In the Lazy Millennials thread below, Stef comments:
The parallel I’m drawing is this. I think Millenials are not going to think about prosperity or employment or money at all like Boomers or Gen-Xers. They are especially going to be affected for life by their experiences of living through an oversupply of labor and an undersupply of living-wage jobs. They are never going to lose that perspective; they will probably always to some degree blame the globalists, the corporations, the multi-nationals, the prison-industrial complex, and maybe ultimately even automation and computers themselves for their overall rough circumstances.
Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, re: blame, but it is a pretty easy prediction to make that they will have been dramatically affected by what they’re living through now. Here’s something The Atlantic published in 2011, from a reader:
I’m only 23 and it’s been barely over a year since I graduated from university. Yet already the work environment and the consequences of the “real world” have warped and degraded me. All I have are feelings of disillusionment and betrayal. If I were a mood ring, the color would translate to somewhere between quite desperation and self-loathing. I work full-time at a temp position that under-utilizes me. I make sure not to finish work to quickly, for fear it doing so will only shorten my employment. Before that I worked in retail. Before long, I may end up back there.
Much of my rage is reserved for a predatory system of higher education and the failures of a generation that came before. I’m angry that a “state” university costs as much as it does. That many, if not most of the students who attend, treat the experience like a 4-year version of MTV’s Spring Break. Massive grade inflation means one less standard deviation between myself and those who don’t try. Lax entrance standards means that even in smaller classes, half of the students do as little as possible, have nothing to contribute, and see learning as a necessary evil, if even that. These “state” universities are more interested in funding nice football stadiums than maintaining up-to-date libraries or modern classrooms. They are more interested in your tuition than your education. And will continue to hound you for Alumni contributions long after graduation.
Then there’s the baby boomer generation. Guardians of the state, they have left it dysfunctional. Watchdogs of the economy, they have let it burn. Stewards of the earth, they have done little to curb its exploitation or prepare for a more sustainable future. From Reagan on the country has lived “above it’s means.” More tax cuts and higher spending. And every time the house of cards threatens to fall down, consumer spending receives another stimulating injection in the hope of averting the dismal reality on the other side of of the bubble. But this time there’s apparently nothing left to do. This time the debt is just too big. This time, the baby boomers say from the comfort of lower unemployment and a stable mortgage, there’s no escaping the pain. They are more concerned with keeping inflation low then the employment of their children. They are more interested in protecting their 401K and Social Security benefits than investing in tomorrow. They spent our future and now need us to pay the costs.
But most of my anger is reserved for myself. I pursued a “Liberal Arts Degree” in communications rather than a B.S. in engineering or computer science. I spent all four years at a state university rather than the first two at a community college. I worked in the summer instead of getting an internship. I worked harder at my classes than making contacts and networking with professionals. Not everyone is suffering in this economy, and if I were going to college for the first time this fall I’d know how to prepare. But I didn’t at the time and now I’m left to face the consequences. I want to blame the universities and “grown-ups” who I feel should have known better. They were the ones, after all, peddling the mantra of “go to college, study hard, get a job.”
Instead, egotistical like the rest of my me-first, entitlement ridden generation, I blame myself.
I told a reader who wrote me for career advice re: the news profession that as a Gen Xer who graduated with a communications degree in 1989, I feel like someone who caught one of the last helicopters out of Saigon. The problem is, there’s no guarantee anymore that that chopper will have the gas to make it safely to the aircraft carrier. My oldest child is only 13, but I’m seeing that his mother and I are going to have to start planning now for guiding him through college, in a way that my own parents didn’t really have to do, because the job and economic environment was so much more stable and predictable.
I wanted to comment on something related to Stef’s remark about how Millennials will be like people who grew up during the Depression: forever marked by economic insecurity. My dad is like that: extremely cautious with money, because he remembers what it was like to have none, and no economic security. I can’t, thank God, know what that is like, but just yesterday I was reminded of how the economic crash marked Julie and me.
Our son Lucas, who is nine, had a friend over, and the friend learned somehow that we rent our house. “Where’s your real house?” he asked innocently. Lucas told Julie that a lot of his friends ask that when he tells them that we rent. It’s an interesting facet of the culture around here: relatively few people rent. It’s just not done. I’ve lived in cities where renting is completely normal for so long that I’d forgotten what it’s like to live in a place where it is unusual. When I was a kid, I don’t think we knew anybody who rented (if you don’t count people who rented spaces for their mobile homes, which they usually owned). Renting was alien, and a sign of disrepute. I couldn’t have told you why renters were viewed with suspicion; it was just how it was. Today, in 2013, we’re learning that’s still how people see things.
I’m not complaining, just observing. Renting is very much not part of the local culture. But we rent because we had no choice when we moved here from Philly. We continue to rent, and will for the foreseeable future, because of the nerve-wracking experience of owing money on a house we couldn’t sell. We lost our nest egg on that deal, but the emotional experience of feeling so utterly vulnerable to financial ruin because of the house was something we will never, ever forget. We do want to buy a house again, but having lived through the experience of having one’s personal finances devastated by home ownership, we are extremely reticent to do that again, though we surely will.
To be sure, we sank so much money into improving the Dallas house because we lived there, and expected to stay there for a long time, so we wanted it to be a better, more beautiful place. But we also relied on faith in the idea that if we did have to or want to sell one day, these improvements would make the house go for so much more. We had both lived through a long era of rapidly increasing house prices. Investing in your home was a sure thing. Until suddenly it wasn’t. Learning from hard experience that you could wake up one day and discover that what you had been acculturated to believe was true was suddenly not true at all can be traumatic — and educational.