Writer Michael Hobbes says there are too many stereotypes about millennials. What is missing is the realization that millennials are going to be in financial trouble. The conditions that allowed previous American generations economic prosperity are simply not there. Since millennials are bound to start taking power, they need to avoid the mistakes of their parents.
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Michael Hobbes: So, there are three things that every millennial should know. The first one is that there is no evidence for any of the stereotypes about us.
If you look at entitlement, if you look at selfishness, if you look at public opinion polling there’s as much evidence that we’re “worse than our parents” as there is that we are werewolves: There is none.
Whereas there’s a mountain of evidence that things are harder for our generation than they were for our parents or our grandparents, and that it’s getting worse.
So how many articles have you read about how more millennials are living with their parents now than ever? There are twice as many millennials living on their own—making less than $30,000 a year—than there are millennials living with their parents. We don't read any articles about that.
So what we need to do is acknowledge that all of these stereotypes come from anecdotes, that they are older people who have seen a millennial on a skateboard or have had an intern who was a young person who they didn't like very much and have decided that that is representative of an entire generation, and we need to resist that.
It wasn’t always like this. When my dad bought his first house he was 29, living in Seattle; he was a university professor and his house cost 18 months of his salary.
Now, if you’re a young person living in a big city you know that that is science fiction. In the vast majority of America, especially in cities, it will cost you six, seven, ten, 12 years of the median salary to buy the median home. So this idea that we’re different from our parents because WE have changed is completely false.
What has happened is the economy has profoundly shifted underneath us. Housing, healthcare and education are all three times more expensive now than they were in 1968. Those are the prerequisites of a middle class adulthood, of a secure adulthood, a real life, and our parents like to point out that things like refrigerators and TVs are a lot cheaper—and they are, that’s great—but the things we actually need in our lives are much more expensive, and our wages have not kept up.
So, one of the things that we forget, and especially our parents forget, is how much cheaper college used to be.
When my dad was in college he worked for ten hours a week in the cafeteria, and that was enough for his tuition and a little bit of his rent. That doesn’t sound familiar to anybody I know. And what has happened since then is the cost of education has gone up between 400 and 1200 percent, depending on the kind of school you go to. Meanwhile, minimum wages haven’t really budged, general wages haven’t really budged, and the price of everything else has gotten higher too.
So in the early ‘70s it took around 300 hours of minimum wage work to afford a four year education. By the 2000s it took 4,400 hours of minimum wage work to afford a four year education.
So tell your parents that next Thanksgiving when they complain to you about not going to college.
I think there’s a tendency when we talk about millennials, and especially when we talk about poor millennials, to talk about our choices rather than our options.
So again, the evidence—like did my grandparents know what their pension was when they were 25? I don’t think they did. I think that by the time they checked they had one, whereas this generation gets blamed for not saving more for retirement. The reason why that’s considered a huge problem is because there’s no such thing as the defined benefit pension anymore.
A lot of our grandparents have a situation where they get 80 percent of their last salary for the rest of their lives. That is nonexistent for our generation.
So we are now being given the responsibility of saving up to compensate for the fact that the economy doesn’t take care of us anymore. We’re being blamed for the fact that we can’t take care of ourselves. But what have wages done since 1980? They’ve been flat. What has happened to the cost of everything? It’s gone up.