Many of the young people surveyed had shifted their attitudes after the economic downturn. They believed in 2011, for instance, that their success depended more on luck than on their own effort. They expressed less confidence in big institutions, particularly Congress and the presidency, and they supported more government moves to redistribute wealth (a policy fight that’s playing out on the presidential campaign trail).
Still, the teenagers and twentysomethings Pew surveyed also remained optimistic about their prospects—perhaps naively so. Even last year, they assumed that, at some point, their careers and economic issues would work out—as they did for Crumpton.
Although many of the young adults took jobs outside of their chosen career or moved back into childhood bedrooms, Pew found, the majority believed that this economic setback would right itself, like a sailboat emerging from a storm.
Eighty-eight percent of 18-to-34-year-olds surveyed by Pew in February 2012 said they either earned enough money now or would earn enough in the future. Just 9 percent said they thought they would never make enough to create the life they wanted. That level of optimism was unchanged since a similar Pew study in 2004—meaning that the Great Recession hasn’t killed the shadow generation’s long-term outlook, even if it did generate clouds on the immediate horizon.
In these young people’s minds, it is only a matter of when their big economic break will occur, as if there is a magical tipping point when their lives will prosper. This despite a present that has left many without a proper education, skills, or training.
As Dasia said from the career center: “I always keep hope and keep fighting.... I know if I stick to it, I can achieve greatness.”
A BRIGHTER DAY
On a steamy afternoon in August, Tessa and her mom, Lisa Lee, sat at their dining-room table, drinking tall mugs of coffee and picking at a plate of brownies. The living room in their one-story ranch was sparsely decorated with a leather couch, a coffee table, a flat-screen TV, and lots of family pictures. In one photo, the two look like sisters sitting on a beach with shorts, tank tops, and long, brown hair.
In about a week and a half, Tessa was to leave for Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, about a three-hour drive, and Lee grows teary as she talks about her daughter going away for college. The only reason that Tessa is even able to attend school is Lee’s financial discipline. Years ago, Lee prepaid the tuition through a program available to Florida residents whose children planned to go to state colleges or universities.
With the departure fast approaching, the two have spent the last few weeks prepping. Tessa’s aunt, a doctor in Miami, gave her a laptop. She purchased a rug and two lamps for her dorm room at a yard sale.
Lee has found a new job at a financial-services company. Tessa is starting fresh at school. Only now does it seem that the two can reflect clearly on the past three “roller-coaster” years, as Lee calls them.