Over the weekend, The New York Times ran a thought-provoking piece titled, Generation OMG. The article draws parallels between generations growing up in our current economic crisis and the â€œsilent generationâ€� of the Great Depression. However, I believe the article misses an extremely troubling trend that I have observed anecdotally: the increasingly expensive price of a career in service.
I find it inspiring that so many young people now want to get involved with service and giving back. Perhaps this desire has arisen from the internships and volunteer work often necessary to get into college, but we seem to be at precipice as far as young people wanting to make a difference. Programs like Teach for America (my own sister is in TFA), the Peace Corps and City Year are more popular than ever. Young people can give back and connect at a global level using technology, as has been witnessed with Obama’s victory, the rise of startups like Kiva.org and the impact of Facebook in Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt.
And yet, I am deeply saddened by what I see as the simultaneous disenchantment with service-based careers. Specifically, I see disenchantment with the compensation and standard of living afforded those who choose to pursue careers in service.
While it has always been the case that service-based careers pay less than other private sector work, the difference was made-up in scheduling flexibility, pensions and job security. Sadly, now such benefits rarely exist, rendering the lifestyle of a service-based career a real concern for any young person desiring of the American dream (buying a home and sending their children to college). We are now faced with a faulty incentive system where self-worth and standard of living are too highly correlated with compensation. The value of a service-based career is not nearly so black and white.
As a result, I am forced to wonder how many could-be civil servants are watching as their parents’ 401ks go down in flames and reevaluating their own future plans? How many kids will not go to their college of choice because their parents â€“ perhaps educators themselves – simply can’t afford the price of admission? The fact is that access to money has become a necessity for Americans seeking a decent standard of living; health care and educational costs have spiraled out of control for years. I am fearful that we are creating a generation who feels forced into careers that compensate them based on a skewed incentive system.