By Rick Diguette
My son reached one of life’s major milestones in 2008: he turned 21. Still in college at the time, he was adding about $15,000 to his student loan debt every 12 months. My wife and I were able to avoid the most common outcomes of those perilous economic times, from which many people our age still haven’t fully recovered. We kept our jobs and, although the market value of our home plummeted, we held on to that as well. Looking back, we feel extremely fortunate to have emerged from the Great Recession unscathed. Our son hasn’t been so lucky.
A report published in 2018 shows that his age “cohort is at greatest risk of becoming a ‘lost generation’ for wealth accumulation.” Young people like him are more likely to be living at home well into their late twenties. Even those who aren’t living in their parent’s basement earn less and own fewer assets than members of earlier generations.
But the lingering effects of the Great Recession often transcend a dollars-and-cents analysis of generational trends. For my son, words like success and independence tend to ring hollow. Laboring to pay off a mountain of student loan debt and somehow get on with your life will do that.
Although I took early retirement in 2017 and am one of the fortunate few who collects a pension in addition to Social Security, I am looking for full-time work with one goal in mind: to pay off my son’s student loans. Whether I succeed depends on the willingness of an employer to hire someone born in 1954.
I have marketable skills and plenty of experience, but ageism is a factor in the job market, and why wouldn’t it be? I am not the person I was 20 years ago, but age comes with certain qualifying compensations. There is little likelihood I’ll come to work hung over, or in the grips of a tempestuous romance, or always on the lookout for a better gig. As for my cell phone, it’s a convenience, not a time-consuming distraction.
With age, or so the old saying goes, also comes wisdom. That doesn’t mean I consider myself infallible or all-knowing. But experience is a reliable teacher. I know things now, about other people and myself, that escaped my notice 20 years ago. My perspective is also different. I have achieved success and now enjoy a level of financial independence that at one time I would have thought unattainable. This took years to accomplish, and there were bumps in the road. The job market didn’t always look like it cared much about me. That’s one thing my son and I have in common.
It can be argued that my return to the work force may deprive a young person of an employment opportunity, and there’s obviously some truth to that. Nonetheless, I’m more than willing to put my Golden Years on hold to retire my son’s student loan debt. I will sleep better knowing that my efforts are hastening him closer to the day when success and independence are more than words, they’re meaningful touchstones in his life.