Michael is considered a member of the Millennial generation (see previous column), and at 25 years old is unhappy that he has not met his goals of career and family. Raised to believe that a college education would lead to the American dream, Michael graduated from college with honors and pursued a graduate degree, until student loan debt, credit card debt, a car payment, and a chronic sports injury caught up with him. Unable to find a job in his field, Michael is currently working in retail and has a job bartending on the side. He is living at home with his parents to pay off his credit card debt, and to take advantage of his parents’ insurance policy that now includes him, thanks to the new regulations established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or Obamacare. However, rising gas costs, expenses, and even taxes are making his plans for independence uncertain, and his already small paycheck is getting smaller.
Michael’s girlfriend, Mary, is 24, and wants to get married. Mary’s family owns a small business where she works. She lives in an apartment with her sister and is attending community college where she is finishing up a program in web design. Although she will use that in the family business, she intends to work at home some day while raising a family.
While Michael is upset at his lack of opportunity to build a career, Mary is concerned about the future of the family business. The projected expenses for goods, services, health care, and taxes have placed it at risk. They have postponed hiring until they know how the new regulations on health care and taxes will apply. At this point, the family business is planning to drop health insurance benefits for employees, since that cost would be more than double the penalty for not providing insurance under the new health reform law. The employees are not happy.
Michael has begun watching the news to see if there is anything promising in his future. He realizes why his parents have been complaining about government spending and taxes. They have nearly twenty years until retirement and are concerned about their own savings and job security. When he is their age, Michael will still be paying off his student loans and wondering if he will have to assist them financially, assuming that he will be able to find a good job. How is he supposed to get ahead? Whether he will be able to afford to buy a house and raise a family with the advantages that he has enjoyed, is another story.
Michael is not alone. His friends are also struggling to find stable employment and repay loans. Some of them have decided to join the military in hopes of using those skills and benefits once they return to civilian life, while others plan to make a career of it. Others are finding jobs in the trades, like his friend Carl, who is a carpenter. They all have one thing in common. They cannot seem to get ahead. It feels like they are existing instead of living– treading water, not swimming.
Debt, taxes, and health insurance. Those have become important issues to Michael. His generation has inherited something they didn’t create, and Michael realizes that his future depends on what is done now. It is time to speak up, vote, and take an active role as a citizen before it is too late.