How about expanding programs like City Year, in which 17- to 24-year-olds from diverse backgrounds spend a year mentoring inner-city children in exchange for a stipend, health insurance, child care, cellphone service and a $5,350 education award? Or a federal program in which a government-sponsored savings account is created for every newborn, to be cashed in at age 21 to support a year's worth of travel, education or volunteer work -- a version of the "baby bonds" program that Hillary Clinton mentioned during her 2008 primary campaign? Maybe we can encourage a kind of socially sanctioned "rumspringa," the temporary moratorium from social responsibilities some Amish offer their young people to allow them to experiment before settling down. It requires only a bit of ingenuity -- as well as some societal forbearance and financial commitment -- to think of ways to expand some of the programs that now work so well for the elite, like the Fulbright fellowship or the Peace Corps, to make the chance for temporary service and self-examination available to a wider range of young people.
Because every trend requires big government programs, right?
I think that the central trend here is that people do not want to work. Bruce Bartlett notes that
According to the Social Security Administration, 43 percent of men and 48 percent of women on Social Security in 2008 began drawing benefits at age 62. An additional 15 percent of men and women started at age 63 or 64. In short, about two-thirds of those eligible are retiring before the normal retirement age.
I'm all for people not working. Leisure is a great thing, and as we become wealthier we should take advantage of it. However, I do have a couple of worries.
1. I worry that many college graduates are unsettled nowadays because they did not really learn much.
2. I worry that twenty-somethings face so much social pressure not to work for a profit.
3. I worry that we send young people signals that they should run from adversity. I know of a couple twenty-somethings who landed good jobs and soon quit because they were criticized by their bosses. Look, nobody likes a difficult boss, but in my generation you would typically find a new job before you quit because the boss made you feel bad.
4. I worry about government engineering who gets leisure and who does not. Among the elderly, we already have a privileged class (retired government workers). Once we decide that the decade from age 20 to 30 is a public policy issue, who knows what mischief will be created?