The conundrum that is the Millennial Generation is as beautiful as it is terrifying. We’re a generation of tech-savvy, diverse citizens who seem to support socialism almost as much as they distrust people.
We commonly look at the millennials as a generation that believes they’re entitled, but is this the case? Are they this lazy, spoiled, terrible group of people that is ultimately going to lead our country to fail?
The short answer is no. The long answer involves looking at why the Millennials are swimming upstream, and how the daunting task of fixing their problems grows with opposition from other generations. Millennials are angry at a system that has set them up to not only be worse-off than generations before them, but has also essentially told them they need to be better sports about it.
After two generations of citizens reaping the benefits of economic opportunity without the afterthought of preserving it for later generations, millennials are not just frustrated, they aren’t upset or irritated, no. That doesn’t do their plight justice. To put it bluntly, millennials are pissed off. They are angry at an establishment and how it has effectively set them up for failure through almost no fault of their own. And they are annoyed that this same establishment is telling them they are not allowed to take advantage of these same opportunities, and they best get happy about it.
The economy the millennials are being handed is a mess. According to Pew Research Center, millennials are “the first in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment.” They also have less income on average than both Generation Xers and Baby Boomers had at this point in their lifetimes.
Pew has also found that despite millennials being the best-educated generation in history (with 34% having at least a bachelor’s degree), median income has stayed relatively flat, meaning more and more education is being required just to keep up with the world today. The issue with this, however, is the constant increase of tuition rates in our country.
College tuition is one of the forefront issues being discussed today, as the cost over the years has skyrocketed. According to the College Board, tuition in 1975 at a public four-year university was $2,387, adjusted for 2015 inflation. It was $9,410 in 2015. That is an increase of almost 400% in just 40 years. Naturally, this leads to more student loans and debt, something millennials are graduating with at record levels (the total amount of student loan debt in the US is over $1 trillion, according to the Economist).
But it’s not enough to have crippling debt coming out of college, but millennials are also inheriting a weak job market. One that not only makes it harder to move up in their respective fields, but one that is also responsible for classifying millennials as the highest percentage of American citizens who do not have enough money to meet their basic needs. According to Real Clear Politics, rather than being an entitled, spoiled group, “more than any other generation, [millennials] eschew expensive possessions like cars and large houses, opting instead for bikes and shared living spaces.”
But why is this happening? The Great Recession is partly responsible, as it scared millennials away from a weak market and forced them into more schooling, but the Baby Boomers may be the biggest factor.
According to the Washington Post, back in the 1960s and 70s when the Baby Boomers started going to school, “many of them paid little in tuition at nearly-free public institutions or received generous federal and state grants that paid for most of their bachelor’s degree.” Now those same citizens who took advantage of this system are in charge of it, and are not as generous.
According to the Post, “Boomers soaked up a lot of economic opportunity without bothering to preserve much for the generations to come….They took control of Washington at the turn of the millennium, and they used it to rack up a lot of federal debt, even before the Great Recession hit.”
Whether it’s college tuition or the general resources the economy has provided, the “Me Generation” that is the Baby Boomers have left the following two generations worse off because of their lifestyles. The economy they took advantage of has hiked the cost of living up exponentially.
Now they are retiring and it is continuing to cost us. The retirement age in the US (65) was set in 1935 by the Social Security Act. The issue with this is people live longer today than they did in 1935. According to the Social Security Administration, there were 6.7 million people over the age of 65 in 1930, or around 5.4% of people. That number rose to 9.0 million in 1940, around 6.8%. In 2000, it was 34.9 million, which was 12.3% of our population at the time.
Despite the fact that the average boomer couple that retires today has already on average borrowed $200,000 more against the system than they have given, according to the Urban Institute, the issue is they are still expecting to reap more benefits at the expense of the rest of the population. Yet nobody is holding them accountable. Nobody sees it as the Boomers’ job to help give back to the system they took so much from. And the later generations are getting it pinned to them; both in the sense that it is their fault for wanting the same advantages, and that they will have to pay for not only themselves, but for the previous generations as well.
Our attitude towards the greedy, entitled, lazy generation that we believe are the millennials will need to change. Perhaps asking for the same benefits the previous generations had is dangerous; we can see what it has done. But to say asking for those advantages is unfair for the rest of the world, while the rest of the world continues to reap benefits at the expense of the millennial future, is wrong and as perverse as it is unfair.
To close this, I will speak as a millennial to the previous generations:
In defense of the previous generations, I cannot blame you for taking advantage of what you had. You had the keys to arguably the most stable economy we have seen in our nation. It’s impossible to say what my generation would have done in your shoes. But you have set us up for failure. You have inflated our economy with the benefits you took, and came into power legislatively and have not done enough to make up for the deficit you left.
It’s fair to say my generation doesn’t understand the gravity of what we want; perhaps our demands will only hinder future generations. But for you to say that we are not allowed to have it, or even desire it, and having that desire makes us greedy, entitled brats, all while your generation continues to reap the benefits of programs without any form of thought or reflection on the potential consequences, is as hypocritical as it is wrong.
So I am speaking to you as a millennial. You don’t have to like us, you don’t have to agree with what we want. But please understand where we’re coming from. Your generation did what it wanted, and now we are going to have to pay for it.
Photo by: Jaida Brinkley