Tyler's point about being too resilient is intriguing.
The middle class had a very comfortable existence before the downturn. True, it was financed through the usury of the credit card industry and using credit lines on our homes like ATMs. While some people people are much worse off, most are "making do."
To me it is so striking that older people (35 and older) -- Generation X and the Boomers -- are still waiting for the economy to return to normal. Young people getting out out of college and trying to find work know that things are different. They know everything will take longer and that they will not get the McMansion with the granite countertops they dreamed of, but they are still believers in the American Dream. They're okay with that, they know that a McMansion doesn't make you happy. The central part of the American Dream they cling to is incredibly narrow: being comfortable and holding on to what you have, not losing ground. I read some of the commencement speeches back in 2008 when the economy crashed, and most of the speakers called on this generation to be another greatest generation, not to whine or complain but to tackle the problems of the nation with determination. When I talk to young people, I don't hear much whining, that's good, but I also see no anger. I wish I saw anger. Instead, I see people retreating and regrouping and cutting their losses.
As a professor, and a parent, people like me are the ones to blame. Why are people so focused on finding their passion? Has the Great Recession made seeking your passion a silly luxury. No one wants to kill a kid's dreams, but don't we need to respect this new reality. Is it cruel to tell young people they can do "anything they put their mind to?" My students tell me they want a career where they will do something they love and where they will be happy to go to work everyday. What about pragmatic concerns? The brightest kids want to go into finance or maybe, be the next Mark Zuckerberg or be a sports agent or work in public relations. I rarely meet kids who want to be engineers who work to protect the shore against erosion or low-lying regions from flooding or even want to be teachers, never principals who make the tough decisions about how to serve kids.