Are you guys as worried about the Millennials as I am? Lately, they've seemed, I don't know, kinda down. Maybe they're depressed? Getting their collective generation-wide period? All I know is that you can't throw an e-cigarette-shaped dart without hitting another handwringing study wondering what will happen to them: Will they survive? Will they be HAPPY? But more importantly, will they get every single thing they want in this crazy new world with the flexibility, modernity, comfort and built-in technology they're demanding? Or will they weep silently into their Tumblr book deals, never acquiring the wealth and success of previous generations, because they are too self-absorbed to care correctly. Relax, Millennials. For one, you'll last longer. For two, I know just what you're going through.
But OK — first, the latest in the round of how-fucked-are-you comes from a piece asking "Do Millennials Stand a Chance in the Real World?"
It's not much you haven't heard: You don't have a lot of money. You're not buying a lot of stuff. Never mind that lots of people in lots of generations don't and aren't either. But because you're in your twenties, I guess your economic anxiety is more intrinsically interesting by virtue of having more casual sex mixed up in it. But I'm sorry to say you don't have the monopoly on that anxiety. As a counter piece in the Atlantic points out:
As we're all too aware by now, it's been a raw decade for young Americans. The job market still has a giant, recession-shaped crater in it. A college degree is more expensive yet more essential than ever. Wages are stagnant.
All of this adds up to a single sad possibility, according to the New York Times' Annie Lowrey: Today's twenty- and thirty-somethings may never end up as rich and financially secure as their parents. Lowrey's story points to a recent study by the Urban Institute, which suggests that Americans under forty, financially wracked by student debt and the housing bust, have saved up much less wealth than the generations before them. Because wealth compounds over time, there's a strong chance they won't ever catch up.
But the Times misses something key, I think, which is that not everybody under 40 is in the same boat. As this graph from Urban Institute's study shows, it's mostly Americans in their thirties who have seen their net worth collapse compared to 30 years ago. The quarter-life set are actually doing a bit better.
That's in part because it's thirtysomethings who bought houses right at the financial collapse, whereas twentysomethings weren't in house-buying positions yet. Thirtysomethings have more houses underwater, the piece argues, a financial strain that will have a deeper, more lasting effect than merely taking longer to make that first-time home purchase in the first place. To say nothing of our suffering of a massive loss of wealth.
But my point is not that, if we're going to compete, some older folks are more fucked than you. My point is that everyone at some point in their lives will be more or less fucked and susceptible to the economic/intersection forces. And that stories about the new and exciting ways in which you are like to suffer more or less IN COMPARISON to generations whose experiences you can't possibly co-opt/absorb via osmosis/know innately aren't really going to help you do what you have to do: Be in the world at your intersection on earth and exist the best you can, in spite of this collection of forces working for/against you.
A little journalistic disclosure: Surprise, I'm not a Millennial! Whew. Thank God for that. Barely dodged the bullet, too. No, see, I'm a classic Gen-X-er, in case you hadn't noticed from my general apathy, bad attitude and the immense pleasure I take in needling you. Sure, fuller disclosure, I dated a Millennial once and all I got was this lousy attitude, but that doesn't mean I'm biased per se. What it means is I'm just enough older to have had to sit through years of this Millennial hoo-ha, after years of having to sit through years of Gen-X hoo-ha. And I want to help.
In other words, I was you once. OK, I wasn't YOU-you, I was me-you, but I was the generation that was being studied and courted by marketers at the time, and boy were the proclamations about me/us equally hilarious/stupid. For instance, I grew up my entire life being told mine was the first generation that wasn't going to be as well off as their parents (sad trombones were launching left and right and we didn't even know what an MP3 was yet. Cool moment).
And that was on top of all the other stuff the olds were always telling us about us, what with their God-like understanding of our unique nuances and deficiencies and their ability to predict our futures: That we were too politically apathetic, that we were too busy watching video games, rotting our brains with MTV, and hanging out in chat rooms to do anything important with our lives. Did I mention that they said we were really fucking lazy? That's right. We were slackers who'd just as soon roast a bone in the quad than, you know, do something important, i.e., exactly like whatever it was our parents would have done. Protested Vietnam? Our deficits glaring, however would we all turn out? wrung the hands of the universe. All signs pointed to LOSER.
Nevermind that we were also the most diverse, tolerant, open, experimental, norm-challenging folks to ever grace planet earth yet, but I'm sure that was probably just a function of us being too lazy to care enough to be better bigots, or at least as good as the generations before us. But you know what? We didn't give a fuck. It was the 90s.
Then came you. Remember when you showed up? Things got exciting again. Baby Boomers and Gen-Xer's didn't always get along so great, mainly because we had different ideas about how to evoke change — too cynical, remember? So like a first-born grandchild offering hope for a troubled parent-child relationship, Millennials showed up to take the heat off, hope incarnate; the SOLUTION.
Finally, a new generation to peg all the fears and frustrations and accolades of the universe on, and more hopeful yet, one that might have a better attitude than us ingrates.
But what one begins to notice about all this generational hoo-ha as one gets older is that it all sounds eerily similar. It all sounds eerily doomsday. It all sounds eerily threatened and eerily critical. It all sounds like what it is: Like old people looking at the newest generation to reach adulthood and wondering 1) how they will have it better or worse than our generation and 2) how will that generation will solve our problems, the ones created by the generation before us, and 3) how we can get the most of your money?
Millennials have a unique problem all right: Of being told how special and different you are, only to be criticized for being too special and different. As the world rushed to give you the best self-esteem of any generation, it did an about-face and stood back, shaking its head at the monster it created. I mean, look at you, you terrible gargoyle! You:
Are kinda whoring it out
Are total bummers to mentor
Won't even eat the same terrible shit everyone else has been forced to
Make Boomers feel bad
Are either awesome or really fucking annoying
Can't cut the cord
Because you got too many fucking ribbons
And you know what? You know what, REALLY!?
You think you're special. But it turns out you're not special.
Of course, this last link there is more telling than the rest combined, as its first paragraph reveals:
The debate over today's Millennial generation — altruistic and civic-minded or materialistic and self-absorbed? — seems to never end. In the latest installment: a study that says the popular view of young adults as more caring, interested in social issues and concerned about the environment compared to previous generations is mostly false.
Published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the study finds Millennials (born 1982-2000) more civically and politically disengaged, more focused on materialistic values, and less concerned about helping the larger community than were GenX (born 1962-1981) and Baby Boomers (born 1946 to about 1961) at the same ages.
It does find "some good trends," such as a rise in volunteering and a decline in prejudice based on race, gender, and sexual orientation - the result of more individualism, says Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, one of the study's authors.
I would say your backlash has begun, only your backlash was built-in from the beginning. What is odd to me is that it still seems weird to read a positive sentence about Gen-X. We had to wait until 2011 for justice to be served. AND I QUOTE:
A generation once labeled "slackers," detached and melancholic has grown up to find out that reality doesn't bite as much it seemed when they were younger. To the contrary, most of the 84 million Americans ages 30 to 50 are "active, balanced and happy," according to the authors of "The Generation X Report," a research report from the University of Michigan's Longitudinal Study of American Youth. "We hope that this series of reports will serve to correct some of the misunderstandings and misstatements about Generation X that have appeared in the media," The Longitudinal Study of American Youth says on its website. "Some commentators have characterized Generation X as being less successful than their parents and perhaps less ambitious than their parent's generation."
See? It turns out we are not disengaged, existentialist isolationists, but working, thinking people with jobs, ambitions, and all the other shit that comes with being alive at our intersection in the universe. The point here is not Gen-X redemption, though I will take it. It's that the next time you read something new about how fucked you are as an entire monolithic generation, relax. You'll be OK. Just live your life. Don't internalize it. (Easier said than done.)
If there's one bright spot, it's that the faster news cycle means it will probably take nowhere near as long for the Millennial generational comparison folly to surface proving you weren't as terrible as they said, or as great as they said, and that, in the end, you cobbled together a respectable existence that shaped the world in good ways and bad ways, just like EVERY GENERATION EVER. And before you know it, another one will come along and give us all a reason to wring our hands all over again. Won't that be fun?