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Three Ways the Super-Rich Have Cheated Young Americans


My own generation faced the Vietnam War. We were at risk of getting drafted, and then maimed or killed in an unwinnable battle against imagined evils.

Today’s young people are being drafted into an economic war that they don’t understand. It’s a slowly waged, diabolical war that substitutes debt and underemployment for missing limbs and psychological disorders. The soldiers are college-age men and women who can’t find jobs or pay tuition, and who are seduced into submission by the promise of eventual rewards. The Vietnamese jungle has turned into Wall Street.

For those of us who weren’t particularly good activists in the 60s, age has widened our perspective, and the lack of opportunities for our children has given us a second chance to protest, to help make it clear how the leaders of my generation have abandoned the people they no longer need.

Young America, here’s why you should be angry:

1. The Great WEALTH Transfer

— 18- to 35-year-olds: Your median net worth has dropped 68% since 1984. It’s now less than $4,000.

— The Richest 1%: They tripled their share of income between 1980 and 2006, then took 93% of all the new income in the first year after the 2008 recession. Their median net worth is now over $5,000,000.

2. The Lack of JOBS: No one’s hiring, so you have to “create your own job.” 

This from Michael Barone of the Washington Examiner: “The good news is that information technology provides the iPod/Facebook generation with the means to find work and create careers that build on their own personal talents and interests…creating your own career will produce a stronger sense of satisfaction and fulfillment.”

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Just grab your iPhone, open up Facebook, and create your own job. Become an entrepreneur, just like the richest Americans. Except that the richest Americans aren’t entrepreneurs. Based on U.S. tax return data, only 3% of the wealthiest 130,000 Americans are entrepreneurs. Most are in management or finance.

As your parents and mentors, we told you to stay in school and work hard and everything would be fine. But you don’t have jobs. Over half of college graduates were jobless or underemployed in 2011. More than 350,000 Americans with advanced degrees were receiving food stamps or some other form of public assistance.

If you do have a job, it’s probably not paying much. Salaries for new graduates dropped 10% just in the last year. Worse yet, most of you are dealing with college loan debt, which averages $24,000, and with the reality of zero net worth for over a third of you.

As wages are hitting an all-time low, corporate profits are hitting an all-time high. But the corporations that have built their profits on American innovation and labor are telling you they don’t need you anymore. Apple — much admired for its slick products — shows little respect for anyone below upper management. With 47,000 employees, about 1/10 the number employed by IBM, Apple makes a profit of $420,000 per employee. Yet most Apple store workers make about $12 per hour.

And your representatives in Washington are no help. In October, 2011 Senate Republicans killed a proposed $447 billion jobs bill that would have added about two million jobs to the economy. Nearly two-thirds of the American public had supported the bill.

3. The Portrayal of EDUCATION as a “lifetime investment” 

Yes, it’s a lifetime investment, for the holder of your student loans.

As corporate profits and CEO salaries and incomes of the 1% have surged over the past ten years, education financing declined by 24 percent, and tuition at state schools increased 72 percent. Since 1985, while consumer prices have approximately doubled, tuition has risen almost 600%.

Total state education cuts for fiscal 2012 were $12.7 billion. A study by Citizens for Tax Justice noted that 265 of our nation’s largest companies avoided about the same amount in state taxes each year from 2008 to 2010.

So your massive tuition bills are paid for with mounting student debt, which has more than tripled in the past ten years. Here again my own generation has deceived you. Our once-idealistic anti-war activists now excel at flashy marketing and sloganeering, with admissions pitches of “affordability” and “lifetime investment,” and carefully avoided references to costs and debts and contracts.

To make up for lost revenue, cutbacks continue and educational opportunities disappear. State colleges are eliminating expensive-to-run engineering and computer science departments. Arizona doubled college tuition in four years. California K-12 schools have one counselor for every 800 students. Ohio’s Governor Kasich suggested rationing college majors among state schools. Illinois cut 2012 educational funding by a greater percentage than any other state; not to be outdone, Pennsylvania’s Governor Corbett tried to cut higher education funding by half, and New Hampshire DID cut university funding by half. Florida’s college tuition is up 15% in a year, Nevada’s is up 13%, Tennessee’s about 10%, Washington’s 24% over two years.

Hell No, We Won’t Go Into Servitude 

College graduates, you shouldn’t be working for $12 an hour. The computer and networking technologies that gave life to companies like Apple and Google grew out of 50 years of public research. It was an accomplishment of society, not of a few well-positioned individuals. You, the descendants of industry pioneers, and the potential creators of even greater technologies, deserve at the very least a decent-paying job.

Your anti-war protest, if a time-weathered opinion matters, would include a flood of job demands at the offices of U.S. and state senators and representatives. In person and online. You are part of the fastest and most sophisticated means of communication ever devised. You have the power to make demands.

But first you have to get mad.

Paul Buchheit teaches Economic Inequality at DePaul University. He is the founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (,, and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached at



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