We've already read about all the once-six-figure execs now working as custodians or burger flippers in the Great Recession. Now comes word from Salon.com of a new wave of young college-educated Americans buying organic foods on the taxpayer dime. Dubbed "hipsters on food stamps," these able-bodied members of Generation Y are redefining what it means to be on government assistance, the article says.
"Faced with lingering unemployment, 20- and 30-somethings with college degrees and foodie standards are shaking off old taboos about who should get government assistance and discovering that government benefits can indeed be used for just about anything edible, including wild-caught fish, organic asparagus and triple-crème cheese," according to Salon.
The responses to the piece in the comments section are, as you might expect, not especially supportive. The subjects of the piece were called lazy, entitled, degenerate brats. The "Me Generation" at its lowest ebb.
A Bleak Job Outlook
Some may argue that college grads with a whole future ahead of them should be practicing self-reliance instead of applying for food stamps. But I wouldn't be so quick to jump on the Gen-Y bashing bandwagon. Today, surviving in life after college for a growing numbers means working any part-time job you can get and receiving $200 per month from the government to pay for food. That's more a reflection of how bleak the current outlook is for most graduates than any sort of moral failure on their part. If they chose to use that money to buy organic goat cheese instead of Velveeta, should they be faulted?
Sure, recent grads could skip the food stamps altogether and use their meager salaries to live on instant ramen noodles and roadkill. But if they qualify for food stamps, which a record number of people from all walks of life do because of recent changes in the eligibility requirements, can we really blame them for taking advantage? Just as we can debate all day the merits of the home buyer tax credit without ripping on individuals who take advantage, concerns about the food stamp program should be directed at the policy behind it -- not the individuals who use it.
Does anyone honestly think that these recent graduates went to college with the goal of graduating with five-figure debt loads and only a part-time minimum wage job? But for a majority of recent college grads, believe it or not, that is now more or less the situation. During the first four months of 2009, less than half of college graduates under 25 were working at jobs that required a college degree. That's troubling as two-thirds of recent graduates left school with an average of more than $20,000 in student loan debt alone.
Skipping the Beans and Rice
So here's what I say to recent college grads who have been burned by the tanking economy and the fact that their educations loaded them down with excessive debt for a degree that has so far delivered little of the promised value: If $200 worth of government-subsidized asparagus from Whole Foods makes the hand you've been dealt more tolerable, eat up.
In other words, if the government is willing to bankroll you out of the ramen and beans diet, go for it. By the time you're done paying the interest on a debt-funded war that was waged before you were eligible to vote, you'll have more than earned it.
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