Lori's Reviews > Slackonomics: Generation X in the Age of Creative Destruction

Slackonomics by Lisa Chamberlain
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Nov 03, 2014

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bookshelves: nonfiction, generation-x
Recommended for: Gen X
Read from July 11 to 14, 2010

I can already hear my cohort group protesting: You can't put ME in a box!! My generational niche is inherently suspicious and resentful of any method of categorization. Although I agree that it is a mistake to shoehorn people into One Size Fits All descriptions, I am not convinced that people are completely unaffected by the larger world around them and the conditions under which they lead their lives. Perhaps 'Generation X' would be less prickly about generational research if we ever heard anything positive about our characteristics or our shot at a successful life.

This book attempts to put a positive spin on the almost comically depressing trajectory our collective lives have taken at midlife. But if you haven't noticed...it is pretty bad out there. And the author isn't promising much. Still, this is an interesting read if you came into this world between the years 1962 and 1976 (give or take a few years on either end, depending on whose definition of Gen X you subscribe to...as a vintage 1966 I am classic regardless of the timeline.)

Basically Slackonomics lays out the numbers about why so many people in my age group have had trouble, not just 'getting ahead', but remaining in place -- or not slipping back too far. And I think it is important to get this data out there, for no other reason than to help people quit beating themselves up so much. Have you been working 60 or 70 hours a week or pulling more than one job for several years at a stretch? Do you wonder why you are not saving much money? Are you fed up with reading cute articles about giving up your expensive morning lattes in order to change your financial life? (even if you don't drink coffee.) Are you wondering what you did wrong?

Well, here is some bitter Slackonomics medicine:

"The average wage offers of newly hired college graduates crested in 1985, stagnated for several years, then dropped precipitously in the early 1990s. Entry level wages did not rebound to the 1985 level until as late as 1999. In other words, it took an unprecedented bubble economy to boost entry-level wages back to where they had been in the mid-1980s." (For context, my cohorts were graduating from college in the late 80s and early 90s and stepping into entry level jobs.)

"In 1980, men between the ages of twenty and twenty-four earned 55% of what older men made. In 1990, that percentage dropped to 35%. In 1980, twenty to twenty-four year old women earned almost 80% of what forty-five to fifty-four year olds earned. By 1990, that dropped to less than 60%."

In case you are not in the upper 1% of wage earners, you may also be interested to know that: "The top 1% saw their wealth increase by 42% between 1983 and 1998, almost four times the gain of the middle 20%. The Economic Policy Inst. calculated that in 2004 only the top 5% of households increased their incomes while the remaining 95% had flat or falling incomes."

For those of us who attempted to plan ahead and forestall the effects of the economic free-for-all we were about to step into...there was the idea of the college education (often extending into graduate school and beyond and to the tune of ever sky rocketing tuition.) "During the 1990s educated workers experienced a larger increase in economic volatility than people who did not finish high school." So much for the magic of a college/post graduate degree.

How does it feel to be the generation who fails to outperform your parents in the only way that is measured in America? (Economically, but of course.)

Fortunately, Gen X has learned to develop a thick skin and to find solace outside of the mainstream. Slackonomics was a walk down the memory lane of 'alternative' landscapes that my age group has flocked to over the years. Although sometimes I still feel like the lonely voice amidst a horde of suburban wannabes, Chamberlain has dug up some data that indicates that my husband and I are not the only ones who have eschewed the exurbs in favor of a more affordable, pedestrian friendly and 'connected' inner ring suburb/new urbanist environment. We are not the only ones who have learned that less is often more. We are not the only ones who have a solid marriage and who waited until our mid to late 30s to 'make it legal' and have kids. We are learning, as a group, that we must follow a very different schedule and that some of our goals have a better than average chance of remaining unmet (i.e. retirement).

Still we are a fairly tough group of people, despite our label as a bunch of whiners. We lack the security of the first wave Boomers and our own parents (and possibly our Sun Belt flocking grandparents.) But our forced march toward downsizing and living close to the financial edge is the corrective that is needed for our bloated and oil spewing society. Older folks might resent our tattoos and Ipods but we might be the generation that gets us all back on track whether we want to or not...smaller homes, smaller vehicles, smaller paychecks and lowered (read: more realistic) expectations.

So sorry about that 401K that is stuck at $20,000 and too bad you'll be working until you are 80. But keep your sense of Gen X humor about it. And go ahead. I can't abide the taste of the stuff--but have your coffee in the morning. You are going to need it!






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