Generation Debt: Why Now is a Terrible Time to be Young

By Anya Kamenetz

Place: Publisher & Year: New York: Riverhead Books, 2006

Genre: Non-fiction, social sciences

ISBN: 9781594489075

Intended audience: Adult

Number of pages: 265 (including Notes and Bibliography)

Setting: USA

Time period: Contemporary

Plot summary: Why do so many younger Americans graduate from college (or not) with huge debt from school loans where previous generations did not?  Why do younger Americans typically accrue large credit card debts and often end up either never leaving home or having to move back in with Mom and Dad?  What happened to all the good jobs?  Should high school graduates even bother to pursue a college degree when a typical undergraduate leaves college with a $20,000 debt and often struggles for years to find a job that comes even close to a livable wage?  And how can individuals of this generation even think about moving forward with planning for a family when they are so mired and bogged down with their personal finances?  Anya Kamenetz asks a lot of tough questions in this book and reveals how young Americans are getting shafted by their government, corporate interests, and older Americans.

Appeal factors:

Pacing: Real life stories about individuals are intertwined with facts, figures, and history which help to keep this book moving at a steady pace.

Characterization: Kamenetz discusses her own situation and includes a plethora of stories from people she interviewed for this book.

Frame: The preface to this book begins by asking the question, “what would you do if you grew up and realized that everything America has always promised its children no longer holds true for you” (p. ix).  Kamenetz uses this question to frame her discussion of the economic realities facing younger Americans today.

Story line: A startling and revealing look at how economic policies have changed over the course of time in this country and how these changes are affecting millions of Americans.

Subject headings:

From PCPL:

Young adults — United States — Economic conditions — 21st century.

Young adults — United States — Social conditions — 21st century.

College graduates — United States — Economic conditions — 21st century.

Similar authors:

Strapped: Why America’s 20- and 30-Somethings Can’t Get Ahead by Tamara Draut

The Student Loan Scam: The Most Oppressive Debt in U.S. History – and How We Can Fight Back by Alan Collinge

The Coming Generational Storm: What You Need to Know about America’s Economic Future by Laurence J. Kotlikoff and Scott Burns

The Two-Income Trap by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi

X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking by Jeff Gordinier

Personal notes: I found this to be a fascinating read.  Kamenetz notes in the preface that while many younger people may be experiencing financial difficulties, it doesn’t get mentioned much because “money in America is more private than sex” (p. xii).  I know that much of what I read in this book seemed very familiar to me especially related to the search for the ever elusive “good job”.  I particularly enjoyed reading Kamenetz’s take on Whole Foods (having worked there for years myself) – “I have a few friends, with and without college degrees, who work at Whole Foods and are proud of it, because of the relatively high wages, the benefits, the team-based work organization, and the company’s strong sense of mission.  It’s not the work that’s necessarily any better – it’s the job” (p. 82).

Other (themes, diversity):

Anya Kamenetz’s blog


One thought on “Generation Debt: Why Now is a Terrible Time to be Young

  1. BDO says:

    Great analysis! It is a great book, because it calls into question the traditional rationale that education at any price is always reasonable. Sometimes, too much debt is too much debt and should be avoided for alternative methods.

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