Thursday, February 05, 2004

Can commentators at least get GenX's ages right?

As I've previously blogged, IMO GenX was born between 23 November 1963 (the day after JFK was shot) and 3 May 1979 (the day before Margaret Thatcher became UK PM) ? the two book-ends of the end of the Post-War Dream (the Dream needed two ends, because it recrudesced spectacularly around 1968). Actuarial-minded folks can argue about these exact dates being arbitrary (which they are), but, as (I think) I also have previously observed, they slot in nicely to that other recrudescence; this time of the Summer of Love (and optimism).

GenX had its time in the sun in the post Cold-War years from 1989 to April 1994, when Kurt Cobain died, thereby symbolising the end of our generation?s ever-so-brief analogue of the Post-War Dream. (Actually, it was more like the Post-Recession Dream, and it took place, with unconscious GenX irony, during what was (1990-1992) supposedly the worst recession since the 1930s ? the irony being that GenX have always lived with recession. I, for one, didn?t find 1990-1992 worse than any other time; unemployment has always been high, and a presence in my life.) Unlike the 1968rs, we 1992rs weren?t particularly hung up on drugs ? we took them, but we hardly expected them to change our lives, much less the world. We also were far from explicitly (?never trust anyone over . . .?) ageist ? it was only after 1994 that ?baby boomer? began to filter through as a pejorative term.

Anyway, my point here is that, with this year GenX now being in an incredibly neat age range, of 25-40, the least thing commentators could do is to get it right, or even approximately so.

Doofus number 1: Ian Harper, of the Melbourne Business School, who not only associates GenX with the under-30s* but also (seemingly; I have not read his report) ignores the unconscionable impact the lifetime ratings system for private health insurance does already have on 30+ GenXers. In 2004, "30-something" is a much more accurate descriptor for GenX, than "under-30s". In addition, the term "30-something" can also be useful to (loosely) separate the majority of Xers who do NOT have boomer parents from the minority who do. In using "30-something" as a substitute for GenXer, though, the most important thing is not to forget that hundreds of us are now turning 40 every day**, and we are, I bet, the first bunch of 40 y.o.'s in history to look at the income and wealth of a home-owning age pensioner (with no other assets) and think of this as comparatively affluent, if not almost obscenely so.

Doofus number 2: Kati Riikonen, the 32 year-old Motorola employee quoted in this article:

Among the influences that have left their mark on Gen Xers are the Internet, international travel, the 1990s technology boom that jolted the business world just as they entered the workforce, and the technology bust that followed.

I?m not sure what Kati was otherwise doing, apparently not working up until her late 20s (the dotcom boom started, at the earliest, in 1998), but most Gen Xers started work ? or not ? by their early 20s, and in any case, a third of the generation were already in their 30s by the time the dotcom boom started. (I?m not saying there wasn?t a bust c. 2001, Kati ? it?s just that this is/was nothing even-remotely new.)

Doofus number 3: a team effort between journo Michael Winkler and 25-year-old Travis Scicchitano, a team leader with Conservation Volunteers Australia. Winkler writes:

Anyone decrying the shallowness or cynicism of Generation X would do well to meet Scicchitano.

Apart from playing into the hands of Mark Latham and his GenX-hating speech-meister, Simon Crean, Winkler and Scicchitano somehow fail to mention that the organisation so glowingly written-up in the article ? Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA) ? discriminated, and profoundly so, against unemployed GenXers. Until recently, CVA received public money to run ?Green Corps? programs ? which are somewhat like Work for the Dole programs only (i) you lived away from home, and (ii) you were paid a wage (albeit not much, but a lot more than the bare dole, or the dole-plus-$10-a week that WfD conscripts get). The catch? Green Corps is only available to 17-21 year olds. Age discrimination: nice work if you can get it.

* Overwhelmingly, they are not, and in the year or two his proposal would take to get through parliament, only the barest rump would be, and then for a small time.

** Including me, in a few month's time.

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