The Rookie Reviews: "Generation Debt"

Last week I logged into the St. Louis library system to run a search for some books I'd heard about in an online radio program (through OnePlace, a Christian radio broadcasting site). I have a whole list of books on request, most of which aren't supposed to be available until May or June. That is a good thing, because it gives me time to catch up on my current bookshelf. But one was available, and I skipped right over after work to pick up Anya Kamenetz's book "Generation Debt: Why Now is a Terrible Time to be Young"

The book talks about the trend toward a lifestyle of debt that a large percentage of young people (18-30s, the "2nd third of life" folks) have been putting themselves in. The author cites rising college cost, more pressure to attend graduate school after college, stagnating income levels, and the ease of gaining credit as pressure points that push young people onto a treadmill of desiring, spending, panicking, defaulting, quitting and finally living under a never-shrinking burden of debt.

Kamenetz also points out that in the past, by the time the newest generation was ready for full-time work, the older generation had moved out of the work force and left room for them. Today, she notes, workers stay in their positions longer. The service industry (fast food and retail) is growing and the manufacturing industry (formerly a huge percentage of the entry-level job market) isn't. I can see that happening here in St. Louis, where both Ford and Boeing are planning plant or division closings. Those jobs aren't going to other places or countries, they're just gone.

Older workers stay at their posts longer; students with degrees wind up in fields that don't use them. School status means taking on larger loans; confusion (or hopelessness) when goals meet realities lead to dropping out, or taking longer to finish school. "Generation Debt" has harsh words for all parties, and only a few solutions.

But the one group that doesn't rate a place in the book is the church. Since it's not in there at all, I think that's an even stronger call to action for children's, youth and adult ministries. Ministers need to lose our fear of talking about stewardship. This means time, talents, physical and mental resources, and money. We need to boldly preach discipline-- one of the things I noted in the book was the number of people in case studies who had given up and left school without plans, certificates or lesser degrees that might have given them even a small leg up. And church teaching needs to challenge the way we make choices.

Jesus said "If someone is going to build a tower, first he sits down and figures out the cost, because nothing's worse than starting a project and not being able to finish it." For children and youth, to keep them out of Generation Debt's next chapter, these words should be stressed. For a glimpse into why they're so important, read "Generation Debt."


Esther said...

That's an excellent point. It is very difficult to avoid debt these days and it's become increasingly acceptable to take on the burdens of debt.

The church is very important and it seems that less and less people go into ministry. But on another note, there are many little things we can do to help out the church. Just volunteering for outreach programs and things that our local church does is a great help.

And of course, there's the other point you made about church teachings challenging what we choose to do. That is also very important. Debt is a staggering thing and should not be taken lightly or without considering its effects on everything we do including how much time we are able to put into God's service. Debt is a nagging force, it always gnaws at the back of one's mind telling one that work to pay it off is too important to skip out on for any reason, or that since you're already in so much debt you cannot put more money into something like the church. It's really difficult to deal with especially if you're the sort of person who wants to get out of debt as soon as possible. A focus on the problem never helps.

Isaac, The Rookie said...

Thanks, Esther: In order to beat the problem laid out in the book, three things need to change. First, priorities; we need a sense of what's an immediate need, what's a nice bonus if possible, and what's a long-term goal. Second, people have to address the areas of arrogance that fall into everyone's life-- i.e., do I want the education (skills), or the status that I perceive coming from a school with a brand name. And third, I think credit should be more difficult to get and use.

Even before people decide what to do for the church or how much of their time/money/etc. they're willing to give to one, the church needs to be sending out clear, consistent messages on how God wants decisions made. And challenging people to be committed and accountable for their actions. Getting this to happen has been the problem since the Garden of Eden!