One of my best friends since grade school who, like me, is in his late-30s, recently moved back home into his parents' basement after spending a year in Texas. Without getting into the specifics of his situation, that combined with some other interesting things I've heard and read about the job market recently has me thinking a lot about financial independence and about parenting.

A few weeks ago, Anirban Basu, the CEO of Baltimore-based economic and policy consulting firm Sage Policy Group, made his annual visit to Carroll County to speak about the local and state economy at a Chamber of Commerce event. In case you missed it, the entire presentation was recently posted on the Carroll County Government's YouTube channel.

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One of the things he spoke about was how a certain segment of the population, typically young white males, has removed themselves from the labor force statistics. Not only are they not working, they aren't actively seeking work either.

Basu noted that this was easily explained a few years back, when the nation was still recovering from the Great Recession and these individuals had been unsuccessful in their job searches. But as the nation continues to add jobs, that doesn't explain why the trend is continuing.

So economists did the research, according to Basu, and found that an overwhelming factor, accounting for between about a quarter to almost half of the diminished participation in the work force, was video games. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that young men increased leisure hours from 2004-2007 to 2012-2015 by about the same amount they dropped their working hours, and that video and computer games made up about 75 percent of the increased leisure time for those men.

A New York Post article on the topic notes: "Young men who are unemployed on average spend 520 hours per year on recreational computer or video game time, more than they spend on non-computer related socializing with friends."

Frankly, as someone who grew up in the golden age of Nintendo, this is downright terrifying.

But, and perhaps this shouldn't be all that surprising, the young men who reported not working and playing video games were overall happier — far happier — than their peers. I mean, yeah, sure, OK. Leisure time equals fun, work kind of stinks.

That certainly fits with the narrative that video game addiction is a real thing. At the end of last year, the World Health Organization announced it would add "gaming disorder" to its list of diseases in 2018. And just like a gambling or drug addiction, studies have shown that playing video games, or at least winning, releases dopamine to the brain, giving a person the same sense of euphoria that shooting up heroin might.

But I want to step away from video games — which are already taking enough of a beating, fairly or no, in the media right now — and look at the greater underlying problem here.

How can these young men get away with not working and playing video games all day?

"These men are in their 20s, now some of them in their 30s, there's food and shelter and clothing, from where do they garner their economic support?" Basu said. "Parents. Parents are the leading source of support for their lifestyle."

Which brings me back to my friend. His situation is a bit different, as he's always been gainfully employed since high school, and I'm not even sure he owns a gaming system but the broader category of leisure time is certainly a factor. Attending concerts and sporting events will put you in a hole real quick.

At some point, a significant number of parents, it seems, started enabling a generation of children so that they never became financially independent (or financially literate) and, maybe worse, never learned the value of work.

Those trends don't seem to be changing. A recent survey from Junior Achievement and AIG showed only half of teens see gaining financial independence from their parents as a goal for the future. So don't make plans for their bedroom just yet, Mom and Dad.

Sometimes, I think millennials get an undeserved bad rap for being lazy and entitled (in my experience, there are plenty of hardworking ones out there, many in our newsroom), but I wonder why more isn't made of the parents who enable those behaviors?

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If we don't want to see this type of behavior become more commonplace, then the current generation of parents like myself better make sure to instill a strong sense of work ethic and an understanding of financial literacy into our own children. And maybe keep that screen and game time to a minimum, shall we?



Wayne Carter is the editor of the Carroll County Times. Reach him at wayne.carter@carrollcountytimes.com.

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