The Kids Aren’t Alright
By James Vonder Haar
When I took my first practice LSAT, the day after my father’s funeral, I scored in the 45th percentile. Six months of night classes, daily practice sections, and weekly practice tests later, I had ascended to the 98th. I got my dream school- the University of Texas. It was the first school to ever break the fabled T-14 monopoly, the elite cadre of schools that had only ever swapped places in the rankings, never dethroned until the upstarts from Austin came knocking. It was the best law school for a thousand mile radius, with a stranglehold on the legal market in one of the most populous states in the union.
When I finally emerged from the monastery of my undergraduate life and took stock of my options, I was greeted with a very different world than the one I expected.
53.6% of college graduates under 25 are unemployed or underemployed. Perhaps not surprisingly, nearly an identical proportion of 18 to 25 year olds are currently living with their parents (PDF). UT may as well have a stranglehold on the horse and buggy trade, for all the good it might do me. “Don’t go unless you can manage a full scholarship,” I was told. “Give it a shot for a semester,” some other 2Ls counseled. “If you’re not in the top half of your class, leave; you’ll only accrue more debt for a useless credential. If you’re in the top half, you just might make it with a little luck, but there are no guarantees.”
This is the advice given to a student at the top of his class, with mensa-qualifying standardized test scores, studying one of the supposedly safe degrees, at an elite institution. The only privilege I lack is being born in 1988 rather than 50s, 60s, or 70s. I’m an upper middle class white male whose parents could afford to pay for a college education. If the world offers little opportunity for me- and it does – what hope does anyone else have?
This is not a depression for my generation. It’s the apocalypse.
Tragedy met me in a more personal way, as well. A few months into my first semester at UT (I did not, of course, heed my elders’ wisdom), I was called away from my studies to be with my grandmother in her last few days on earth. Carrying the grief for both her death and my father’s, it was obvious that I could not perform at the level I would need to succeed. I took a medical withdrawl from the university, and headed home to right my mind in time for round two. Three months later, I was hit by a drunk driver. Traumatic brain injury, right frontal lobe.
It was divine providence, of course; I will be one of the lucky ones, to be unburdened by debt and a useless degree that will only make finding a job at Starbucks that much more difficult. It is providential for a rapid fire succession of tragedies prevent me from pursuing my dreams, because I live in a world where those dreams are impossible.
The eurozone is hurtling towards the abyss, and we have no answers. The technocrats succeed every once in awhile in throwing up a roadblock, but the beast slouches still towards Bethlehem. My own politicians are gearing up for yet another round of the self-immolation we call a “debt ceiling standoff.” Growth has slowed in the nations where it could do the most good, leaving millions in Russia, Brazil, China, and India mired in poverty.
Somewhere tonight, a Slovenian family fearful for their life savings is pulling their money out of a Spanish bank and putting it in a German one, wisely beating the inevitable run.
Somewhere tonight, a worker in a Chinese village clawing its way out of poverty has to tell his family why his paychecks have ceased.
Somewhere tonight, a law school student three years graduated, three years unemployed is huddling around a trash can, soothed by the embers of that quintessentially decaying American institution, the newspaper.
So yeah, we’re a generation of alcoholics. Why shouldn’t we be?
The world will give out long before our livers do.