticizing violence and sex in movies, television and video games when the most immoral actions are always occurring in the White House and the halls of Congress.

Baby Boomers – what do you think? Is Scott whining or just speaking the truth? 

Gen X and Gen Y – does Scott speak for you?  Are Baby Boomers the villains or the scapegoat of Scott’s wrath?

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14 Responses to “Are Generational Differences Turning from a Gap into a Chasm?”

  • Thank you very much for plugging my post. I will be curious to see what your readers think.

    And, just for the record: I’m not really Generation Y. I was born in 1980, so I am sandwiched between X and Y. I have the cynicism of Generation X and the technical know-how of Y. I wonder what that means…

    Again, thanks for the plug! I have been enjoying your blog as well.

  • Ira Wolfe:

    You’re right…you are a “tweener”, on the cusp between X and Y. Great insight.

  • That’s why Gen Y will have to “save the world” – not just on the level of our crumbling American infrastructure…we’re talking problem-solving and paradigm shifting to save our planet and humanity. Why gripe about the small stuff? Your generation will really have to take the leap – and maybe you were born for that?

  • Ira Wolfe:

    Lea, I agree but just to keep the record straight….I’m a Boomer, too. I just empathize a great deal with Gen Y. I just don’t believe we were very good stewards.

  • Jenn:

    I completely agree. I’m a Jennifer from 1971 (there are a ton of us….) and notice that many Boomers are not retiring (probably because of the economy) which means that it’s extremely difficult to find good leadership positions.

  • Ira Wolfe:

    Yes, “Love Story” was certainly a baby boom for Jennifers. My Jennifer, one of the “ton,” was born in 1973!

  • I concur with Sam Scott. I am a Gen Xer, just turned 41. I have been held back in promotions because 65 year old principals won’t retire and don’t know how to run 21st century schools. So not only am I getting the screws, but the youngest Gen Yer’s are getting screwed by not receiving the education they now need to take over this world in 20+ years. It’s a little backwards.

  • On one hand, I’m very sympathetic to what Scott says, as a 1973er myself. Because of work I did with the Department of Labor, I have discovered that many people CAN forgo a 4 year degree. This is not to say post-secondary education isn’t needed but pushing people into debt for a four year degree is NOT the only option.

    Unfortunately, we’ve placed so much emphasis on it that we have inadvertently devalued a bachelor’s degree in the process. I see dramatic evidence of this in job postings for administrative assistant positions that require bachelor’s degree. If I were to recommend anything to the Gen Yers, it would be go to a community college, pick up some practical skills for a fraction of the cost and worry about a bachelor’s degree later.

    With respect to the boomers, what he/we are experiencing is not indefinite. There is an unavoidable demographic cliff coming and there is going to be a massive shortage of talent. For all the resources boomers have sucked up during their ‘tenure,’ they haven’t managed to obtain immortality.

  • Sandy Williams:

    I concur somewhat with Sam Scott about the general state of things (the bad mortgages, the outlook for social security and declines in the platform of benefits being provided by employers); however, I hope that his backhanded swipe at the careers chosen by those who are skilled plumbers and mechanics was just an unfortunate comment. The truly valuable skill sets are those that we all need. This clearly includes my favorite plumber and the mechanic that keeps my car running. I would like to remind Mr. Scott that there isn’t a product (including our beloved laptops) that didn’t move at one time or another on a truck – so the truck drivers of the world get a big clap on the back from me. Mr. Scott is right about one thing, not everyone should go to college, we need options in education that would provide preparation (or certification) in skill sets that are utilized now such as plumbers, mechanics, CNAs, etc. If the current education system and propaganda about the need to get a college education doesn’t shift with the times, we will have even more college educated individuals out there fighting for jobs that Mr. Scott pointed out don’t even require a degree.

  • Richard J. Kennedy:

    Throughout history the key determinants of success in any one era have regularly change. A thousand years ago, how far you got depended almost exclusively on who your daddy was (still doesn’t hurt). Next up, the game changer was how much land you controlled.

    It has only been in the last one hundred years that the level of education that one attains has largely decided how far one can go. Most of the typical office jobs that people go into today do not require a four year degree to perform. Our grandparents did them just fine with only a high school education.

    When the demand for more of something occurs, in this era that something being formal education, the quality of that thing that is in demand generally goes down. (Getting a master’s degree online is an example.)

    The era of more formal education meaning more income may well be now ending. This process has actually been underway for awhile: the recession of 1981 – 1982 was the first one during which newspaper editors enjoyed publishing stories of people with PhDs driving cabs.

    Reality is that, excluding the element of luck, the main differentiators between material success and failure are what they should be: hard work, hustle, interpersonal skills, vision and, the single most important one of all, force of will. Nothing can beat sheer determination. My observation on this point is not an original one.

    Boomer, Gen X or Gen Y, it makes no difference – just because someone has sat on their butt in a classroom for four or six more years than someone else, why should that alone guarantee them a prosperous future?

    Richard J. Kennedy (for the record I have a BAS and an MBA)

  • Suzanne Caubet:

    We are all in this together, if Boomers don’t continue to work, the subsequent generations will end up supporting them. The wealth that Boomers generate and compile will someday belong to the next generations. Many of us are still working because we are supporting younger folks and older folks.

    But this does open up an important topic about higher education and the value versus the cost. I don’t have time right now to dig up the citation but the price of an education has increased more than 100 times over the last 50-60 years and it has certainly not yeilded that much gain.

  • Although, I empathize with Mr. Scott – I must reiterate Richard Kennedy’s points – only with less tack.
    Quit whining about how disillusioned you are or how you think you’ve been lied to and get to work!
    What good is that over price college education if you didn’t learn how to problem solve for your own life? Figure it out!
    The backbone of this country’s econmic life is the small to mid-size businesses. Look around you – find a need and figure out how
    to fill it. Take a risk, be brave and don’t be afraid of failure.
    So, your life looks a little different than what you thought it might be. Change your preconceived idea of what you think your life “should” be and make it what you want it to be.
    “Hard work” is not over rated! There are still those of us without the degrees that out produce, out earn and out perform most. And, it’s not because of above average I.Q., or anything but, self direction and drive.
    Take a chance and take charge of your own life!

  • Ira Wolfe:

    Tracey and Richard – thank you for your comments. I share your perspective in several areas. I agree that education should not guarantee a high salary nor does sitting in a classroom for 4, 6, or 8 years or more qualify someone for a high paying job. I also agree that passion and determination differentiate those people who prosper vs those who live a life of mediocrity.
    But I disagree that determination, hard work, and hustle is sufficient for success. A great attitude without skills only gets you so far. Many of the unemployed Boomers enjoyed an entitled life but never improved their skills. And now that their companies are being bailed out or have gone out of business, they are without a job. Their response? “I’m too old to learn new skills.” Their plan? Apply for disability and live off the government for the rest of their lives. These people aren’t Gen Y’s but Baby Boomers!

    Why should a Gen Y be obligated to support someone who has the ability to be gainfully employed if they would learn a new skill. Too often a Gen Y can’t get a job because the Baby Boomers won’t move out of the workforce because they didn’t save enough and/or were jilted by the stock market? With few jobs being created, Gen Y (along with many others) don’t have the same opportunity Boomers did coming out of school. (Gen X however has lived through up and down markets.)

    A lot of the jobs today are currently being held by people who don’t have the skills to do the job or do it more productively and effectively. Studies show that as much as 50% of our workforce is functionally illiterate. A significant number of job applicants can’t even fill out a job application yet were just a few months ago holding down $60,000+ per year jobs. A lot of employed Boomers and Gen X are holding onto jobs, but are neither motivated nor skilled enough to do them. They do the minimum to hold onto a job. Many young people have the skills, ambition, and smarts but aren’t being given the opportunity. Why should anyone have to sit on the sidelines if they are more qualified?

    I agree that whining doesn’t help but working 30 years in a job without ever enhancing your skills shouldn’t earn a lifetime of government support either. Since the Baby Boomers didn’t do such a hot job of ensuring the pension funds were liquid, why should Gen Y be expected to bail them out?

    I’m writing this from the perspective of an older Boomer holding 3 post-graduate degrees, the 3rd one earned just last year. I’m not a Gen Y looking for a job, but a gray-haired, balding Baby Boomer trying to stay at the forefront.

    While I agree that any number of degrees should not entitle one to a high-paying career, I respectfully disagree that hard work alone is enough. There are certainly many young people entering the workforce with a whiny attitude but I can easily pair each one of them with a Boomer with an equally negative attitude.

    The comments to my original post thus far seem to confirm resentment between generations. I propose that each generations is responsible for passing the buck onto other generations and that we each need to take personal responsibility for our actions and place in life.

  • I have a son that just graduated from Auburn with a 3.4, has a great work ethic, and is currently working as a server in a restaurant. I have a great deal of empathy for him and many of the recent graduates like him. If I were Scott, I’d be angry too, but anger usually doesn’t move one forward in the job market. So, what do we do with this mess?

    If you have underemployed young people that look up to you, here is what you can do to help:

    1. Offer them your support and help; show them the ropes of networking.

    2. Remember, they understand in a language that Boomers in particular have a difficult time with. Keep your teaching to quick sound bytes, non-linear, and show them shortcuts that you’ve found successful.

    3. Ask them to use metrics that are meaningful to them in terms of measuring progress. Be the best cheerleader you can be.

    4. Refrain from doing the work yourself. In other words, show them the path, but let them do the walking.

    Use these simple steps and you’ll be amazed at the level of connection you’ll make.

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