HuffPost's Michael Hobbes makes the solid, strong case that the cause of the dire, economic disaster with the Millennial generation is the same problem that Gen Xers like me have: the Boomers screwed us all to the wall and are looting the remaining wealth in the country. Only the problem is exponentially worse for Millennials, because the vast majority of the generational cohort that now makes up a quarter of the country is they're broke and always will be.
Like everyone in my generation, I am finding it increasingly difficult not to be scared about the future and angry about the past.
I am 35 years old—the oldest millennial, the first millennial—and for a decade now, I’ve been waiting for adulthood to kick in. My rent consumes nearly half my income, I haven’t had a steady job since Pluto was a planet and my savings are dwindling faster than the ice caps the baby boomers melted.
We’ve all heard the statistics. More millennials live with their parents than with roommates. We are delaying partner-marrying and house-buying and kid-having for longer than any previous generation. And, according to The Olds, our problems are all our fault: We got the wrong degree. We spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need. We still haven’t learned to code. We killed cereal and department stores and golf and napkins and lunch. Mention “millennial” to anyone over 40 and the word “entitlement” will come back at you within seconds, our own intergenerational game of Marco Polo.
This is what it feels like to be young now. Not only are we screwed, but we have to listen to lectures about our laziness and our participation trophies from the people who screwed us.
But generalizations about millennials, like those about any other arbitrarily defined group of 75 million people, fall apart under the slightest scrutiny. Contrary to the cliché, the vast majority of millennials did not go to college, do not work as baristas and cannot lean on their parents for help. Every stereotype of our generation applies only to the tiniest, richest, whitest sliver of young people. And the circumstances we live in are more dire than most people realize.
They are crushed under student debt 300% of what their parents had to attend the same universities, half as likely to own a home, and 20% are living under the federal poverty line, and doomed to work themselves to death without ever getting a dime of Social Security or Medicaid that will be long gone 40 years from now.
And they are pissed.
What is different about us as individuals compared to previous generations is minor. What is different about the world around us is profound. Salaries have stagnated and entire sectors have cratered. At the same time, the cost of every prerequisite of a secure existence—education, housing and health care—has inflated into the stratosphere. From job security to the social safety net, all the structures that insulate us from ruin are eroding. And the opportunities leading to a middle-class life—the ones that boomers lucked into—are being lifted out of our reach. Add it all up and it’s no surprise that we’re the first generation in modern history to end up poorer than our parents.
This is why the touchstone experience of millennials, the thing that truly defines us, is not helicopter parenting or unpaid internships or Pokémon Go. It is uncertainty. “Some days I breathe and it feels like something is about to burst out of my chest,” says Jimmi Matsinger. “I’m 25 and I’m still in the same place I was when I earned minimum wage.” Four days a week she works at a dental office, Fridays she nannies, weekends she babysits. And still she couldn’t keep up with her rent, car lease and student loans. Earlier this year she had to borrow money to file for bankruptcy. I heard the same walls-closing-in anxiety from millennials around the country and across the income scale, from cashiers in Detroit to nurses in Seattle.
It’s tempting to look at the recession as the cause of all this, the Great Fuckening from which we are still waiting to recover. But what we are living through now, and what the recession merely accelerated, is a historic convergence of economic maladies, many of them decades in the making. Decision by decision, the economy has turned into a young people-screwing machine. And unless something changes, our calamity is going to become America’s.
And that calamity is coming imminently, folks. The lunatics at the helm of the ship are bailing with everything from the safe and when we run aground its going to get violent, bloody, and awful. We're long, long overdue for some historical corrections. It's the Millennials who will pay the highest price, too, because the tens of millions of Millennials who couldn't afford any college at all now have zero job prospects.
It will only get worse.