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Generation vexed

Poll: Optimism shrinks for 20-somethings’ future

Generations of American parents have shed sweat, blood and tears trying to give their children more.

More education. More money. More opportunities.

A mother holds two jobs and still finds time to come home and put dinner on the table. A father straps on steel-toed boots and stands on his feet all day on an assembly line in a factory so he can afford to send his daughter to a top-tier college.

That’s been the goal – to give the next generation something better than you had.

Today, however, more than half of Americans don’t think that “better” will become a reality.

A recent Gallup survey found that only 44 percent of Americans believe it is likely that today’s youth will have a better life than their parents, even fewer than the number who said so amid the 2008-09 recession, and the lowest figure on record for a trend dating to 1983. What’s more, Gallup found that the highest-income Americans are among the least optimistic about the future.

Most Americans remained optimistic about the future of the next generation in the beginning of the recession in January 2008, when Gallup first polled on this issue.

Things remained positive even as the nation’s economy worsened, but then took a downward turn last October, when only 50 percent of those polled expressed the belief that the future held promise for America’s young.

“Perspectives are certainly different for people who are in their 20s,” said Adam Yore, professor of finance at Northern Illinois University. “They would’ve grown up in their early childhood in the boom of the mid-to-late ’90s, and their emerging adulthood has been marked by recession, Sept. 11 and a housing crisis we’re facing now. That could darken your outlook.”

However, turbulence breeds innovation, Yore said.

That’s certainly the truth for Brandon Schwab, a 29-year-old McHenry resident who started, a successful hand car wash, after graduating from McHenry East High School in 2000.

He also runs a real estate company during the day and owns a property preservation company.

“It’s a rough time out there, but it forces you to be more creative,” Schwab said. “If you look back at the Depression, there were people who ended up making a ton of money, but there were others who followed the crowds and fell through the cracks.”

Mark Davids, an adviser with Crystal Lake-based Dorion Gray Retirement Planning, agreed that opportunities remain, and pockets within the markets right now still are prospering. He tempers optimism with realism, however.

“There’s probably not enough high-paying jobs in this country for the number of people we have graduating [from college] and the skill level required to compete on a global basis for younger Americans to continue the pre-2008 lifestyle we had, which was that anybody can get credit, bigger is better,” Davids said. “Twenty-three-year-olds right out of college won’t be leasing BMWs just because they can. People won’t be able to live beyond their means.”

But that’s not the worst thing in the world, if you ask Davids. In fact, there’s potential that out of this mess might come a less materialistic generation that understands how to stick to a budget and plan for the future, he said.

“Relationships, family, spirituality, health, those are the things that have meaning and are important, in my opinion,” Davids said. “Pre-2008, I’m not sure that was the main focus of businesses and families, in a broad picture. They were focused on how much money they could accumulate. Post-2008, it’s about how can we all live together in a balanced way where someone’s not losing and someone’s not winning. That’s a natural progression after what we’ve been through.”

And throughout all of the beatings, the spirit in many Americans remains strong.

“I’m probably overly optimistic, but I’d like to bet on America,” Yore said. “In terms of at least the financial system, we have the most developed capital market in the world. People still come here for opportunities. I’d side on our brightest days being ahead of us rather than behind.”

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