The Lost Souls of America
By Josh Gasbarra, Guest Columnist
According to Pew Research, there are over 10.2 million people aged 16-29 living in this country who are not in school or working. These people are vastly less likely to be engaged in civic activities. There are several related societal ills in America that are causing this slip into mediocrity and holding the country back.
This problem is practically invisible. As the Wall Street Journal puts it: “Strangely, nearly everyone—the news media, major political parties, intellectuals, business leaders, policy makers—has managed to overlook it.”
Part of the reason for that is that these people are simply off the radar. The reason more and more people are falling off the radar is due to the rapid advancement of technology and its effect on culture.
A University of Michigan study entitled “Changes in Dispositional Empathy In American College Students” found that our ability to relate to one another has been declining since 1979. “We speculate that one likely contributor to declining empathy is the rising prominence of personal technology and media use in everyday life.” The new technological and media environment, coupled with growing inequality, is causing increased self-segregation and a lack of empathy and understanding of those outside our own bubble.
For many who fall off the radar, their cultural bubble becomes a life of video games, Internet and/or drug addiction.
Surprisingly, as “Reason” magazine reports, “the stereotypical aimless young man, detached from work and society, playing video games…He’s actually happier than ever.” This happiness is only in the short term, however, “A young life spent playing video games can lead to a middle age without marketable skills or connections. “There is some evidence,” Hurst pointed out, “that these young, lower-skilled men who are happy in their 20s become much less happy in their 30s or 40s.”
Society is going to have to consider what happens to these millions of people once they reach that state.
“The profound effects of loneliness on health and independence are a critical public health problem,” said Dr. Carla M. Perissinotto, a geriatrician at the University of California, San Francisco. “It is no longer medically or ethically acceptable to ignore older adults who feel lonely and marginalized.”
Our culture and institutions have at the moment not adapted to either keep these people in society or bring them back in. This cannot be allowed to continue, because it this “idle army” is highly prone to radicalization via the Internet. The New York Times notes that, “as it turns out, it isn’t just violent jihadists who benefit from the Internet’s power to radicalize young people from afar. White supremacists are just as adept at it.” As The Guardian phrases it, “the tools that were designed to bring people together are used by people to magnify divisions and undermine social solidarity.”
Incentives need to exist for these people to enter society, “In a very low-wage world,” journalist Ryan Avent writes, “more people will opt out of work. This will inevitably strain the social-safety net; societies will be ever more clearly divided into those who work and pay for social programs and those who live off of them.”
If this dynamic is not handled with care, it could lead to “intense political conflict” between those two groups. The global rise of populist movements on both the left and right including violent extremists like ISIS is an early signal that such tensions are already building. It is in the best interest of the whole nation for everyone to be contributing and to become a part of society.