Back to the Future

Yesterday, in the New York Times there was a  piece about the state of mind of the next generation, the one coming of age now, during this recession, that every day promises to be longer and deeper than we could have imagined.  How will the current dire economic straits affect them, psychologically? What will it mean for their job prospects, their attitude toward work and personal economy? Their sense of opportunity and possiblity?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, too, mostly in the form of long and angry rants about How We Have Come To This, and What Will My Children Inherit?

The last bit has nothing to do with money.   Rather, it seems to me that my children may very well grow up with the shadow of economic instability, recession, a legacy of greed and mismanagement that destablized what was, not so very many years ago, a stable and prosperous economy.  Should it take 10 years or so to pull out of this mess, they may live a good chunk of their childhood, into adolescence with the specter of a trembling economy.  They’ll see boarded up businesses, too many houses for sale, long lines of unemployed.

My daughter already knows, through her school, that our local food banks are running low on food (we’re trying to remember to donate weekly), that some people have lost jobs and houses. There is a large, very run down trailer parked not far from our home. We suspect someone may be living in it, but we have no hard evidence.  How can these facts not affect her view of the world? If the recession continues, how can its very real fallout not shape, even in a small way, her sense of what is safe and what is possible?
There is some evidence that diminished economic prospects can offer creative opportunities.  That less lucrative work might lead to a kind of generative freedom.  And yet, I find myself, sometimes, wallowing in the muck of wondering what will their future be, and how badly have we already screwed it up?  Can we reclaim that boundless sense of possibility that I so dearly want my children to have?

On the one hand, I know realistically that every generation will face its tribulations. But on the other, I find myself in the grip of that time-worn, protective impulse, one I didn’t even know I had:  I  want them to have it better.  Not so much better than her father and I have it, but just plain better.

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