Why JA? And Why Now?
A Response to the Uncertainty and Inequity Facing Gen Z
By Junior Achievement USA
Growing Up in a Time of Uncertainty
The economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis has impacted everyone. But it has been particularly challenging for women, African-Americans and Hispanics, those lacking education beyond high school, and, most notably, the young. Generation Z, including the class of 2020, has been dubbed the” Pandemic Generation,” and the “Lockdown Generation.” This is due to the sudden and dramatic decline of economic opportunity for those graduating high school and college amidst a historic pandemic. There are already concerns that if something isn’t done to bolster its prospects soon, Generation Z is at risk of becoming a “lost generation,” illprepared to achieve its potential in a world that is already challenging to navigate for the young.
At the same time, economic inequity has been a reality in the U.S. throughout its history, but it continues to this day. For instance, research by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows the U.S. has the highest income inequality among G7 nations. Despite a narrowing of income and wealth gaps in recent decades, there continue to be vast disparities, especially between white and black households. For example, in 1970, there was a 78 percent gap in income between white and black households. And even though that gap marginally improved over time, it was still 64 percent as of 2018. A 2020 study by the Brookings Institution also shows that the median net worth of white families in America is ten times greater than that of black families. Other research shows that the overall wealth gap more than doubled between America’s richest and poorest families between 1989 and 2016.
At this moment, this generation’s perceptions of our country and what it stands for are being shaped in ways that will define their entire lives. The question is, will those perceptions be of hope, opportunity, and unlimited possibilities? Or will they be something else entirely. To ensure the former, this means addressing the uncertainty and inequity in our country. Undoubtedly, there are substantial systemic changes that need to happen that are beyond the mission of an organization like Junior Achievement. These changes need to occur on the legislative, legal, and policymaking fronts, and they appear to be taking place. The hope is these changes will once and for all eliminate structural barriers to progress for everyone aspiring to reach their potential in this country.