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David McCullough at Wellesley Commencement: 'You Are Not Special'

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Old Jun 11, 2012, 01:03 PM   #1
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David McCullough at Wellesley Commencement: ‘You Are Not Special’

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You are not special. You are not exceptional.

Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special.
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You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless. In our unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with one another–which springs, I think, from our fear of our own insignificance, a subset of our dread of mortality—we have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement. We have come to see them as the point—and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole. No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it… Now it’s “So what does this get me?”
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Old Jun 11, 2012, 01:33 PM   #2
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This should be considered just common sense and not a topic deserving of a commencement speech IMO. I grew up (in the 1950's) with the understanding that to be special meant exceeding expectations and the accomplishments of others while never flaunting success.
So it goes.
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Old Jun 11, 2012, 02:19 PM   #3
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Well guess what Mr. McCullough, you aren't so special either.

Make no mistake, the "trophy for everybody" society was created by and for the Baby Boomers to make them feel better as parents, not for the kids to feel better as kids.

Anecdotally, the younger generation in this country seems far more willing to compete for excellence than the older.
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Old Jun 11, 2012, 02:32 PM   #4
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Anecdotally, the younger generation in this country seems far more willing to compete for excellence than the older.
I couldn't disagree with you more. It's the entitlement mentality of Generation Y that lead to the Occupy Movement. Many had parents who gave them everything as they were growing up and are now looking for the next hand-out. Heaven forbid if someone suggests that they work their way up from something entry-level. Too many expect that they will just step into a $50k+ per year job when they graduate from college because it is their right.
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Old Jun 11, 2012, 02:46 PM   #5
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I couldn't disagree with you more. It's the entitlement mentality of Generation Y that lead to the Occupy Movement. Many had parents who gave them everything as they were growing up and are now looking for the next hand-out. Heaven forbid if someone suggests that they work their way up from something entry-level. Too many expect that they will just step into a $50k+ per year job when they graduate from college because it is their right.
You have absolutely no clue what you're talking about. "Something entry-level" no longer exists.

Also, you've accidentally tipped your hand, look at the first problem you identify. Whose fault is that?
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Old Jun 11, 2012, 02:54 PM   #6
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Also, you've accidentally tipped your hand, look at the first problem you identify. Whose fault is that?
You just proved that you didn't even read past the 2 paragraphs I linked. David McCullough toughed on that during his address as well.
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Old Jun 11, 2012, 03:10 PM   #7
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You just proved that you didn't even read past the 2 paragraphs I linked. David McCullough toughed on that during his address as well.
Yeah, I saw that, what of it?

My message to the high school class of 2012 wouldn't be very different, but it would at least include "Your parents have failed you, your political system has failed you, but you're the last best hope we've got, don't you dare quit on us."

If you think Generation Y (especially the older ones, 18 is a pretty tender age to have perspective about anything) thinks their lives are going to be all cinnamon and gravy, you're just plain wrong. They are under no delusions that they'll be living in the kind of comfort their parents did.
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Old Jun 11, 2012, 03:19 PM   #8
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My message to the high school class of 2012 wouldn't be very different, but it would at least include "Your parents have failed you, your political system has failed you, but you're the last best hope we've got, don't you dare quit on us."
And about 70% wouldn't hear a thing you say because they have their earbuds in.
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Old Jun 11, 2012, 04:22 PM   #9
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Well guess what Mr. McCullough, you aren't so special either.

Make no mistake, the "trophy for everybody" society was created by and for the Baby Boomers to make them feel better as parents, not for the kids to feel better as kids.

Anecdotally, the younger generation in this country seems far more willing to compete for excellence than the older.
I am surprised you'd say that. I certainly don't see any evidence of that in medicine. Today's residents won't work hard. Nowhere near as hard as we did and that isn't 'when I was a kid we walked to school' nonsense. It's demonstrable.

When we hire people for my specialty the first thing out of their mouths is usually some demand for something. No call. Extra vacation time above what the partners take, etc. I hear the same types of complaints from people in other fields. Today's 'kids' seem to have an entitlement mentality that is very off-putting to those of us in a position to hire.

There are entry level jobs available. People are just unwilling to take them or they are unqualified because they thought that LAS degree would come in handy.

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There are nearly 700 manufacturing job openings locally, a survey of Dayton-area manufacturers found.
http://www.daytondailynews.com/busin...y-1387086.html

The jobs stay open for months.

Cummins engines, CAT, Siemens have all talked about how they have thousands of unfilled jobs currently. The world is awash in jobs for those willing to do certain things. But if you want to have a nice clean job with little work and make a lot of money, most of those jobs are taken.

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Old Jun 11, 2012, 04:50 PM   #10
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I am surprised you'd say that. I certainly don't see any evidence of that in medicine. Today's residents won't work hard. Nowhere near as hard as we did and that isn't 'when I was a kid we walked to school' nonsense. It's demonstrable.

When we hire people for my specialty the first thing out of their mouths is usually some demand for something. No call. Extra vacation time above what the partners take, etc. I hear the same types of complaints from people in other fields. Today's 'kids' seem to have an entitlement mentality that is very off-putting to those of us in a position to hire.
The only couple of medical residents I know work like dogs, but either way, anecdote can only take you so far.

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There are entry level jobs available. People are just unwilling to take them or they are unqualified because they thought that LAS degree would come in handy.

http://www.daytondailynews.com/busin...y-1387086.html

The jobs stay open for months.

Cummins engines, CAT, Siemens have all talked about how they have thousands of unfilled jobs currently. The world is awash in jobs for those willing to do certain things. But if you want to have a nice clean job with little work and make a lot of money, most of those jobs are taken.
Did you actually read the article you linked?

Here's the key sentence: "We can't find people with the right qualifications."

Meaning, they don't want 22-year-old political science majors from Wright State. But nonetheless, we keep churning them out, year after year.

Think of what we could accomplish if we stopped federally backing student loans for schools and majors that present no return on investment, and put that money into vocational training programs that cost less and give students the skills to get the jobs that are already available. Now, parents would go insane if you told them that little Johnny can't or shouldn't go to college, but my hope is that we're getting closer to realize that "college" doesn't mean what it did in 1950 or even 1980. It costs orders of magnitude more, provides dramatically less of an education (or demands less of an education I should say), and is nowhere near the gainful employment guarantee it once was. Once we realize that, maybe we can start fixing things.

But again, it's always moral opprobrium with you. It's always "those people"'s fault.

If you don't like the outputs, change the inputs.
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Old Jun 11, 2012, 06:34 PM   #11
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The only couple of medical residents I know work like dogs, but either way, anecdote can only take you so far.
They still do. But compared to a generation ago they tend to work about 10-20 hours less per week. When they get out they tend to be about 1/3 as efficient at seeing patients and it doesn't seem to be because they are getting better results or being more thorough.

The above is fact. This is opinion. I think the problem they have is that they work so much less hard during residency and their residency is just as long so they don't have the same amount of training. Couple that with an almost universal mentality that their personal free time comes before the needs of the practice (their euphemism for what I called the needs of the patient in my era) and you get people that just aren't that efficient and don't seem all that bright or motivated. Maybe the top people go into business now instead of medicine. I might be seeing a cross section of people that are a bit less driven as a result of that.



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Did you actually read the article you linked?

Here's the key sentence: "We can't find people with the right qualifications."
Obviously I read it that is why I specifically said, " People are just unwilling to take them or they are unqualified because they thought that LAS degree would come in handy."


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Meaning, they don't want 22-year-old political science majors from Wright State. But nonetheless, we keep churning them out, year after year.
And I agree with this. Anyone taking a variety of semi-useless majors should pay full freight to go to college regardless of their 'need'. I was going to list a variety of topics like gender and women's studies, african-american studies, Latin, acting, art history, and medieval civilizations but I am reminded that we'd probably argue the relative merits of some of those and that should be a potent reminder that the marketplace is sorting this out for us far more effectively than govt fiat probably could. When you graduate with a gender studies degree and you are making me a double expresso for minimum wage, you don't really have anyone to blame but yourself.

I mean seriously, do people not sit back before choosing a major and say, "Can I make a living doing this?" That should be the #1 criterion before then asking the other obvious questions like, "Am I smart enough to succeed in this field?" and "Will I enjoy this career?" Anyone that puts those in a different order ought to enjoy the fruits of mixing mocha into coffee long term IMHO.

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Think of what we could accomplish if we stopped federally backing student loans for schools and majors that present no return on investment, and put that money into vocational training programs that cost less and give students the skills to get the jobs that are already available. Now, parents would go insane if you told them that little Johnny can't or shouldn't go to college, but my hope is that we're getting closer to realize that "college" doesn't mean what it did in 1950 or even 1980. It costs orders of magnitude more, provides dramatically less of an education (or demands less of an education I should say), and is nowhere near the gainful employment guarantee it once was. Once we realize that, maybe we can start fixing things.
Agree completely. A large percentage of people are poorly suited in going to college. Vocational school is an optimal decision for many of them and we should follow a variation of a Germanic model where people are assigned to either a trade or a scientific track early on based on aptitude.

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But again, it's always moral opprobrium with you. It's always "those people"'s fault.
Of course it is their fault. Whose fault is it that you failed to study in school or chose to not use a rubber when you should have? Mine? I don't think so. If you are in a culture that abhors education, again, not my fault. If you choose to do something you 'love' instead of something that earns a living, goodie for you. But don't for one second cry to me that I should subsidize your 'lovely' life. Cannot earn enough? Do something else.

I don't believe that all men are created equal for one second. I fully realize that some have only a certain capacity. We all know this to be inherently true of athletes but for some reason we pretend it isn't true for intelligence. But effort is not something you are born with. You control it. If you choose not to put full effort into life or make a series of bad decisions you are to blame.

Anyone can make a mistake in life. We all do. God only knows that I have made my share. And society can and should provide a safety net to pick those people back up. But when the safety net becomes a big comfy couch, we are all in trouble.

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If you don't like the outputs, change the inputs.
Exactly my goal by providing welfare reform and using that money along with savings from defense to build infrastructure. I'll go so fare as to agree that EDUCATION reform could be considered infrastructure reform. I am all for it though I don't think we should double their salary. I think you crush the unions and then enforce a longer school day and year round school with incentive pay for success and firing for failure just like every other occupation in America that isn't run by the government.

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Old Jun 11, 2012, 06:48 PM   #12
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If you don't like the outputs, change the inputs.
Or more appropriately change the process that occurs between the 'input' and 'output'. Namely the education that take place. As has been mentioned the choice of discipline does not match the current needs in many cases. A lot of young adults would be better served to pursue a skilled manufacturing job rather than a majority of the liberal arts degrees available.

I have among my acquaintances about an equal number of techies (Motorola, Intel, Freescale, etc.) as mechanics (Big 3 car dealerships, Cutter aviation, Az mines) and the mechanics make more and are out of work less with their 2 year vocational training than the techies with their 4 year degrees.
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Old Jun 11, 2012, 07:05 PM   #13
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If you don't like the outputs, change the inputs.
You say this a lot, like it's an easy solution to all problems.
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Old Jun 11, 2012, 07:23 PM   #14
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They still do. But compared to a generation ago they tend to work about 10-20 hours less per week. When they get out they tend to be about 1/3 as efficient at seeing patients and it doesn't seem to be because they are getting better results or being more thorough.

The above is fact. This is opinion. I think the problem they have is that they work so much less hard during residency and their residency is just as long so they don't have the same amount of training. Couple that with an almost universal mentality that their personal free time comes before the needs of the practice (their euphemism for what I called the needs of the patient in my era) and you get people that just aren't that efficient and don't seem all that bright or motivated. Maybe the top people go into business now instead of medicine. I might be seeing a cross section of people that are a bit less driven as a result of that.
Or they go into more intellectually stimulating fields like dermatology.:rolleyes:

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Old Jun 11, 2012, 08:38 PM   #15
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You say this a lot, like it's an easy solution to all problems.
It's not a solution to anything, it's a way of thinking about problems. On issue after issue people choose to point fingers and demagogue rather than proposing real change.
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Old Jun 11, 2012, 08:45 PM   #16
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Or they go into more intellectually stimulating fields like dermatology.:rolleyes:
I am afraid you lost me with that.

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Old Jun 11, 2012, 08:50 PM   #17
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I mean seriously, do people not sit back before choosing a major and say, "Can I make a living doing this?" That should be the #1 criterion before then asking the other obvious questions like, "Am I smart enough to succeed in this field?" and "Will I enjoy this career?" Anyone that puts those in a different order ought to enjoy the fruits of mixing mocha into coffee long term IMHO.
No! They don't! We ENCOURAGE people not to think that way, or at least we have until very, very recently. This is what the Baby Boomers have wrought upon their children.

Oh, you're going to college? Well of course you'll get a job afterwards, college degrees are so valuable! Don't let the price of the school make your mind up for you, go with your dreams, that's what student loans are for! Can't decide what you want to do? Oh, perfectly normal! Just be a general studies major for awhile!

This is what we're feeding our most talented youngsters. And we're providing unlimited student loans to fund whatever cockeyed plans 18-year-olds and their starry-eyed parents come up with. It's INSANE.

And you're telling me that's their fault? Give me a damn break. The system is screwing these people. It is turning college into a conveyor belt to the unemployment lines. We ALL have a responsibility to fix that, and to prevent the bubble of student loan debt from taking us all down.
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Old Jun 11, 2012, 08:50 PM   #18
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I am afraid you lost me with that.
I just like that that's his only post. He signed up just to take a dig at dermatology.
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Old Jun 11, 2012, 10:15 PM   #19
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There's a whole set of memes related to this thread
And some reading to go with it
http://www.esquire.com/print-this/yo...-0412?page=all





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Old Jun 11, 2012, 10:35 PM   #20
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No! They don't! We ENCOURAGE people not to think that way, or at least we have until very, very recently. This is what the Baby Boomers have wrought upon their children.

Oh, you're going to college? Well of course you'll get a job afterwards, college degrees are so valuable! Don't let the price of the school make your mind up for you, go with your dreams, that's what student loans are for! Can't decide what you want to do? Oh, perfectly normal! Just be a general studies major for awhile!

This is what we're feeding our most talented youngsters. And we're providing unlimited student loans to fund whatever cockeyed plans 18-year-olds and their starry-eyed parents come up with. It's INSANE.

And you're telling me that's their fault? Give me a damn break. The system is screwing these people. It is turning college into a conveyor belt to the unemployment lines. We ALL have a responsibility to fix that, and to prevent the bubble of student loan debt from taking us all down.
Sure Shot, 20 years ago conservatives were crying out against the idea of letting kids find themselves, being directionless, taking majors that don't pay the bills, demanding an expanding role for the humanities in colleges. Our current situation wasn't a monolithic exercise to crash our kids into the shoals of unemployment. It was in large part a move by well intentioned educators and psychologists mostly of a liberal persuasion. I can assure you that in my household there was no discussion of taking some time to decide what you want to do with your life.

Different families respond to these things differently of course but society did not do this to kids anymore than society is making people into fat-asses. We make those choices from the available information at hand. Some people told others that a teacher making $66K could buy a house in Cali for $1M and flip it a couple years later and make a fortune. Sure they were enabled by unscrupulous bastards but the fact is they bought the BS. They are at fault. Until people realize that society as a whole doesn't do anything to people, they do it to themselves, we'll forever be trapped in a land of victims that need the Big Comfy Couch.

I am unaware of a single person in America that was FORCED to take Gender Studies (or whatever) as a major. Conscious choices by young adults. Sometimes they backfire badly.

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Old Jun 11, 2012, 10:36 PM   #21
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I just like that that's his only post. He signed up just to take a dig at dermatology.
I was thinking the same thing. I am not overly fond of the specialty but sounds like my man has a grudge.

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Old Jun 11, 2012, 10:47 PM   #22
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Sure Shot, 20 years ago conservatives were crying out against the idea of letting kids find themselves, being directionless, taking majors that don't pay the bills, demanding an expanding role for the humanities in colleges. Our current situation wasn't a monolithic exercise to crash our kids into the shoals of unemployment. It was in large part a move by well intentioned educators and psychologists mostly of a liberal persuasion. I can assure you that in my household there was no discussion of taking some time to decide what you want to do with your life.

Different families respond to these things differently of course but society did not do this to kids anymore than society is making people into fat-asses. We make those choices from the available information at hand. Some people told others that a teacher making $66K could buy a house in Cali for $1M and flip it a couple years later and make a fortune. Sure they were enabled by unscrupulous bastards but the fact is they bought the BS. They are at fault. Until people realize that society as a whole doesn't do anything to people, they do it to themselves, we'll forever be trapped in a land of victims that need the Big Comfy Couch.

I am unaware of a single person in America that was FORCED to take Gender Studies (or whatever) as a major. Conscious choices by young adults. Sometimes they backfire badly.

Fair enough, but does that mean we shouldn't reverse the incentives that caused these problems?

And does that mean we shouldn't alleviate the outcomes of these disasters for everyone's benefit?

This idea that every man is an island and that your success is attributable exclusively to your own gifts and effort is so wrong and so depressing.

So you're a doctor? You do realize how heavily inflated your salary is by our healthcare model, right? You do realize that if the current system is left unchecked, you are going to be seeing fewer and fewer patients as heath insurance becomes rarer, right? I don't know what medical school you went to, but almost undoubtably it was one that was subsidized by the profits from these "soft" majors which are cheap to staff and require less infrastructure, right?

There are a myriad of factors that created the opportunities that you have had. Your talent and hard work were necessary, but not sufficient. A little humility would look good on you.
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Old Jun 11, 2012, 10:51 PM   #23
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David McCullough hit the bullseye with this one. On another note, if you haven't gotten around to reading his books, you really should. Amazing stuff. 1776 and John Adams are particularly good.

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Old Jun 11, 2012, 11:03 PM   #24
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David McCullough hit the bullseye with this one. On another note, if you haven't gotten around to reading his books, you really should. Amazing stuff. 1776 and John Adams are particularly good.
You are mixing up son and dad.
The speech was by David McCullough Jr., while the eminent historian is his dad (David McCullough).
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Old Jun 11, 2012, 11:04 PM   #25
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There's a whole set of memes related to this thread
And some reading to go with it
http://www.esquire.com/print-this/yo...-0412?page=all
Those are funny pictures. I found the article to be a disjointed montage of whining, deliberately misleading statistics, and despair without a single idea to improve things.

In fact the title about a war on the young seems incongrous with the assertion several times that nobody really is trying to deliberately hurt the young (except those dastardly Republicans of course ).

You realize that the percentage of employed people between 18-24 has steadily dropped because more and more kids are in school with each passing decade. That comparing 1984 (boom) to 2009 (bust) might be dishonest.

But all of that said as the father of 3 teenagers I am certain things are worse now than they were. When standards drop (see the article about how much less kids do in college compared to their grandparents) and competition increases you're bound to see problems. There just aren't any easy solutions and if kids are waiting for some big handout I wouldn't hold your breaths. Best case scenario is that we see retirements occur as the stock market allows people to leave their jobs. More likely scenario is that we push retirement age to 67 or higher and compound the problem for the young.

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