You could see it in their faces; the look was unmistakable. I noticed it throughout our trip but it was confirmed by Mario on our final day in Europe.
My wife and I were staying in Paris and took a hotel shuttle to the airport. We were the only two passengers on the shuttle van for the 30-minute ride and immediately struck up a conversation with our driver.
Mario, 33, was trilingual and personable. We soon learned he was from Italy, where he had completed his schooling but moved to France because there were no jobs in Italy. His job driving the shuttle van had zero possibility for upward mobility, and he expected to remain in the same menial, monotonous position his entire working life.
He was living with his girlfriend, but said he had no intention ever to marry; he was adamant about never having children. He had already begun to think about his pension, which was at least a quarter-century in the future.
Contemplate Mario’s situation. He left his native country and family for a low-paying, dead-end job in another country where he never would totally belong. He already had driven the van for 14 years and was facing another 29 years — a total of 60,000 hotel/airport round trips.
He would subsist perpetually on the economic fringe of society, eschewing wife and children. Yet, according to his calculus, this hardscrabble existence was better than the life he left behind in Italy.
Multiply Mario by tens of millions of others in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and elsewhere, and you will begin to understand the magnitude of the quiet desperation I witnessed.
Take Carlos from Madrid, who was quoted in a recent Bloomberg report. He graduated from university but faced Spain’s 52 percent unemployment rate for those under age 25. He now washes and chops vegetables for a salad bar in London. Of the 17 employees, 13 are from Spain, including three from Carlos’ university. “We are a lost generation for sure,” Carlos said.
As bad as the situation is, it is certain to get far worse, as governments and central banks impose anti-growth policies like massive tax hikes and pile on ever more onerous regulations.
Even the courts add to the perdition. The European Court of Justice just ruled workers who don’t feel well during vacations are entitled to a paid makeup vacation day for every day they were ill. Meanwhile, thanks to many millions like Mario and Carlos, Europe’s demographics are imploding. Unfortunately, Europe’s problems have reached the USA.
America is Becoming More Like Europe
More and more Americans are working part-time and in low-wage jobs. Our unemployment rate is 15 percent, which includes involuntary part-time workers. Unemployment for those under age 25 is higher, 16 percent, and that number is set to soar as Obamacare kicks in and the cost of insuring full-time workers skyrockets. America gradually is descending into a low-wage, part-time economy with stagnant growth accompanied by decreasing social mobility.
Obama’s policies will mean those trends won’t improve for at least the next five years — four more years of Obama and at least one year to change course. The high rate of government spending, massive debt, huge deficits and higher taxes are certain to result in tepid economic growth. We will be lucky to average 2 percent growth per year and avoid recession and/or an existential debt crisis.
In short, the youth (and increasingly, the middle class) of America are becoming more like Mario and Carlos. They will be part of a lost generation, and it is just a matter of time until we will begin to see the unmistakable looks of quiet desperation in our children’s faces.