For younger generations, U.S. is rotting from within

Sometimes, you just have to stop and think about a sentence for a bit in order to realize just how bad things really are.

Here’s today’s head shaker:

One in 10 working Americans between the ages of 35 and 44 are getting their wages garnished. That means their pay is being docked – often over an old credit card debt, medical bill, or student loan.

It’s contained in a stunning project from NPR and ProPublica on changes in the way debt collectors operate. In all but a handful of states, they can simply sweep everything out of your bank account. Everything.

We know what you’re thinking. Deadbeats. Serves ’em right.

In this story, however, a family lost it all because a woman fell and broke her wrist. In fact, many of the stories being told begin with someone who didn’t have health insurance. Others are simply victims of the recession.

Back in 1968, when lawmakers passed the landmark Consumer Credit Protection Act, it specifically limited how much of a debtor’s pay could be seized. But it made no mention of bank account garnishments. As a result, a collector can’t take more than 25 percent of a debtor’s paycheck, but if that paycheck is deposited in a bank, all of the funds can be taken.

Carolyn Carter, director of advocacy at the National Consumer Law Center, says the lawmakers didn’t address bank seizures because they simply weren’t common at the time. In today’s collection environment, she said, “the wages that are deposited in a bank account become suddenly much more vulnerable than anyone realized.”

Since the late 1960s, debt collection has changed in other ways that lawmakers couldn’t have anticipated. Today, buying old debt is an industry in itself. And big debt buying firms hire teams of lawyers to crank out lawsuit after lawsuit seeking to collect. Carter says it’s time for lawmakers at the state and local level to revisit and reform existing laws.

  1. Listen NPR: With debt collection, your bank account could be at risk

    September 16, 2014

Wisconsin is one of only three states that protects paychecks so that they don’t drop below the poverty level.

And there’s yet another tale of the generation from NPR today. There are few jobs for this country’s youngest research scientists — the best and the brightest.

Support for biomedical research is down 20 percent, NPR complains.

What does this look like for the best and brightest? A commenter on the NPR website tells the story:

This is one of the reasons my husband and I moved to Europe for jobs. After getting on-site interviews for 3 colleges/Universities, but not getting offered a position or deciding the fit wasn’t right before a decision was made on their part, and seeing no hope in the funding opportunities, we made the move.

I hated leaving my family and friends, but an opportunity presented itself where 2 PhD’s could have a job in the same location and get paid a bit more than what we made as post-docs. For him it was a pretty even swap from his previous post-doctoral and doctoral training, but I had to adapt to a new field and position that was much different from my PhD education and training.

I believe we will both be better for the risks we took, but my dreams of being a University educator training the next generation of science are all but dashed by the downward trajectory of the funding situation.

I used to tell students in the labs I worked in they should go onto do PhD’s if they wanted to do science and make a difference. Now I tell them to get a job after their bachelors and think very hard if they want to earn tiny salaries to work long hours and in the end fail more often than you succeed, only to graduate and find yourself in the position where you may not find gainful employment doing what you trained so hard for.

It is a dismal situation that academia has come to this. I love that the Ice bucket challenge has earned so much money for ALS research, but they are not the only ones hurting. People should be telling their constituents that they want to see more money go into all science so we can support people who want to make a different.

Right now, a grant has to be in the upper 6% of all that are submitted to get funded. This is why professors in Academia spend 90% of their time writing grants rather than mentoring students and post-docs.

“It’s not that the number of jobs has diminished,” says another. “It’s that the number of good jobs has diminished.”

These stories come on top of recent revelations about just how saddled this same generation is with student debt.

Deepest sympathies, younger generations.

Related: Minnesota Poll: Majority say state economy doing better (Star Tribune).

  • Paul Weimer

    These are images and signposts of a country that is failing. And those not in these dire straits are “but for the grace of God go I” and the noose tightens bit by bit.

  • jon

    As a member of the “younger than Bob” generation, this pretty much sums it up in the title..
    Then again, my generations grew up hearing about how good it was back in the day from our parents, who lived during the most prosperous time in the countries history…
    Perhaps we need to hang out with our great depression era grandparents some more to get some perspective.

    • It’s funny you mention that. A few years ago, as the Great Recession was dawning, I started talking to the people you suggest we talk to just for this perspective. I was looking for a little hope for the predicament we were in. What did I get? “Oh yeah, this is wayyy worse than back then…” I was stunned. That’s when I went to talk to college kids instead (which spawned the NewsCut on Campus project).

      I was talking to an old-timer the other day and what he said was in the Depression, they had hope that things would be better. He said he thought the difference between then and now is the lack of optimism that better times are ahead, that this is the new normal. That the U.S. peaked years ago.

      • >>That the U.S. peaked years ago.<<

        I've been saying this very thing for years. We had a good run, just like the ancient Greeks, ancient Romans, colonial Britain, Spain, France, Russia…

      • Veronica

        I see this a little differently. Are things GREAT now? No, but I don’t know if I want to go back to Clinton-era bubble economy and then deal with the aftermath of yet another bubble bursting. HOWEVER, in an election year, there is much talk by certain politicians about how things are getting worse, how bad the economy of Minnesota is, blah, blah, blah…..when we have one of the best, strongest economies in the US.

        Rhetoric isn’t matching reality. Need another example? Walker’s laughable “Open for Business” baloney.

        I have hope, but then again I’m just a lazy, entitled millennial who owns 2 businesses. What do I know?

        • You’re referring to a state. I’m referring to a country.

          Minnesotans are lucky; they have very little idea how bad things really are out there.

          We’re so consumed with how things are in the here-and-now, we don’t realize what we’ve done to the future.

          • Veronica

            And again, I do have hope. I see the minimum wage fights as starting to pick up. I have hope that in 10 years we’ll make advancements in women’s rights. I know that as the boomers retire and um, “retire”, we won’t have the same levels of unemployment. Are there environmental things going on that are pretty yucky? Yes….but I don’t see that as hopeless either.

            Lower Manhattan exists because of a garbage dump. I don’t know what that proves, but humans can adapt.

          • jon

            Americans are lucky; they have very little idea how bad things really are out there.

  • Gary F

    The millennials also grew up in an era where self esteem was given, not earned. Everything was “for the children” so their expectations were inflated. Past generations grew up brewing coffee at home and they now need to spend $2+ daily on a cup of coffee. Everyone got a trophy and the score wasn’t announced.

    Live within your means, no job is too low for you, you will need to work late, get your hands dirty, and suck up to “the man”, take some risks, and put off gratification for a while.

    Yes, the 50’s were a great era, and since we bombed the heck out of all the main industrial centers of the world in WW2, sure it was easy. Now you have to compete with the world.

    Go do it.

    • John

      If you think that people who have gotten advanced degrees in science are afraid to “get their hands dirty, work late, take risks, suck up to the man, or put off gratification for a while, you clearly have no idea what it takes to get there for the group of people discussed in the article above.

      Let me give you an idea of what a chemist will do to get a PhD (in the name of pursuit of an academic job with 6-7 day workweeks and relatively low pay);

      I went to graduate school for six years to get my PhD. During that six years, I earned around $15K/year after paying my tuition (this was in the early 2K’s, so not that long ago, I think it’s up to about $20K now), but before taxes. In a typical work week, I would be at school doing research M-F from 6 AM until 3 PM, then would go get my son from daycare, make dinner and hand him off to my wife for the evening. I’d be back at school from 6:30 until 9:00 most nights.

      Saturdays, i normally worked from 7 AM until around noon. Sundays I tried to keep it to a couple hours of working at home.

      Seven years after graduation, my family and I are planning our kids first vacation involving a plane for this winter (we drove to South Dakota last summer, before that we hadn’t left the state for a vacation). How long after high school did you “delay gratification,” before you were able to do something like that? I’m over 15 years out now.

      So, before you go judging the people who have chosen to be the best in the world at what they do, I suggest you learn a bit about what they have given up to get there. (note: I’m not the best at what I do, nor did I go into academics. I chose to work in private industry, for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with any of this).

      • Gary F

        20 years ago I started working on straight commission. Been through a couple of job changes, and a bad economies. Had paychecks that when you divide by the hours I put in were less than minimum wage, and had paychecks that were more than some people make in a year.

        Go do it. It’s still out there.

        • I see this article and John’s comments are lost on you.

          The “best and brightest” aren’t sales weasels or paid on commission.

          • Gary F

            They also start their own firms. They take risks by working for a start up firm and becoming part of ownership.

            Bad economies mean people need to think outside the box, get some skin the game. Think outside the traditional norms of what is “owed to you” for getting a higher degree. No one owes you a better paying job with an advanced degree.

          • Veronica

            You have to be in pretty nice place financially to “take those risks” and start your own company. You’ll need to make sure you have a steady stream of income until your company starts turning a profit (3 years being the standard time frame). If you have kids, then you risk even more by starting a real company. And no, I don’t mean freelancing. That has it’s own special kind of stress, but I mean a company with actual income and liabilities.

          • Gary F

            yes, that’s why its called risk. And, now that we have deemed that sole proprietorship’s are the evil rich and not paying their fair share, there is even less opportunity because there is less reward for the risk.

          • Veronica

            Uh…what? I’m evil now? I have one SP and one partnership business….and I pay my taxes. Most of my business owner friends do too.

            You’re saying start a company, but it’s risky, but it won;t matter because the result will be an evil resource-sucker?

            I don’t get it.

          • Tim

            Do we as a nation want to remain competitive in these fields? In that case, yeah, we more or less do owe them jobs if we don’t want to fall behind other countries that are willing to invest far more resources into scientific research.

          • I almost have a “Buzzword bingo.” You just have to toss “synergy” in your next post.

        • John

          I note from the article above, that the people who are going out and doing it, are still doing exactly that.

          They just had to move to Europe to make it happen.

    • jon

      Yup, millennials, bunch of lazy hipsters living out of their parents basement because they aren’t willing to do any work…
      Of course, Baby boomers, bunch of lazy hippies living out of a van because they are unwilling to get real jobs…

      What you are describing as a trait of millennials is a trait of 20 somethings, it’s embarrassing to me that people older than myself can’t manage to see that the same terms they are throwing around are the ones that were thrown at them when they were the same age…

      I can appreciate that baby boomers don’t necessarily have much memory left, but appreciate that the same traits you are tossing around now were tossed at your generation (baby boomers, gen x, millennials, echo boomers, all of them except for the greatest generation who was not around in their 20’s because they were off fighting WWII) back in the day…

      Also appreciate that there are more lazy hippy baby boomers that are not in the work force than lazy every one gets a trophy millennials… Of course letting facts get in the way of a good story about how the youth are going to destroy this country while the older generation actively destroys the country would just make it so much hard to sell news papers to the generation of people who still know what a news paper is….

      • Baby Boomers peaked after stopping the war in Vietnam.

        Since then, they permanently occupy a place in U.S. history as the most selfish, self-centered generation in American history, unable or unwilling to understand the concept of sacrifice for the benefit of the greater good.

        The one flaw of the Greatest Generation, is they spawned us.

        • Jack

          I don’t know that it has to do with the generation as much as it has to do with the economic circumstances (charades) we have had to tolerate since 911. I have perceived this problem as a reaction to this plan of a New World Order (President Obama’s term in an interview with New York Times). Not only are you navigating around company politics to get that perfect job you are also in a battle in getting your resume in the right hands via technology that has been filtered electronically and physically. Who succeeds and who struggles is more controlled, thank you technology. If we need to blame a generation do we blame the Baby Boomers for the creation of technology or do we blame Gen Xers plus others for abusing it?

          • jon

            The boomers had their chance long before 9/11.
            Gen X had their chance long before 9/11.
            Both were called lazy when the bulk of the generation reached their 20’s, same as the millennials…
            I think it has less to do with the economy and 9/11 and more to do with our long term memory, seems that as it fades we forget that we were once (as a generation) called “lazy”
            Television was going to destroy the boomers brains, and then MTV was going to destroy the echo boomers brains… I think the millennials ruined their brains with ipods…
            Every generation has been attacked as being unproductive and lazy as they start to enter the work force… because as they start to enter the work force, a majority of them aren’t in the work force yet… hence they are lazy. If I could apply the same logic to goldfish, the two of them that are still in the plastic bag adjusting to the temperature of the tank are lazy, because they aren’t swimming around like the one that has been in that tank for months.

            The economy might be part of a slower uptick for millennials… but ultimately, the same names get thrown out every time a new generation comes along… in 10-20 years time, my nephews generation (don’t know if they have a name yet) will be being picked apart as lazy, had everything they ever wanted delivered to them on an ipad and never had to struggle like “our” generation in their whole life…

            My generation didn’t stop a Vietnam, we didn’t fight in a world war, or end a holocaust, perhaps the legacy of my generation can be a failure to start any wars in the first place, maybe we won’t see the point when every one is going to get a trophy at the end any ways…
            Maybe we can create a better life for our self than our parents had, which should be the dream for us from the older generation, though disdain for other peoples kids is all I read on internet comments about my generation, perhaps we won’t respond in kind and implement the death panels congress was so intent on for a while…

        • tboom

          Bob I’m your age, right smack in the middle of the baby boom generation. I don’t credit our generation with stopping the war, it went on far too long and probably would have ended anyway. I believe most politicians of the time had come to see Viet-Nam as the lost cause it was, but could not see a “graceful” way of admitting to such a huge and costly mistake. Perhaps The War would have ended even sooner had there not been such vociferous protests creating us-against-them political push-back.

          I do agree with your sentiments that as a whole we’re a greedy self-centered lot, the “us-against-them” division has dominated our lifetime. Just as we were split anti-war and establishment then, we are split Democrat and Republican now. As our time to “run the country” came and went, what did we produce? An ineffectual (on big issues) two-term philandering Democratic President and a two-term Republican President with such little courage and foresight he led us into an endless war.

          Just as we couldn’t talk to each other in the 60’s, we can’t talk to each other now. When you can’t talk, you can’t solve deep problems.

          We hand the next generation problems (war and environment) and broken tools (economy, education and infrastructure). Best of luck, BTW be sure to take care of us in our old age.

    • Tyler

      “The millennials also grew up in an era where self esteem was given, not earned. ”

      And who “gave” that self-esteem? Complaining about the following generation is basically a comment on how poor a parent you are.

      • Jack

        In a healthy environment, self-esteem is naturally developed. Naturally developed like compassion and empathy. Wages are earned, exchanged for labor output.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    Just wait until we realize $17,000,000,000,000 in debt is also a problem.