Two of the country’s best social scientists have been trying to understand this new life phase. William Galston of the Brookings Institution has recently completed a research project for the Hewlett Foundation. Robert Wuthnow of Princeton has just published a tremendously valuable book, “After the Baby Boomers” that looks at young adulthood through the prism of religious practice.
Through their work, you can see the spirit of fluidity that now characterizes this stage. Young people grow up in tightly structured childhoods, Wuthnow observes, but then graduate into a world characterized by uncertainty, diversity, searching and tinkering. Old success recipes don’t apply, new norms have not been established and everything seems to give way to a less permanent version of itself.
All the brain drain hype and the resulting policies that aim to keep young adults from leaving a region are out of touch with the social phenomenon of the odyssey. I've yet to discover a local human capital initiative that accounts for the need to explore. Pittsburgh is no exception.
I never read Homer's Odyssey, but I did spend an entire semester at university in the world of James Joyce's Ulysses. Joyce obsessed Dublin from afar, never to return. However, his Odysseus (Leopold Bloom) did make his way home. Likewise, Pittsburgh's heroes could come back. Brooks convinces me that focusing my own efforts on the Boomerang Class is the best path.