If you haven’t heard about the latest American, take-this-job-and-shove-it hero, you will soon.
Steven Slater, a flight attendant for JetBlue, was so angry at a customer who hit him in the head with his luggage when the plane landed that he cursed him on the loud speaker, grabbed a beer, pulled the cord on the emergency-evacuation slide, jumped on and headed home.
He was soon arrested, but his story shines light on more than just disgruntled workers in this economy. Slater, 39, is a prime example of the hardships Generation X faces. You know, that group born roughly between 1961 and 1981 that no one really talks about. Lately it’s all about the struggling Baby Boomers and Gen Yers, but the plight for Gen Xers is just as bad, and many are at their wit’s end.
JetBlue has been better than most employers, trying to avoid layoffs and furloughs in this recession, but the company was forced to cut back employee hours. Clearly, workers are doing more everywhere, but Gen X is caught in a squeeze between younger workers who are still learning the ropes and older workers who’d rather be retired, or at least heading for retirement.
If finances are tough, they just can’t move back in with mommy or daddy. And, says Ilkay Can, director of acquisition at Charles Schwab, they may be “buying a home for the first time, getting married and combining finances, having your first child, paying down your school debt. Many of them don’t know if Social Security will be around when they retire.”
The other big issue for this group is their aging parents. In Slater’s case, he’s been caring for his dying mother, a retired flight attendant, according to a report in the New York Times.
When you throw into that mix an increasing anger among airline passengers who have had to endure tighter quarters, endless fees, and never-ending security checks, Slater was on a collision course with career suicide.
Yes, he probably will lose his job over this, even though he didn’t go postal and kill somebody. That’s just the way it is in the work world. And it turns out he may have broken some laws in the process.
Gen X are frustrated but they are a resilient lot.
This generation never had any illusions that an employer would take care of them for life, says Neil Howe, economist, demographer and co-author of “Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069.”
“Generation X never expected any security,” he says, adding that the mentality of the company man or woman was dead by the time these individuals entered the workforce. “From the time they were kids they were taught to raise themselves. They were the latchkey kids with the new realism of Judy Blume,” he said, referring to the author of children’s books that tackled issues such as divorce and teen sexuality.
In contrast to the younger Generation Y group with their overprotective parents and baby boomers still pining the loss of the gold watch days, Gen Xers never “trusted that the world or anyone was going to take care of them,” he says.
We can only hope the nation’s latest hero can tap into some of that strength, and he gets a second chance. The court of public opinion is on his side. A Facebook page that appears to be Slater’s already has over 7,000 supporters.
Too bad he wasn’t a CEO or he could have walked away from the plane with a beer and still have pocketed millions in severance package even if he stole from the company.