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Gen Y: the next 'Greatest Generation'?

The recession gives today's young people plenty to worry about, but their hopefulness will help them emerge intact.

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Perhaps the most iconic image to emerge from the devastating Depression of the 1930s is Dorothea Lange's photo "Migrant Mother," in which a desperate-looking woman, her face heavy with weariness, holds an infant in her arms while her other children cling to her shoulders.

Now contrast this image with the latest photo of Paris Hilton dancing on a nightclub table, or Facebook snapshots of college seniors at a party, and you begin to get an idea of how Generation Y (my generation, also known as the millennials) is generally seen to stack up against other generations – particularly the "Greatest Generation," which weathered both the Great Depression and World War II.

They were called resilient; we're called lazy. They were selfless and sacrificing; we're entitled and indulgent. Commentators often point to studies in which 20-somethings have admitted to – horror of horrors – believing in ourselves and our ability to accomplish great things.

And they insist that our fluency in all things technology means that we're more concerned with updating our Facebook profiles than working hard.

Forget the uselessness of writing off an entire generation before its members have even had the chance to do anything with their lives; this underestimation has been happening since kids danced the Charleston, talked about flower-power, or listened to hip-hop. Using one label to describe millions of people from all types of socioeconomic and educational backgrounds is the kind of intellectual shorthand these same pundits are all too happy to ascribe to us millennials and say it comes from our warped attention spans.

But millennials haven't necessarily had it as easy as everyone might think. Our adolescence was defined by Sept. 11 – and we've been bombarded by the insistence that we live in a terrifying world ever since. Studies by Demos and the Center for American Progress have suggested that the combination of declining incomes, growing debt, and high costs of education, home ownership, and healthcare are conspiring to make this generation the first to not surpass the living standards of their parents.


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