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I pick on the New York Times a lot, so it’s only fair to give the paper credit when it manages to get something right. In a piece called, “For Uninsured Young Adults, Do-It-Yourself Health Care,” the Times explores why so many 20-somethings are going without health insurance. The paper tells the story of 28-year-old Alanna Boyd, whose bout with diverticulitis landed her in the hospital. By the time all was said and done, she owed over $17k in medical bills.

This is where many publications would launch into a tirade about young people who think they’re invincible and would rather squander their cash on expensive rents and weekend-long drinkings binges than do the responsible thing and pony up for insurance, goddamn it! But, surprisingly enough, the Times eschews this conclusion. The paper quotes a young Bushwick resident who says, “It’s not like I think I’m invincible, I’m 29, the world can’t touch me. It’s the very opposite of that. I’ve got to make rent and eat.” (Well, and then the Times goes and ruins it a bit by ending the article with the story of an unemployed 24-year-old dumbass who decided to take a six-week snowboarding trip, rather than purchase insurance that he may very well need should he continue to indulge his interest in snowboarding.)

For many people I know, this is really what it’s all about. How can you commit to paying several hundred dollars a month to health insurance when you’re: A) not making enough money to cover that and your essentials and–don’t forget–tens of thousands of dollars in college loans or B) are scared we can’t count on the money we do earn, as the economy is so fucked that who knows whether our income sources will all dry up, all at once? We know we’re playing a dangerous game, but we have no choice but to play it.

Now, I’ve gone without health insurance for about six weeks now, since my graduate student policy expired. And actually, this article (along with my father’s constant refrain about how 90% of American bankruptcies are caused by unpaid medical bills) finally scared me into seriously looking into insurance. As the article notes, you have to earn under $706 a month to qualify for Medicaid. But there are other options. New Yorkers, if you earn under $2,257 a month, you’re eligible for Healthy New York, a program that allows you to buy insurance for as low as $200 a month. The nice thing about Healthy New York, which I’m in the process of signing up for, is that you only have to submit proof of income once a year, so if your earnings go up mid-year (as I seriously hope mine will), you can hang onto your policy until next year’s re-evaluation.

One last thing: The article mentions that Gov. Paterson wants to allow parents to claim offspring up to the age of 29 as dependents for insurance purposes, so that more young people will be covered. Apparently, about half of states already do this. As unhappy as it would make me to be a dependent, I would sign on in a second if it meant affordable insurance. But what’s troubling about the idea is that the solution is clearly intended for the middle classes. What about the young people whose parents don’t have insurance, either?

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image via NYU Local

image via NYU Local

Looks like “my generation” was out in full force last night, when 70ish NYU students, random protest junkies from neighboring schools (including some dude who came all the way from Pennsylvania!) and an intrepid NY Times reporter “occupied” the third floor of the NYU student center. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I am a recent alum NYU’s graduate journalism program. You’d think that would make me somewhat sympathetic to these kids, and yet…)

Watch them put up a “barricade” here:

You may have noticed that the barricade looked kind of far from the doors and didn’t seem to really be barricading anything. As the guards told a blogger from nyulocal.com–who is liveblogging the “occupation” and generating some of the best, and funniest, coverage of the event–“It’s not a barricade, we could tear that down anytime. Get something heavier.” Amazing.

Okay, so I make fun, but let’s examine the demands: They want NYU to be disclose its budget and endowment, to provide transparency regarding its investments, to allow student and faculty participation in the university’s financial decision-making, official recognition of and negotiation with NYU’s graduate student union, divestment from Israel, reinstating a ban on Coca-Cola products on campus, tuition stabilization for students, scholarships for 13 Palestinian students every year, donation of excess supplies to the University of Gaza, and for the school to open its main library to the public. (They also, of course, want amnesty for everyone involved in the demonstration. That’s demand #1.)

Wow. That’s a whole lot of demands. And many of their goals are laudable: The school should be fiscally responsible, as well as responsible to its students. Tuition hikes could be debilitating in this economy. And the graduate students should be able to form a union, just like any other group of working people. But then you get to the part about Coca-Cola on campus, and it’s like, “Really? Haven’t we got bigger fish to fry, here?” Also, while it would be lovely for the school to sponsor scholarships for Palestinian students and donate supplies to the University of Gaza, that isn’t their responsibility, and they shouldn’t be strong-armed into doing it. Finally, I understand that many of these students aren’t great believers in capitalism, property rights, etc., but no, the NYU library should not be open to the public. It is for paying students and faculty members, who need to have priority access to the computers, study space, and books. As the NYU Local blogger pointed out, New York City has the best public library system in the country. It’s not like New Yorkers are deprived of opportunities to appreciate literature.

But what does it say about “my generation”? I mean, I’m looking at the pictures, the pathetic barricading, the vitriolic statements, the fervent blogging, and this is what occurs to me: Politics, for us, is a game. We’re completely disconnected from what we’re doing. There are kids in these photos running around in bandannas–which people use at real demonstrations when they think they’re going to get tear-gassed. Those students may get expelled, but no one is going to touch them. They first resisted the university’s offers of vegan food, but then they accepted platters of chicken and mashed potatoes. Their demands range from reasonable to petty to downright ridiculous, and one item on the list has very little to do with the next. And the whole thing looks like an on-campus slumber party.

It also says something about us, I think, that only 70 students are there. NYU is an enormous school. In 1968, every white-guilt victim in the university would have been in that room. But, from what I’ve read, it looks like the majority of the community thinks this stunt is stupid. One student went to the protesters’ window with a sign that said, “YOU SUCK.” So we’re a little smarter than we look–not to mention, dare I say it, smarter than our ’60s forerunners, too. We realize that this is just a weird outlet for certain students’ (and here I lay no blame–I was one of those students in my stupider days, too) feelings of confinement and helplessness and confusion about growing up and selling out and blah blah blah. We realize that kids who want to run protest organizations will one day want to run corporations, because what they want is power, not justice. So maybe our cynicism is good for something, after all.

P.S. Someone give this NYU Local kid a job. Seriously. He’s got talent.

cartoon from Toothpaste for Dinner

cartoon from Toothpaste for dinner

As you may have noticed, I’ve become sort of bored with and neglectful of this blog. It didn’t really have an express purpose, so the posts just became random. I realized that if I weren’t me, I probably wouldn’t want to read it.

So, I’ve decided to devote Don’t Quit Your Day Job to a brand new topic: my generation. The deal is, I’m 24, I just finished a master’s degree in journalism (I know, great timing, right?), and I’m struggling to keep my head above water. As you may have noticed, the economy is a disaster, and it’s affecting urban 20-somethings in a number of very specific ways. While we may not have hundreds of thousands of dollars of life savings to lose, we’re being laid off by the hundreds of thousands. Only one of my roommates (there are six of us, in case you’re wondering, in a four-bedroom apartment) has made it through the past four months with his full-time job intact. Another was cut back to 3/5 time (“Is that like being 3/5 of a person?” we wondered), and another is conducting a grueling job search as he waits to find out whether the ailing institution that employs him will renew his contract for another year. The rest of us are scraping by as students and part-timers. I’m doing a lot of freelance work, and I can’t complain, because I have it better than a lot of other people I know. (And also because instead of saying I’m “unemployed” I can say I’m “freelancing”–which is less embarrassing!)

Anyway, the point here is not to bemoan our fate or embarrass ourselves as a bunch of young, middle-class people with BA’s or MA’s from respected institutions of higher learning by talking about how rough we have it. I get it, okay? Our lives are much easier than most people’s. I just want to promote some intelligent discussion on our generation. Baby Boomers (who, remember, got us into this mess) like to talk about how lazy and apathetic we are, because they don’t have the self-awareness to realize that we are the way we are because we saw them give up their lofty ideals for corporate jobs and, apparently, white-collar crime. There is also a lot of complaining–especially from those of us who would do well to look in the mirror while we’re talking–about hipsterism and the lack of any authentic youth counterculture. I want to look at the way we live our lives and talk about ourselves to get at the heart of what’s intrinsic to our generation, and why.

Obviously, this is a conversation that doesn’t work without your participation. So, uh, participate, OK? Tell me what you want to talk about.