Updated: 8/15/2012 3:30 PM ET|
Amid affluence, an uncertain future
Few young people in an idyllic New York village think they will be able to afford the life their parents had; in a grittier area nearby, businesses and workers struggle.
Port Jefferson Village, N.Y., is a rarity in these American times: It is small yet thriving, with a walkable downtown, neighbors who stop to visit in the streets and a crisscross of residential lanes that all seem to intersect with Main.
If you arrive by ferry, gliding into the village's picturesque, secluded harbor after a one-hour crossing of Long Island Sound, it's easy to forget that strip malls and suburban sprawl exist at all, let alone just over the hill in the heart of middle- and working-class Long Island.
But despite the good fortune that keeps this harbor-side community afloat -- namely the proximity of three hospitals, a research lab and a state university, and the jobs that come with them -- many in the younger generation express scant optimism that this life, this lifestyle, will be available to them.
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"Most of us already know that we're not going to buy a house," 28-year-old Kevin Coleman said of himself and his friends. "Unless you're going to make it big and you're going to get a really lucrative job, or you have parents with money, you're not going to buy a house."
At least not in Port Jefferson Village, where the median value of homes was $567,800 in 2011, nearly double the state median, $303,000, according to U.S. Census data.
Coleman is midway through a three-year master's program in acupuncture. The dozen-plus New York friends to whom he refers all have college degrees. But only two of them have been able to find professional jobs: the ones with master's degrees in engineering.
The rest are treading water in low-paying retail or food-service jobs. Coleman makes burritos, working 35 hours a week while attending school full time and raising a toddler. He has no faith in Washington, D.C.
"We have a two-party system that's simply two sides of the same coin," he said. "It's completely corrupt. It's in the pockets of corporations, and there's really nothing that we can do about it."
In the relatively affluent community of Port Jefferson Village, where sons and daughters are likely to attend college and the parents lean Democratic, politically engaged 20- and 30-somethings speak as if they've been disenfranchised, cut from a system that doesn't appear to be working on their behalf. As Coleman put it:
"No matter how many people you get together, when corporations with billions of dollars are throwing money at the problem you will never win. So it really sucks."
Those people who are a bit older, perhaps comfortably settled into their careers, may speak in more muted tones, but the sentiment is largely the same, often expressed as genuine confusion over whom to vote for come November.
"Somebody give me a plan," said Margot Garant, a real-estate lawyer and the mayor of Port Jefferson Village. "Would somebody just tell me what you're going to do?"
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