Sunday, April 27, 2008
It's hard not to notice the striking differences between the thirtysomethings described in these two stories - the same generation living on very different continents.
First, Jason Liebrecht of Southern California in this LA Times report:
Raised in boom times, many Gen-X and Yers seeIt's important to note that much of the free spending in recent years has been with borrowed money - either credit cards or home equity.
their dreams go bust
Jason Liebrecht used to write about his motorcycle adventures on his blog. But since early this month, the 36-year-old San Diego computer software engineer's daily musings have been about a less thrilling new experience: unemployment.
"Do I find a job, or do I head to Central and South America on the motorcycle?" he wrote on Day 4. By Day 7, he had become more realistic: "So far in the last week I've made $1,245 off of EBay sales. Mostly stuff I wasn't using, or don't need much. Nice way to clean the house up!"
After selling some stock and applying for unemployment, Liebrecht figures he can pay his $2,300-a-month mortgage and other bills for just two months. When his company health insurance runs out in a few weeks, he'll go uncovered because he can't afford the premiums.
"You have to just hope you land on your feet," Liebrecht said in an interview.
People everywhere are coping with rising credit card balances, falling home values and layoffs. But such worries are particularly jarring for a younger slice of the workforce that has known little but long-term financial prosperity and optimism.
After all, a large share of today's 20- and 30-somethings -- a nearly 80-million strong cohort -- were in college or high school (and some in grade school) the last time the country experienced a severe financial jolt. Some can barely remember the mild recession of 2001, which was followed by an extraordinary boom that coincided with their entry into the workforce.
Raised amid a long stretch of financial bounty and weaned on video games, cellphones, iPods and weekends at the mall, many Generation X and Y members have barely seen a time when they couldn't spend freely on the latest styles and gadgets.
Around the other side of the world in China, the New York Times reports on Feng Jun who is just three years older than Jason Lebrecht:
Horatio Alger Multiplied by 1.3 BillionWhile these two are certainly not representative of their generation in terms of career success - there are many successful entrepreneurs in the U.S. and at least a few unemployed software engineers in China - they probably are representative of their generation in the way they view the world.
“My generation is very lucky,” said Feng Jun.
Mr. Feng, the chief executive of Aigo, a large Chinese consumer electronics company, is a classic Chinese entrepreneur: starting with $31 in his pocket, he has built a business whose products are a staple of urban China, including digital cameras, MP3 players and a new iPhone-like all-in-one device. Before telling me his Horatio Alger story, though, he had something he wanted me to understand.
“My mother and father went through the Cultural Revolution,” Mr. Feng said. “They had no chance.”
He continued: “When I was in grammar school, the Cultural Revolution ended. When I graduated from university in 1992, that was the year of real reform. Deng Xiaoping encouraged students to go into business and become entrepreneurs. Before then, if you wanted to be an entrepreneur, you would sink like a stone. But after that, anyone could be an entrepreneur.”
First, it helps explain why most of the Chinese chief executives I met — every one a company founder — were in their 30s. Though Mr. Feng began his company 16 years ago, he is just 39, and absolutely brimming with entrepreneurial enthusiasm.
It's funny that the guy who started with nothing but opportunity feels lucky today, while twenty and thirtysomethings in the U.S., many of whom have seen nothing but good times and seemingly endless prosperity, now feel quite unlucky.
This week's cartoon from The Economist: