Mohamed El-Erian: Your Kids May Be Worse Off Than You

Christmas is over, so let's ditch the carols and face some reality.

Your kids might end up worse off than you. Less money. More work. A lower standard of living.

The reasons are clear: High debt, bad demographics, and a wretched recession that is creating long-term unemployment and the prospects of a lost generation.

Two weeks ago, I sat down with Mohamed El-Erian, CEO of bond giant PIMCO. He worries that his 9-year-old daughter's generation will end up worse off than his -- something past generations have fretted about, but a reality he feels could really play out this time.

Here's how he explained it (transcript follows):

Mohamed El-Erian: In the past, there's been reason for hope, and most people expect it to be better off. And in fact, the whole system expects it to be better off, because the whole system made promises for the future that relied on us being better off. And this was a really important part of what drives this country, the American Dream, the fact that with a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck, you and your family can be better off.

This time around, the next generation's going to inherit some realities, some really awful realities. The first one is going to be a debt load that we haven't seen since the end of the second World War, so we accumulated that debt in peace time. Second, policies stretched to their limits. We're not talking about interest rates remaining at zero to mid-2015. We're talking about a balance sheet of the central bank that has expanded beyond anybody's wildest dream. And then the growth dynamics. These things don't change overnight, so I do think it's different.

Then there's another element that I spend a lot of time looking at, which is the structural dimensions of our unemployment problem. Over 40% of the unemployed are long-term unemployed. That's a very high number. The longer you are unemployed, the harder it is to get back in the labor force. Twenty-five percent of the 16 to 19 year olds are unemployed; at that age, you go from being unemployed to becoming unemployable, and then you start talking about lost generations. So I think this is much more serious than what we've had over the last hundred years.

Morgan Housel: Do you worry that your nine-year-old daughter's generation will be worse off than your generation or just not better off?

Mohamed El-Erian: I worry they're going to be worse off, and part of what I'm doing these days is going to high schools and telling students it need not be like this. But don't expect my generation to change it. You are going to have to take much more responsibility, and much more personal responsibility. It's about education, it's about financial literacy, it's about having a global mind-set and, collectively, you are going to have to take a greater responsibility because my generation has shown repeatedly that it's incapable of making difficult decisions. 

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  • Report this Comment On January 02, 2013, at 11:35 AM, hbofbyu wrote:

    "...because my generation has shown repeatedly that it's incapable of making difficult decisions."

    And there is the truth. We elect panderers, plain and simple.

    "...in my life, I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew, but I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard."

    - Frank Slade - Scent of a Woman

  • Report this Comment On January 02, 2013, at 12:16 PM, DoctorLewis4 wrote:

    Congress has never been "functional". Look at our history. We have been in worse situations then we are today. Yet if I was a betting man, I would bet that we figure things out. We always have. So have some faith. Take a deep breath. Calm down. Bet on America.

  • Report this Comment On January 03, 2013, at 2:16 PM, Borbality wrote:

    I like DoctorLewis' comments. but at the same time I agree with El-Erian that we (the younger generation) have to take responsibility and take care of ourselves, because obviously our parents kind of screwed things up to some extent.

    We don't just want things handed to us, we just don't want to get screwed.

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