I was flying the other day and found myself seated next to a young woman headed home on her college break. She had her ear pods in for most of the flight, which was fine, since I did too. After a while we both disconnected for a little while and exchanged a few words. She did most of the talking, which was fine with me. I do enough talking. Talking is over-rated, I think. Listening is often most relaxing and far more revealing of things which might not be as boring to you as yourself at times.
It turned out that the young woman, although she certainly looked like a young woman, was a kid. "I'm going to turn 21 in two weeks and I'm going to have to cross state lines with my friends to find a place where we can really celebrate," she said. Her school is in a rural area of the Carolinas, and no liquor is allowed on campus. The local town has one bar. She was thinking about Georgetown. Georgetown, city of sin!
Twenty-one, I thought. At that age, I didn't have a care in the world about my future. I just assumed it would appear. The world at that time seemed ripe with opportunity. Not for her. "I'm going to grad school for a couple of years after I graduate," she said. "I sure don't want to be out in the job market right now." Of course she didn't. There is no job market to speak of.
"Don't worry," I said. "When you get out of grad school everything is going to be fine for you guys." She looked doubtful but pleased. It's nice to hear words of encouragement, even from a Boomer.
I wasn't just blowing smoke, either. For the first time, I feel the passing of the torch from one generation to the next. I didn't feel it when the Gen-X slacker dudes came along. I felt like we could roll over them while they snoozed with very little trouble at all. The Gen-Y go-getters also didn't give me one moment of pause. We were in the saddle. It was a post we would not relinquish. But these Gen Zero guys who are now in college, safely ensconced, waiting for their chance? They could well be our undoing. Because right at the moment that they come out of the cozy womb of academia, there will be about a billion of us on the street, looking for a new ride.
And who would you hire? Some guy who's 52 who has been unemployed for three years and now wants six figures and all the trimmings to get back on track? Or an adorable, well-coiffed, intelligent, ambitious 25-year-old who's willing to start for what that Boomer used to pay his assistant?
We put our plugs in after that, and I went back to whatever dreary thing I was reading. More layoffs. More executives of my general description with their heads shoved into the toilet. More working people with seniority and benefits at every level being hosed out of the machinery of capital.
I looked over at her as we made our initial descent. She was sleeping like a baby, as well she might. When she awakes, she just might find a world that's ready for her entire birthday party.