This article was originally written in December 2016, and inspired by a viral video at the time. The viral video is no longer relevant, but the points herein hold true, from a young Rogue's point of view.
I recently saw a video that’s been making the rounds on social media and various “news” sites that depicted (in the language of the headlines) a “Millennial Teen” punching out a “Grandma” for not buying him a videogame. Now, the video clearly shows the old woman impatiently crowding a grown man (they clearly aren’t there together) while he makes his purchase to the point of making physical contact with him before he punches her, but that isn’t the point. Many people saw this video, investigated no further than the title on WorldStar, and typed up ranting, scathing pieces about how miserable and worthless the Millennial generation truly is. This got me mad; then it got me thinking.
Viral bits of inter-generational angst like this are not new. This is just another in a long line of cherry-picked incidents and misread videos that are used to justify the Baby Boomer and X generations’ perplexing hatred for their “Millennial” children and grandchildren.
Regardless of the fact that teenagers today are, by definition, not Millennials (born between 1980 and 1995), this pervasive phobia of “the young” has reached incredible, almost discriminatory levels, and it’s high time for a reality check.
So, let’s take a look at some of the most common complaints that Boomers and X’ers have against their younger counterparts. Millennials are considered to be shiftless, entitled little creatures, sheltered from the realities of the world and completely unskilled, yet far overeducated. Socialist bums living in their parents’ basements, more interested in “feeling the Bern” than making an honest wage.
I’m not here to refute those assertions, though some of the more grandiose claims are easily discredited. The fact is, many of these negative stereotypes are true and statistically supported. College campuses and workplaces alike are feeling the impact of Millennials in the forms of “safe spaces” and anti-capitalist rhetoric, and I’ll say that this is negative. However, I’m more interested in examining why my generation behaves this way.
An easy place to start is the economic situation in the United States. While government numbers may purport that the unemployment rate is around 5%, Shadow Government Statistics maintains that the number is somewhere around 23% at the time of writing. SGS calculates this by including estimated long-term discouraged workers (those who are available and willing to work, but have not looked for work in over 12 months, often citing poor job prospects) in their calculation, a cohort that the Bureau of Labor Statistics quit counting in 1994. Even if you take the median, the unemployment rate would still be an abysmal 14%. Within this subset, the official BLS statistics put Millennial unemployment at around 13%. In other words, Millennials are 2.6 times more unemployed than the general population. Assuming that the same is true for the SGS numbers, Millennials are unemployed at a rate of about 60%. That sounds ridiculous, and it probably is, but even if you split the difference, Millennials are still unemployed at a rate of about 36%. This says nothing of the massive underemployment which affects the Millennial generation
It would be easy to dismiss my cocktail napkin math, but the simple fact is that Millennials as a cohort are more unemployed than the general population, regardless of exact percentages. Add this to the mounting debt of Millennials (largely in student loans) and you have a recipe for not only a depressed subset of the population, but an angry one. So when Millennials gravitate to a Bernie Sanders style candidate who blames capitalism for, and promises to fix, the financial woes that forced them back home after college, maybe Boomers and Gen X’ers should take into account the economy they’ve built for their children and grandchildren before damning the entirety of the largest living population in the history of the country. Just a thought.
Moving on to the alleged sheltered, entitled nature of my peers. This is difficult to tackle because there is so much cultural history leading up to it. Consider the self-esteem movement, which began in the early 70s and expanded until Gen X created the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality in grade school and even high school competitions. Ponder the impossible nature of underperformance in high school, where students practically have to try to receive a failing grade in any subject that is not already an advanced course (a friend of mine missed a significant portion of school and still graduated from our fairly highly-ranked high school). Look back on the high school experiences of Millennials when it came to opportunities for furthering their education. Counselors and advisors dared not breathe a word of vocational training to myself or my peers, opting instead to prop up the high school-to-university matriculation scam (for that’s all it is) that has embroiled millions upon millions of kids in debts they should never have been encouraged to incur. And we’re all paying for that one.
I remember the meetings my Millennial colleagues and I had in-utero when we hatched our dastardly plan to overturn, nay, to whitewash the very notion of failure from our developing years.
Except those meetings never happened. We didn’t invent the self-esteem movement. We didn’t decide that failure wasn’t an option. We didn’t scrub vocational training from high school curriculum, nor did we decide that we all deserved trophies and pizza parties just for showing up. When the Boomers and Gen X decided our little minds and hearts were too fragile to process and understand what it meant to lose, to fail, they taught us that the world exists to bend to our will. That our emotions are the core of who we are and should be protected at all costs. And, worst of all, they taught us that we had a right to happiness. Not to pursue happiness, not to try our best in a bad situation, not to make lemonade from lemons, but they taught us that the lemonade should already be there for us, condensation forming on the glass, dripping down the medal we would get for 18th place.
There are many more issues and variables that have coalesced to create the identity of the Millennial generation and counting them all is a herculean task, but rest assured, we’re not all bad. Millennials are the most entrepreneurial generation in history. We start our own businesses at greater rates than any of the generations before us in an attempt to break the cycle of poverty and depression we seem destined for. We value “the struggle” because it is our birthright. We are an understanding and tolerant generation, more so than anyone who has come before, and we are proud of that. We’re optimists, we’re confident (perhaps to a fault), and we’re scrappy because we have to be. That is what the statistics show.
So, Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers, before you call us a pox on your flagging country or a blight on your already failing economy, perhaps you should look at what came before us. If we are everything wrong with the world, perhaps you should have made our world a little different when it actually mattered. When we were dependent on, and informed by, the world you gave us.
But we know you were probably lied to, just like us.
As it stands, this most populace, most understanding generation in history is willing to let bygones be bygones. But you have to work with us first. We’d prefer that. But, even if you don’t, we’ll continue to fight the failure you set us up for, and we will prevail over it, with or without you.