Millennial-what a title. It isn’t a meaningful word, as it refers to a wide range of ages, depending on who you are listening to. Mobilize.org starts the generation at 1976 and finishes it off at 1994, where the US Census Bureau has decided that 1982-2000 better defines the generation. Either way, I fall solidly right in the middle of the spectrum, and daily I hear from people, some even just slightly older than myself, about how lazy and entitled my generation is. Where does this animosity towards our generation come from?
There is a well-known phenomenon called Juvenoia, coined by Sociologist David Finkelhor. The basic idea is that every generation (an arbitrary label based on dates selected for no apparent reason) feels more intelligent than the generation before, and wiser than the generation that follows it. This goes back as far as human history. Aristotle remarked that the youth of his day made “mistakes…due to excess and vehemence, they think they know everything”. In 1900, Romaine Roland complained that the new generation of young was “passionately in love with pleasure and violent games, easily duped”. In 1871 Sunday Magazine lamented that “now we fire off a multitude of rapid and short notes, instead of sitting down to have a good talk over a real sheet of paper”. (Michael Stevens, VSauce) Sound familiar?
The facts about people my age can startle older people who are convinced of our laziness and decadence. According to the CDC, millennials are less likely to smoke, drink, have an unwanted pregnancy, commit acts of violence, or contract STDs than previous generations when they were our age. Crime statistics reflect this as the overall crime rate in America has been in steady decline for more than two decades. People my age just don’t have the money to be decadent. When money is tight people have to work harder and party less to survive.
So what about work ethic? Are millennials more likely to be entitled and lazy? It’s true that many of my peers live at home, but a study by Yale University in 2009 gathered that Millennials should expect to earn 10% less in the decade following the recession, and that number is not improving in a struggling job market. Yet Millennials have an unemployment rate not much higher than the population at large, despite current college students falling in the millennial age range. The job opportunities for someone my age are financially much less lucrative than they were in previous generations. Besides, isn’t sharing expenses with family in lean times just economically sound? After all for most of human history family homes were expected to house several generations. Our parents are willing to put us up because we are connected to them. The average Millennial speaks to one of their parents every two days vs every two weeks for the previous generation. Maybe if you treat your parents with respect they will be willing to help you more. Who knew?
Let's say for argument's sake that because of the phenomenon of helicopter parents, constant communication between twenty-somethings and our parents, and a culture of participation trophies, millennials are really more entitled and less hard working. Even if that were the case haven’t we seen the results of the work our parents did to climb the corporate ladder and increase productivity that has failed our world? 50% of all Americans live at or below the poverty line. I might argue that a lower crime rate, lower rates of drug and alcohol abuse, and fewer unwanted pregnancies are worth a decrease in overall productivity, as that productivity tends to profit very few rich elites while the rest of us work for scraps.
Who is responsible for the disasters plaguing the world? Has my generation caused the beginnings of the collapse of the western world? My generation didn't run the debt so high it will never be paid back. My generation didn't start an endless war in the middle east that is crippling our economy and causing a migrant crisis across Europe. My generation didn't destroy the environment. My generation didn't elect Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton (we voted for Bernie Sanders). My generation isn't responsible for the coming war with Russia. My generation didn't cause the cost of education to explode. These ills exist because of the failures of our parent’s and grandparent’s generations.
Let me be very clear. I am not blaming these problems on our parents any more than we deserve blame for the few of us who are disgusting layabouts. My parents had nothing to do with abusive corporate America wrecking the environment, and my grandparents had nothing to do with the repealing of Glass-Steagal Act or the passage of Citizens United, both of which are directly responsible for our corrupted government and massive income inequality. Very rich people with little regard for the American people are responsible for those things. I am merely making the point that if we are going to generalize about generations, millennials, the poorest and most powerless generation, are less responsible for the nation’s drunken hawkish insanity than any other generation preceding us.
Besides, if an older person wants to claim that millennials are lazy and entitled (for which the evidence is shaky at best) then wouldn’t the blame fall squarely on the shoulders of our terrible parents? A common refrain gets bandied about at this juncture-"I raised my kids right. Other parents did it wrong". It's all a bunch of generationalist bullshit. There is no such thing as the greatest generation. Every generation is largely the same. We may dress differently and speak with slang our parents can’t understand, but the same was true of them with their parents. We all go through the same developmental stages the world over.
A better metric for measuring the value of people is how they treat each other. Despite suffering from poverty much more than our parents did we commit less crime. Gay marriage is now legal, and among people my age, the support for LGBT issues is astounding. My generation is willing to accept people of different faiths and cultures more than even I am comfortable with. My generation defends civil right sometimes to a fault. If there is one big complaint I have against my generation is that the policing of language, especially on college campuses, has gotten out of hand. We have to be careful about how we dress on Halloween, be mindful of cultural appropriation, or we might say something in a public forum that might get us labeled as a bigot for what would have been a non-event in years past. If my biggest complaint is that my peers will shun me if I do something that is perceived as insensitive, I feel like we are doing alright.
Millennials have realized that the value of a person isn’t economic. We have less buying power for working the same amount of hours of any generation in a hundred years while they were our age. My generation pays more for college than any previous generation. Ever. Underemployment is a huge problem across the country right now in a way that wasn’t the case 30 years ago. The minimum wage hasn’t increased in over a decade, and adjusted for inflation would be several dollars less than it was during the 1960’s. Yet people my age are truly tired of the endless war, the capitalistic nature of our abusive system, the legalized corruption in our government, and we are fighting to change things. How else do you explain an ancient Jewish socialist becoming the most popular politician in America?
Blaming any group of people for the ills of the world is never a good idea. People are individuals, and you can find unlikable people in every demographic. The world is filled with problems, and specific people are responsible for those problems, not generalized groups. If you are frustrated with the state of the world stop blaming millennials and start holding the individuals who have hijacked our country and the world accountable.