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How Are the Kids?

9:29 AM, Aug 29, 2012 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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The kids are alright. That’s what everyone always says. Or in any case, it’s what old fogeys, who don’t want the kids to realize how fogeyish they are, always say. Don’t worry about the kids! They dress funny and listen to that rock-and-roll music, but deep down they’re just as smart and serious as kids have always been, from before all ages.

When Pete Townsend entered the phrase in the lexicon in 1965 he was talking about, and to, the Baby Boomers. And as it has turned out, this view was somewhat Pollyanna-ish. The kids of the Baby Boom generation have grown up to wreck the entitlement system, the institution of marriage, the popular culture, America, and a goodly part of western civilization. So far.

And their children are just now grappling with how they’re going to clean up their parents’ mess.

That’s what the group Young Invincibles is all about. Like other super groups—the Teen Titans, for instance, or the Young Avengers—they have a great origin story. They were created by Obamacare. As their website explains, “Young Invincibles grew up in a law school cafeteria in Washington, DC, after co-founders Ari Matusiak, Aaron Smith, and a few friends realized that young people’s voices were not being heard in the health care debate.” Now the group is all grown up and making its voice heard with an “Intergenerational Roundtable” in Tampa to talk about the tough issues facing Millennials today. It’s not a heartening discussion.

The Young Invincibles have assembled eleven expert voices to discuss the challenges facing young voters. They have a small business owner, a college student, a poli-sci professor, three political activists and five community organizers. Or maybe it’s five political activists and three community organizers. It’s hard to say. What they don’t have is a Republican. Go figure.

In any event, they’re a polite, well put-together bunch. No nose rings; no dreadlocks. They’re earnest and they’re engaged. They’re live-tweeting the event. They promise that after the discussion they’ll take questions both from the audience and from the world, via Twitter.

You will, perhaps, be unsurprised that the Young Invincibles locate the education system as being responsible for a goodly portion of what’s wrong with America. For instance, on the subject of secondary education several panelists worry about how cuts in spending are going to effect class mobility. It’s a sign of where they’re coming from that they worry about class mobility (which is sensible) and education (also sensible) but only insofar as the two are endangered by the shrinking of government spending.

When it comes to university education, they’re equally concerned. Nearly all of the panelists note that college is too expensive, that student-loan debt is crippling, and that a degree doesn’t deliver the employability it once did. But instead of questioning the university system itself, they all call for more financial aid and more college access. Which can only exacerbate the problems of cost and value.

The rest of the event is similarly unserious. Everyone agrees that technology in general, and social media in particular, are vitally important to the body politic. They call for intergenerational dialogue. They worry about the staggeringly high unemployment among young workers. And simultaneously share war stories about insipid Millennial job seekers. Says the Nick Friedman, the small business owner: “I have employees who work for three months and then think they should own the company.” Says Tim Heberlein, one of the community organizers, “I have recent grads with no experience demanding a $60,000 starting salary.” (There is an entire subgenre of business literature on the sense of entitlement in Millennial employees; see here, here, and here, for starters.)

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