They’re kids. Well, actually young adults.
And at age 20 they’re part of the Percentage People.
The 99 percent.
The 47 percent.
The 7.8 percent.
They aren’t part of the wealthy. They don’t pay income taxes. They don’t have jobs.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t industrious. It doesn’t mean they are living on entitlements. And it doesn’t mean they don’t want to work.
They are dealing with reality.
Good people come from tough backgrounds. Dysfunctional families. No parents alive.
The reality is harsh. Jobs that just six years ago went to 20-year-olds are being taken more and more by people twice their age and with 10 times the experience.
They’ve worked before. They worked in high school. Not by choice so they could buy the latest fashion or have a car. They worked because they had to in order to survive.
And it’s not as if they aren’t taking work when they can by doing small tasks for cash for individuals. But they are struggling to find that elusive job with a steady paycheck.
Please note they are not protesting. They are not going around with outstretched hands to Uncle Sam saying “give me, give me.”
They are not lazy. They are not bitter. They have dreams. They want to work.
And they are not alone.
Young people here, up and down the Valley, throughout California and across the nation who aren’t under the roof of a traditional home are sleeping on the couches, in the garages, or in the spare rooms of friends or relatives.
They are the lucky ones. They have yet to sleep on the streets.
The streets aren’t reserved exclusively for young people and others who are defiant, don’t want to work, have a substance abuse problem, or mental issues.
In the past few years more than a few relatively clean cut kids — young adults actually — have been spotted around the Valley sleeping behind bushes or walking the streets with their meager belongings. If they talk about their lot — most won’t — they will simply tell you they are making do. Eventually they find someone who will give them a place to crash. Eventually they do get on their feet.
It would be a tragedy if it didn’t underscore one thing: People do care.
Just like during the Great Depression people who are hurting more often than not do what they can for people who are hurting more. In a way, that’s always been the case.
That brings us back to the Percentage People.
There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of Romney or Obama or their most adherent supporters. But let’s be honest. Whether employment is at 10 percent, 7.8 percent or even 0.5 percent it is not good news.
Of course, it is never good news for those out of work. But what all of the percentage talk really misses are those caught on the bottom.
You might think being paid $15 an hour for 30 hours work a week flipping burgers would be a great thing. But not if it is in a North Dakota oil boom town where unemployment is getting close to zilch but the wages paid to those on top of the labor ladder — in this case oil field workers — are tripling and quadrupling the price of housing whether to rent or own. In essence, a $15 an hour job isn’t a livable wage.
Go back a few years when the jobless rate in most Valley towns was half of today’s 12 to 15 percent rate.
An individual with a minimum wage job was being squeezed out of housing where rents were going up in lockstep with the new housing market that was catering more and more to those on top of the labor scale that consisted of folks earning $80,000 or more from Bay Area tech jobs. Of course, they were being forced to commute east over the Altamont Pass in order to secure housing they could afford.
Politicians on both sides and their apologists can wail all they want about 99 percent, 47 percent and 7.8 percent.
Simply providing good paying jobs isn’t the answer.
Addressing the basics — housing especially — by rethinking government regulations and such that have driven up prices and lifted the “standards” so high that those on the bottom rung can’t secure decent housing to rent even when they are working — is the real problem.
Talk all you want about tax credits and raising taxes. For the most part that only impacts government. Yes, such policies trickle down both in encouraging the private sector to create jobs and in the form of the safety net. But when all is said and done, it does nothing to address the perennial problems.
And as it stands now, Democrat and Republican politicians are more interested in playing the percentages to get elected than in offering a real course of action that would benefit those included in the 99 percent, the 47 percent, or the 7.8 percent.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.