Grim trend lines with glimmers of opportunity

This is my 34th year of forecasting trends. For the past dozen or so, when analyzing the trends that would shape much of the year ahead, I would say, “How sad, the future looks less promising than the past.” Unfortunately, I’ve been right. Each year ends worse than the year before.

And I’m not alone. Along with indisputable socioeconomic statistics and hard geopolitical facts to back up my forecasts, even the polls agree. A just released AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found that 70 percent of Americans have “no faith in government to make progress on the important problems and issues facing the country in 2014.”

When I was growing up, it was a given that my future would provide greater opportunities than my parents (“The Greatest Generation”) had enjoyed. Not anymore. A majority — 54 percent — say life in America is worse today than four decades ago. Only 20 percent of college graduates believe their generation will have more success than the generation before them. More than twice as many (58 percent) said they will have less financial security than the previous generation.

Burdened with over a trillion dollars in college debt, they have good reason to worry. According to a Bloomberg study, college tuition and fees have increased 1,120 percent since record-keeping began in 1978. Yet, just over the past decade, wages of college graduates have actually declined by five percent. Among the implications, as I forecasted in Trends 2000 (Warner Books, 1997): With middle-income job opportunities shipped overseas for both high school and college grads, the percentage of men and women ages 25–34 living in their parents’ home would rise significantly and first-time home-buyers among that age group would sharply contract.

This grim future for the young is far beyond an American phenomenon. In the Globalnomics section of the Autumn 2013 Trends Journal, we listed the skyrocketing youth unemployment figures from around the world. Even in China, whose economy is one of the world’s strongest, some 25 percent of college grads can’t find jobs.

Yet, you hear it all the time: “The youth are our future.” If they are, the future doesn’t look bright:

Young people ‘feel they have nothing to live for’

As many as three quarters of a million young people in the U.K. may feel that they have nothing to live for, a study for the Prince’s Trust charity claims.

The trust says almost a third of long-term unemployed young people have contemplated taking their own lives.

The research found that long-term unemployed young people were more than twice as likely as their peers to have been prescribed anti-depressants.

One in three (32 percent) had contemplated suicide, while one in four (24 percent) had self-harmed.

The report found 40% of jobless young people had faced symptoms of mental illness, including suicidal thoughts, feelings of self-loathing and panic attacks, as a direct result of unemployment.

(BBC, 1 January 2014)

I don’t agree that the “youth are our future.” They are just part of it. As I see it, the shape of the future is in the hands of older generations more so than younger generations. The older generations, having lived through defeat, victory, ups and downs, have experience and wisdom that only time on the planet can buy. We know where we are in life, understand how we got here and can see where we’re going. We know the trends. We’ve seen them before. We have “history” on our side.

Although 2014 will present some great difficulties and pose monumental challenges, as you will see from the Top 10 Trends of 2014, great opportunities also exist.  If acted upon, they can lead us to a more prosperous, bountiful and enlightened future.

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