As a Gen X’er born of Baby Boomer parents, the difference between our goals, education and finances was large, but nothing like the gap between Gen X’ers and their progeny – the Echo Boomers. Where I was the first of my family to obtain a college degree, my Boomer parents and their parents before them were skilled tradespeople who earned a good living, but were never encouraged toward higher education. Instead, they carried over generational skills – at least to the male offspring – that led them to careers that started straight out of high school.
But for me, college was never even up for debate. My parents supported my desire although it was a novelty and one that had never held any allure for them. My folks married young – at 18 and 21 (mom and dad) – and started having children within short order. Most of my friends’ parents were of an age – in our elementary years, families averaged two to three children and parents were in their late 20s or early 30s – although they conducted and carried themselves more like the 50-somethings of today.
For my generation though, most waited until after college to wed. At my private all-girls college, the senior year was the year of congratulations for engagements to young men assured a bright future from their engineering, business or law degrees. The bulk of my friends were married in their mid to late 20s and children followed not too long after marriage. There was always the albatross hard-core career girl who eschewed marriage until their mid-late 30s, but most married and had kids – as was the apparent norm. But where our moms were all of an age – our children had moms working school book fairs that ranged from their 20s to their 40s. Ahh… the times they were a-changing.
But now, with Echo Boomers graduating with roughly $30,000 in student loan debt, not to mention credit card debt (which few in my generation had at this young of an age), marriage doesn’t seem affordable and children even less so. As a result, it’s becoming harder to purchase your first home and many see this as a prerequisite to procreating. The result? Marriages are put off for a decade or more compared to prior generations and first time moms and dads are now in their late 30s or early to mid-40s.
Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing – it certainly is a different thing. Marriages made later in life have a greater chance of not ending in divorce, so that’s a plus. But it’s one thing when you choose to hold off having kids because you want to focus on career or enjoying life unencumbered and quite another when you can’t afford to start a family because of overwhelming student loan debt.
It seems we are seeing an entire generation hamstrung by this debt that are moving home to mom and dad in droves and living out “failure to launch” scenarios because they can’t afford to service their debt. Our younger Americans need affordable access to college and a future that doesn’t promise crippling debt. With the job market tight right now and technology making many entry level opportunities (perfect for recent college grads) obsolete, it can be challenging to pay on loans when you can’t afford work. Consider how secure document delivery and cloud file sharing are making the mail room clerk obsolete – and that’s where generations of business school grads have gotten their start!
The Obama administration’s reduction in fees paid to private collectors chasing student loan debt is a step in the right direction. If we have any hope of economic recovery and a stable financial future as a nation, we’ve got to find a way to educate our Echo Boomers without saddling them with a monstrous financial handicap just as they’re starting off in the world!
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