Americans — especially older Americans — worry about our economic future. Between unemployment and debt, bombs and terror, we wonder what will be left when we’re gone. Fear not. Your grandchildren will inherit a better world, financially and otherwise. Here’s why:
Reason #1: They’re growing up with a healthy fear of debt.
Today’s 30 year olds were only 25 when financial markets collapsed in 2008. Too young to participate in the housing boom, they avoided the credit card and mortgage debt of middle-aged Americans. They’ve seen their parents struggle, and they don’t want to live that way.
Younger Americans know how to spend, of course, but not like us. Baby Boomers defined success with their giant SUVs and suburban McMansions. The Millennial generation is more interested in having the latest smart phone and traveling by bike and bus through revitalized urban neighborhoods.
This isn’t to say 20-something Americans are debt-free. Student loans are a growing problem, especially with youth unemployment at record levels. Nevertheless, their total debt load is still relatively low. The schooling financed by those loans may turn out to be great investment. In fact, it created …
Reason # 2: The most educated generation in American history.
True, today’s young adults aren’t necessarily educated in the subjects their elders consider important. But how do we know what they need? Success in the future will demand a different set of skills. What looks to us like a pointless video game could be excellent training for tomorrow’s work.
The ideal “career” in which people joined a company, changed jobs a few times and finally retired with a pension is gone. What will replace it? I don’t know, but I suspect the ability to navigate a virtual globe at a dizzying pace without breaking a sweat will be a big advantage.
Reason # 3: Young Americans know how to serve.
Their kind of service doesn’t always look like ours. Nor does it need to. Unlike the Vietnam War, draftees aren’t fighting the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Today’s military heroes are volunteers. Knowing the danger, they volunteered anyway. They’re coming home, some in flag-draped boxes, others with fewer limbs, and all with memories of the horror we call war.
Many young heroes never leave these shores. Look at 27-year-old Jeff Bauman, the Costco employee who lost both legs in the Boston Marathon bombing. Still in ICU and unable to speak, Bauman scratched out a description of the man he saw dropping a backpack. His account helped investigators identify the suspects.
We have those like Sean Collier, 26, the MIT police officer allegedly killed by the bombing suspects. We have the many local police and federal agents who bravely searched Watertown for a killer. We have the young volunteer firefighters in West, Texas, who rushed toward danger, not away from it, in a selfless decision that cost some their lives.
These young Americans didn’t have to be unpaid firefighters. They wanted to serve their community. Jeff Bauman could have just dozed off while pondering his new life without legs. Instead he ignored his own pain to protect his neighbors.
The world you and I leave behind will belong to men and women like these. Last week, they were tested, and they passed. We need not worry for them.
Whatever the future holds, they can handle it.
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