GENERATION Y / MILLENIALS
Who: Historic Events • Grew up with technology, computers, cell phones, internet, etc. • Also known as the “Entitlement” generation • Boomer and late X’er parents raised them to be sheltered and to constantly build Millennials’ selfesteem • Plagued with high levels of student debt • Second largest generation to be entering the workforce under the Boomers
Population: 80 million • More ethnically and racially diverse than older generations
Characteristics: Ambitious yet clueless • Optimistic • Patriotic • Impatient • Entrepreneurial • Individualistic yet group oriented • Want to be like peers but with a unique twist • Very informal • Busy • Short attention span • Acknowledge and admire some authorities • More culturally and racially tolerant • Acceptant of change • Un-trusting of “the man” • Achievement-oriented • Financially savvy • Want instant gratification • “Everybody wins!”
At Work: Searches for the individual who will help them achieve their goals • Want open, constant communication and positive reinforcement from their boss • Search for job that provides great, personal fulfillment • Want to be close to their peers • Want leadership from bosses and supervisors • Look for opportunities to learn • Work to live, rather than living to work
Historical Events: Oklahoma City bombing • Rise of the Internet • O.J. Simpson trial • Death of Princess Diana • CDs/DVDs • Columbine shootings • Y2K • Terrorism • Swine flu 1988
Millennials (also known as the Millennial Generation or Generation Y) are the demographic cohort following Generation X. There are no precise dates when the generation starts and ends; most researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s.
Authors William Strauss and Neil Howe wrote about the Millennials in Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069, and they released an entire book devoted to them, titled Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. Strauss and Howe are “widely credited with naming the Millennials” according to journalist Bruce Horovitz. In 1987, they coined the term “around the time 1982-born children were entering preschool and the media were first identifying their prospective link to the millennial year 2000”. Strauss and Howe use 1982 as the Millennials’ starting birth year and 2004 as the last birth year.
In August 1993, the phrase Generation Y first appeared in an Ad Age editorial to describe those who were aged 11 or younger as well as the teenagers of the upcoming ten years who were defined as different from Generation X. Since then, the company has sometimes used 1982 as the starting birth year. According to Horovitz, in 2012, Ad Age “threw in the towel by conceding that Millennials is a better name than Gen Y”, and by 2014, a past director of data strategy at Ad Agesaid to NPR “the Generation Y label was a placeholder until we found out more about them”.
Alternative names for this group proposed in the past are: Generation We, Global Generation, Generation Next and the Net Generation. Millennials are sometimes also called Echo Boomers, referring to the generation’s size relative to the Baby Boomer generation and due to the significant increase in birth rates during the 1980s and into the 1990s. In the United States, birth rates peaked in August 1990 and a 20th-century trend toward smaller families in developed countries continued.
Newsweek used the term Generation 9/11 to refer to young people who were between the ages of 10 and 20 years on 11 September 2001. The first reference to “Generation 9/11” was made in the cover story of the 12 November 2001 issue of Newsweek.
In his book The Lucky Few: Between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boom, author Elwood Carlson called Millennials the “New Boomers” (born 1983 to 2001), because of the upswing in births after 1983, finishing with the “political and social challenges” that occurred after the terrorist acts of 11 September 2001, and the “persistent economic difficulties” of the time. Generally speaking, Millennials are the children of Baby Boomers or Generation Xers, while a few may have parents from the Silent Generation.
In 2006, Australian McCrindle Research Center, used 1982 to 2000 as birth dates in a document titled “Report on the Attitudes and Views of Generations X and Y on Superannuation”. Separately, McCrindle has also defined “Generation Y” as those born between 1980 to 1994.
In 2013, a global generational study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers with the University of Southern California and the London Business School defined Millennials as those born between 1980 and 1995.
In May 2013, a Time magazine cover story identified Millennials as those born from 1980 or 1981 to 2000.
In 2014, the Pew Research Center, an American think tank organization, defined “adult Millennials” as those who were 18 to 33 years old, born 1981–1996. And according to them, the youngest Millennials are still “in their teens” with “no chronological end point set for them yet”.
Also, in 2014, a comparative study from Dale Carnegie Training and MSW Research was released which studies Millennials compared to other generations in the workplace. This study described “Millennial” birth years between 1980–1996.
In 2015, the Pew Research Center also conducted research regarding generational identity. It was discovered that Millennials, or members of Generation Y, are less likely to strongly identify with the generational term when compared to Generation X or to the baby boomers. It was also found that Millennials chose most often to define itself with more negative terms such as self-absorbed, wasteful or greedy. In this 2015 report, Pew defined Millennials with birth years ranging from 1981 onwards.
China. Chinese millennials (more commonly called the 1980s and 1990s generations there) were examined and contrasted with American millennials at a 2015 conference in Shanghai organized by USC U.S.-China Institute. Findings included their marriage, childbearing, and child raising preferences, their life and career ambitions, and their attitudes towards volunteerism and activism.
In Canada, the official body of Statistics Canada has declared 1992 as the last year of birth for Generation Y.
Authors William Strauss and Neil Howe believe that each generation has common characteristics that give it a specific character, with four basic generational archetypes, repeating in a cycle. According to their theory, they predicted Millennials will become more like the “civic-minded” G.I. Generation with a strong sense of community both local and global.
Strauss and Howe’s research has been influential, but it also has critics. Jean Twenge, the author of the 2006 book Generation Me, considers Millennials, along with younger members of Generation X, to be part of what she calls “Generation Me”. Twenge attributes Millennials with the traits of confidence and tolerance, but also identifies a sense of entitlement and narcissism based on personality surveys that showed increasing narcissism among Millennials compared to preceding generations when they were teens and in their twenties. She questions the predictions of Strauss and Howe that this generation will come out civic-minded.
The University of Michigan’s “Monitoring the Future” study of high school seniors (conducted continually since 1975) and the American Freshman survey, conducted by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute of new college students since 1966, showed an increase in the proportion of students who consider wealth a very important attribute, from 45% for Baby Boomers (surveyed between 1967 and 1985) to 70% for Gen Xers, and 75% for Millennials. The percentage who said it was important to keep abreast of political affairs fell, from 50% for Baby Boomers to 39% for Gen Xers, and 35% for Millennials. The notion of “developing a meaningful philosophy of life” decreased the most across generations, from 73% for Boomers to 45% for Millennials. The willingness to be involved in an environmental cleanup program dropped from 33% for Baby Boomers to 21% for Millennials.
In March 2014, the Pew Research Center issued a report about how “Millennials in adulthood” are “detached from institutions and networked with friends.” The report said Millennials are somewhat more upbeat than older adults about America’s future, with 49% of Millennials saying the country’s best years are ahead though they’re the first in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt and unemployment.
Fred Bonner, a Samuel DeWitt Proctor Chair in Education at Rutgers University and author of Diverse Millennial Students in College: Implications for Faculty and Student Affairs, believes that much of the commentary on the Millennial Generation may be partially accurate, but overly general and that many of the traits they describe apply primarily to “white, affluent teenagers who accomplish great things as they grow up in the suburbs, who confront anxiety when applying to super-selective colleges, and who multitask with ease as their helicopter parents hover reassuringly above them.” During class discussions, Bonner listened to black and Hispanic students describe how some or all of the so-called core traits did not apply to them. They often said that the “special” trait, in particular, is unrecognizable. Other socio-economic groups often do not display the same attributes commonly attributed to Millennials. “It’s not that many diverse parents don’t want to treat their kids as special,” he says, “but they often don’t have the social and cultural capital, the time and resources, to do that.”
In 2008, author Ron Alsop called the Millennials “Trophy Kids,” a term that reflects a trend in competitive sports, as well as many other aspects of life, where mere participation is frequently enough for a reward. It has been reported that it’s an issue in corporate environments. Some employers are concerned that Millennials have too great expectations from the workplace. Some studies predict they will switch jobs frequently, holding many more jobs than Gen Xers due to their great expectations. Newer research shows that Millennials change jobs for the same reasons as other generations—namely, more money and a more innovative work environment. Millennials look for versatility and flexibility in the workplace, and strive for a strong work–life balance in their jobs. Millennials also have similar career aspirations to other generations, valuing financial security and a diverse workplace just as much as their older colleagues. Educational sociologist Andy Furlong described Millennials as optimistic, engaged, and team players.
In his book, Fast Future, author David Burstein describes Millennials’ approach to social change as “pragmatic idealism,” a deep desire to make the world a better place combined with an understanding that doing so requires building new institutions while working inside and outside existing institutions.
According to The Economist, surveys of political attitudes among Millennials in the United Kingdom suggest increasingly liberal attitudes with regard to social and cultural issues, as well as higher overall support for classical liberal economic policies than preceding generations. They are more likely to support same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana.
The Economist parallels this with Millennials in the United States, whose attitudes are more supportive of social liberal policies and same-sex marriage relative to other demographics, though less supportive of abortion than Gen X were in the early 1990s. They are also more likely to oppose animal testing for medical purposes.
A poll for Reason magazine suggested that millennials were social liberals and fiscal centrists, and the magazine predicted that millennials would become more conservative on fiscal issues once they started paying taxes.
Demographics in the United States
William Strauss and Neil Howe projected in their 1991 book Generations that the U.S. Millennial population would be 76 million. Later Neil Howe revised the number to over 95 million people (in the U.S.). As of 2012, it was estimated that there were approximately 80 million U.S. Millennials. The estimated number of the U.S. Millennials in 2015 is 83.1 million people.
Economic prospects for some Millennials have declined largely due to the Great Recession in the late 2000s. Several governments have instituted major youth employment schemes out of fear of social unrest due to the dramatically increased rates of youth unemployment. In Europe, youth unemployment levels were very high (56% in Spain, 44% in Italy, 35% in the Baltic states, 19.1% in Britain and more than 20% in many more). In 2009, leading commentators began to worry about the long-term social and economic effects of the unemployment. Unemployment levels in other areas of the world were also high, with the youth unemployment rate in the U.S. reaching a record level (19.1%, July 2010) since the statistic started being gathered in 1948. Underemployment is also a major factor. In the U.S. the economic difficulties have led to dramatic increases in youth poverty, unemployment, and the numbers of young people living with their parents. In April 2012, it was reported that half of all new college graduates in the US were still either unemployed or underemployed. It has been argued that this unemployment rate and poor economic situation has given Millennials a rallying call with the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement. In Canada, unemployment among youths aged 15 to 24 years of age in July 2009 was 15.9%, the highest it had been in 11 years. However, according to Christine Kelly, Occupy is not a youth movement and has participants that vary from the very young to very old.
A variety of names have emerged in different European countries particularly hard hit following the financial crisis of 2007–2008 to designate young people with limited employment and career prospects. These groups can be considered to be more or less synonymous with Millennials, or at least major sub-groups in those countries. The Generation of €700 is a term popularized by the Greek mass media and refers to educated Greek twixters of urban centers who generally fail to establish a career. In Greece, young adults are being “excluded from the labor market” and some “leave their country of origin to look for better options”. They’re being “marginalized and face uncertain working conditions” in jobs that are unrelated to their educational background, and receive the minimum allowable base salary of €700. This generation evolved in circumstances leading to the Greek debt crisis and some participated in the 2010–2011 Greek protests. In Spain, they’re referred to as the mileurista (for €1,000), in France “The Precarious Generation,” and as in Spain, Italy also has the “milleurista”; generation of 1,000 euros.
Generation Flux is a neologism and psychographic (not demographic) designation coined by Fast Company for American employees who need to make several changes in career throughout their working lives due to the chaotic nature of the job market following the Great Recession. Societal change has been accelerated by the use of social media, smartphones, mobile computing, and other new technologies. Those in “Generation Flux” have birth-years in the ranges of both Generation X and Millennials. “Generation Sell” was used by author William Deresiewicz to describe Millennial’s interest in small businesses.
To address these new challenges, many large firms are currently studying the social and behaviorial patterns of Millennials and are trying to devise programs that decrease intergenerational estrangement, and increase relationships of reciprocal understanding between older employees and Millennials, while at the same time making Millennials more comfortable. The UK’s Institute of Leadership & Management researched the gap in understanding between Millennial recruits and their managers in collaboration with Ashridge Business School. The findings included high expectations for advancement, salary and for a coaching relationship with their manager, and suggested that organizations will need to adapt to accommodate and make the best use of Millennials. In an example of a company trying to do just this, Goldman Sachs conducted training programs that used actors to portray Millennials who assertively sought more feedback, responsibility, and involvement in decision making. After the performance, employees discussed and debated the generational differences they saw played out.
According to a Bloomberg L.P. article, Millennials have benefited the least from the economic recovery following the Great Recession, as average incomes for this generation have fallen at twice the general adult population’s total drop and are likely to be on a path toward lower incomes for at least another decade. “Three and a half years after the worst recession since the Great Depression, the earnings and employment gap between those in the under-35 population and their parents and grandparents threatens to unravel the American dream of each generation doing better than the last. The nation’s younger workers have benefited least from an economic recovery that has been the most uneven in recent history.”
USA Today reported in 2014 that Millennials were “entering the workplace in the face of demographic change and an increasingly multi-generational workplace”. Even though research has shown that Millennials are joining the workforce during a tough economic time they still have remained optimistic, as shown when about nine out of ten Millennials surveyed by the Pew Research Center said that they currently have enough money or that they will eventually reach their long-term financial goals.
Peter Pan generation
American sociologist Kathleen Shaputis labeled Millennials as the boomerang generation or Peter Pan generation, because of the members perceived tendency for delaying some rites of passage into adulthood for longer periods than most generations before them. These labels were also a reference to a trend toward members living with their parents for longer periods than previous generations.
According to Kimberly Palmer, “High housing prices, the rising cost of higher education, and the relative affluence of the older generation are among the factors driving the trend. However, other explanations are seen as contributing. Questions regarding a clear definition of what it means to be an adult also impacts a debate about delayed transitions into adulthood and the emergence of a new life stage, Emerging Adulthood. For instance, a 2012 study by professors at Brigham Young University found that college students are more likely to define “adult” based on certain personal abilities and characteristics rather than more traditional “rite of passage” events. Larry Nelson, one of the three marriage, family, and human development professors to perform the study, also noted that “In prior generations, you get married and you start a career and you do that immediately. What young people today are seeing is that approach has led to divorces, to people unhappy with their careers … The majority want to get married […] they just want to do it right the first time, the same thing with their careers.”
The economy has had a dampening effect on Millennials’ ability to date and get married. In 2012, the average American couple spent an average of over $27,000 on their wedding. A 2013 joint study by sociologists at the University of Virginia and Harvard University found that the decline and disappearance of stable full-time jobs with health insurance and pensions for people who lack a college degree has had profound effects on working-class Americans, who now are less likely to marry and have children within marriage than those with college degrees.
In the United States, Millennials are the least likely to be religious. There is a trend towards irreligion that has been increasing since the 1940s. 29 percent of Americans born between 1983 and 1994 are irreligious, as opposed to 21 percent born between 1963 and 1981, 15 percent born between 1948 and 1962 and only 7 percent born before 1948. A 2005 study looked at 1,385 people aged 18 to 25 and found that more than half of those in the study said that they pray regularly before a meal. One-third said that they discussed religion with friends, attended religious services, and read religious material weekly. Twenty-three percent of those studied did not identify themselves as religious practitioners. A Pew Research Center study on Millennials shows that of those between 18–29 years old, only 3% of these emerging adults self-identified as “atheists” and only 4% self-identified as “agnostics”. Overall, 25% of Millennials are “Nones” and 75% are religiously affiliated.
Over half of Millennials polled in the United Kingdom in 2013 said they had ‘no religion nor attended a place of worship’, other than for a wedding or a funeral. 25% said they ‘believe in a God’, while 19% believed in a ‘spiritual greater power’ and 38% said they did not believe in God nor any other ‘greater spiritual power’. The poll also found 41% thought religion is ‘the cause of evil’ in the world more often than good.
In their 2007 book, authors Junco and Mastrodicasa expanded on the work of William Strauss and Neil Howe to include research-based information about the personality profiles of Millennials, especially as it relates to higher education. They conducted a large-sample (7,705) research study of college students. They found that Next Generation college students, born between 1983–1992, were frequently in touch with their parents and they used technology at higher rates than people from other generations. In their survey, they found that 97% of these students owned a computer, 94% owned a mobile phone, and 56% owned an MP3 player. They also found that students spoke with their parents an average of 1.5 times a day about a wide range of topics. Other findings in the Junco and Mastrodicasa survey revealed 76% of students used instant messaging, 92% of those reported multitasking while instant messaging, 40% of them used television to get most of their news, and 34% of students surveyed used the Internet as their primary news source.
Gen Xers and Millennials were the first to grow up with computers in their homes. In a 1999 speech at the New York Institute of Technology, Microsoft Chairman and CEO Bill Gates encouraged America’s teachers to use technology to serve the needs of the first generation of kids to grow up with the Internet. Many Millennials enjoy a 250+-channel home cable TV universe. One of the more popular forms of media use by Millienials is social networking. In 2010, research was published in the Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research which claimed that students who used social media and decided to quit showed the same withdrawal symptoms of a drug addict who quit their stimulant. Marc Prensky coined the term “digital native” to describe “K through college” students in 2001, explaining they “represent the first generations to grow up with this new technology.” Millennials are identified as “digital natives” by the Pew Research Center which conducted a survey titled Millennials in Adulthood. Millennials use social networking sites, such as Facebook, to create a different sense of belonging, make acquaintances, and to remain connected with friends.
Strauss & Howe’s book titled Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation describes the Millennial generation as “civic-minded”, rejecting the attitudes of the Baby Boomers and Generation X.
Since the 2000 U.S. Census, which allowed people to select more than one racial group, “Millennials” in abundance have asserted the ideal that all their heritages should be respected, counted, and acknowledged.
A 2013 poll in the United Kingdom found that Generation Y was more “open-minded than their parents on controversial topics”. Of those surveyed, nearly 65% supported same-sex marriage.
A 2013 Pew Research Poll concluded that 84% of Millennials, born since 1980 and then between the ages of 18 and 32, favor legalizing the use of marijuana.
Millennials came of age in a time where the entertainment industry began to be affected by the Internet.
On top of Millennials’ being the most ethnically and racially diverse compared to the generations older than they are, they are also on pace to be the most educated. As of 2008, 39.6% of Millennials between the ages of 18–24 were enrolled in college, which was an American record. Along with being educated, Millennials are also very upbeat. As stated above in the economic prospects section, about 9 out of 10 Millennials feel as though they have enough money or that they will reach their long-term financial goals, even during the tough economic times, and they are more optimistic about the future of the U.S. Additionally, Millennials are also more open to change than older generations. According to the Pew Research Center that did a survey in 2008, Millennials are the most likely of any generation to self-identify as liberals and are also more supportive of progressive domestic social agenda than older generations. Finally, Millennials are the least overtly religious than the older generations. About one in four Millennials are unaffiliated with any religion, which is much more than the older generations when they were the ages of Millennials.
The Millennial Generation, “Keep Calm and Carry On”
The Millennial Generation (born 1982-2004) today comprises roughly 100 million people mostly in their teens and 20s. You may be tired of hearing about them. Their attitudes and behaviours have been scrutinized from every angle, with labels ranging from “The Me Me Me Generation” to “Generation Nice.” When it comes to the economy, however, this generation’s story is straightforward: The oldest Millennials began graduating from high school in 2000, from college in 2004, and with masters’ degrees in 2006. The Great Recession has thus totally dominated their view of the economy in general and their career aspirations in particular.
The first Millennials were born in the early 1980s. They have no memory of the Consciousness Revolution that was so defining for coming-of-age Boomers nor the hands-off parenting era in which Gen-X children were raised. By the time Millennials came onto the scene, social and family experimentation was ebbing. Young children began to receive more structure and protection. With “family values” ascendant, Boomer (and later Xer) parents began spending much more time with their kids than their own parents ever spent with them. Child abuse and child safety became hot topics as rates of divorce, abortion, and violence against children fell steadily. In the early 1980s, “Baby on Board” signs began to appear, attached to new child-friendly minivans loaded with safety gadgets.
Meanwhile, the media spotlight honed in on Millennials’ academic achievement. The “Goals 2000” movement—targeting first-wave Millennials born in 1982—demanded improved student achievement from the high school Class of 2000. Educators spoke of raising standards and No Child Left Behind. By the mid-1990s, politicians were defining adult issues (from tax cuts to internet access) in terms of their effects on kids and teens.
Given all this adult attention, it’s no wonder that this rising generation has developed a sense of specialness, to them¬selves, to their parents, and to the wider community. As we might expect, this location in histo¬ry has had a major impact on Millennials’ collective personality and generational behaviour.
Many media reports about Millennials’ economic prospects have focused exclusively on how the Great Recession is likely to reduce their average earnings for many years to come, no matter how much the economy improves. This is probably correct. It’s also true that the majority of Millennials looking for work have as yet been unable to find secure and salaried careers—leading to lives that are literally on hold. A rising share of young adults age 30 and under are putting off marriages, births, home purchases, car purchases, and relocation. Interestingly, this age group shows by far the biggest jump between 2008 to 2014—from 25 to 49 percent—in the share of Americans who consider themselves “lower” or “lower-middle” class.
Yet there’s more to the story. Along the way, the tough economy is also reinforcing generational traits that Millennials possessed even before the recession began.
Millennials were risk-averse before—and now even more so. Since Millennials began entering their teen years in the mid-1990s, rates of personal risk-taking among this age bracket have plummeted. Serious violent crime among teens, as well as rates of teen pregnancy and abortion, has fallen swiftly and dramatically. Teen drinking and smoking rates have also plunged to historic lows.
Contrary to stereotype, most Millennials try to avoid economic risks as well. Most aspire to a stable career within a big corporation—and, remarkably, a higher share of them think job security is “extremely important” than either Xers or Boomers. Once on the job, they want to max out on benefits from pensions to insurance. According to DC funds data, they have the most conservative portfolio selection of any age bracket under age 65. And economists Lisa Dettling and Joanne Hsu find that Millennials are actually less likely to have credit-card, auto, or housing debt than Gen Xers were at the same age.
Millennials were close to their families before—and now even more so. A full 24 percent of 25 – to 34-year-olds now live with their parents, up from only 11 percent back in 1980. It’s not just joblessness. By all accounts, these first-wave Millennials get along very well with their Boomer parents and collaborate effectively on a wide range of daily tasks.
Millennials were achievement-oriented before—and that too continues. Unable to get jobs, record numbers are working to get degrees. Today, the share of 25- to 29-year-olds with 4-year college degrees (at 33 percent) and high-school diplomas (at 90 percent) are both at record highs. Also at record highs is college loan indebtedness, which passed $1 trillion in 2011. For a growing share of Millennials, the college mortgage is replacing the home mortgage.
Finally, Millennials were collectively optimistic before the recession—and, remark¬ably, remain optimistic still. Surveys confirm that, as roughed up by the economy as they are, today’s Millennials lead other generations in expressing confidence in America’s future. In fact, a majority of Millennials think they will be better off than their parents—even if their par¬ents disagree. And in an era when Americans of all ages generally don’t trust public leaders, Millennials are most likely to trust the federal government to “do what is right.”
Back in the 1970s, the reverse was true. Young Boomers were far more pessimistic about America’s future than their parents were. Perhaps the only adequate parallel for the optimism of today’s Millennials is the G.I. Generation during the Great Depression, who famously “accentuated the positive” even at the bleakest of times.
This attitude may grow even stronger among late-wave Millennials. In a recent study of late-wave Millennials, MTV summed up their mentality with the old World War II adage “keep calm and carry on.” This group has come of age during the downturn and is adapting somewhat of an Xer “survivalist” mentality to prepare for life in the brave new economy.
Generation gaps are nothing new. Back in the 1930s, members of the World War I generation complained bitterly about their World War II generation offspring and all the swing-dancing, noisy big bands and awful crooners they were into (many of those jitterbugging teenagers of the 1930s went on fight the Nazis after high school and have since been called the “Greatest Generation”)
So it isn’t surprising that there are members of the Baby Boomer generation and Gen X who have a hard time figuring out what makes Millennials, aka Generation Y, tick. People in their 40s, 50s and 60s not understanding people in their 20s is as old as time itself. But if there is one claim about the Millennial generation that is truly absurd, it is the notion that they are entitled, spoiled and pampered. Some Baby Boomers and Gen-X members (especially Boomers) insist that Millennials don’t want to pay their dues and expect everything handed to them on a silver platter, but Millennials on the whole are the polar opposite of entitled or spoiled.
Millennials—those born between the early 1980s and the late 1990s/early 2000s—in the United States inherited a country that is broken in many respects. From the worst economy in 80 years to a post-9/11 surveillance state to a dysfunctional healthcare system, Millennials have been given a raw deal. And fighting to get the country back on track will be an enormous task for them.
Here are 10 reasons why Millennials are the most screwed-over generation in recent history.
1. A Dying Middle Class. Many Baby Boomers and members of the Silent Generation (essentially the younger end of the World War II generation) entered the workforce at a time when there were still plenty of good-paying jobs in the United States. In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, a college degree practically guaranteed a job that paid a living wage, and for blue-collar workers who went to trade school, high-paying unionized jobs were not hard to come by. Gen X, however, confronted some harsh realities during the recession of the early 1990s, when many college graduates found themselves in dead-end service jobs (which was unheard of in the 1950s and 1960s). But the American economy boomed considerably in the mid- to late-1990s, and many Gen-Xers who had struggled in the early 1990s went on to prosper as the 1990s progressed (especially during Bill Clinton’s second term as president). Millennials, however, were unable to take advantage of that Clinton-era prosperity, and they entered the workforce at a time when the American middle class was in danger of extinction. Many Boomers and X-ers have had their savings depleted by the economic downturn of the late 2000s and early 2010; many Millennials haven’t even had a chance to build a substantial savings.
2. The Financial Crash of Sept. 2008. The United States’ financial problems didn’t begin with the crash of September 2008. American manufacturing jobs were being exported to developing countries long before that, and the North American Free Trade Agreement of the early 1990s proved to be every bit as damaging as Ross Perot predicted it would be. But the crash of 2008 greatly accelerated the U.S.’ decline, and five years later, millions of Americans continue to suffer. The number of Americans who were poor enough to qualify for food stamps was just over 17 million in 2000; in 2013, it’s 47 million. Misleading Bureau of Labor Statistics figures claim that the unemployment rate in the U.S. fell to 7.4% in July 2013, but that figure excludes all the Americans who have been unemployed for so long the BLS no longer counts them as part of the workforce. In this abysmal job climate, Millennials have a hard time building a résumé because they are competing with desperate Gen-Xers and Boomers who have decided that being underemployed is better than being unemployed and are willing to dumb down their résumés in the hope of finding steady, if inadequate, income.
3. Crushing Student Loan Debt. Millennials are graduating from high school at a time when there is a serious shortage of both good, unionized blue-collar jobs and a shortage of good, white-collar jobs. The America of the 1950s, when a blue-collar male could have a mortgage and support a wife and two kids, is a world Millennials have never known. And if Millennials go the college route in 2013, they can look forward to tuition rates that are more unaffordable than ever. But an expensive college degree won’t necessarily result in a high-paying job. Plenty of Millennials with BAs and even masters degrees, are making minimum wage in dollar stores, and minimum wage is hardly conducive to paying back a huge student loan debt. Some Millennials, inevitably, will be late making their student loan payments, thus hurting their credit scores and placing them even more behind the eight ball.
4. The Broken Healthcare System. Millennials certainly wasn’t the first generation of Americans to be victimized by the U.S.’ dysfunctional health insurance system. But a system that was broken in the 1980s and 1990s has gone from bad to worse: premiums have skyrocketed, medical bankruptcies are common even among those who have insurance, and the number of uninsured Americans has continued to rise (according to a study that the Commonwealth Fund conducted in 2012, 55 million Americans were without health insurance at some point last year). To make matters worse, Millennials are likely to be in low-paying service jobs that don’t offer any benefits whatsoever. And while the Affordable Care Act of 2010 is a small step in the direction of universal healthcare, it doesn’t go nearly far enough. (Obamacare still leaves 20 million Americans without coverage.)
5. The Post-9/11 Surveillance State. Millennials entered adulthood after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Between the use of torture on political detainees at Guantanamo, the Patriot Act, warrantless wiretapping, the National Defense Authorization Act, false positives on the Terrorist Screening Center’s No-Fly List, and intrusive TSA searches at airports, Millennials have spent their adult lives in an era in which constitutional liberties are under constant attack in the name of fighting terrorism. Many Millennials are too young to remember a time when U.S. citizens didn’t need a passport to visit Mexico or Canada. But then, a lot of Millennials don’t have much of a travel budget: they’re too poor.
6. Endless War. Post-9/11, the U.S. has been in a constant state of war. The neocon-dominated George W. Bush administration gave us the disastrous invasion of Iraq, which was one of the worst foreign policy blunders in U.S. history—and although the U.S.’ post-9/11 intervention in Afghanistan seemed to make more sense (at least initially) given the Taliban’s connection to al-Qaeda, U.S. military involvement in that country become much too deep and went on much too long. Some neocons are even calling for an all-out invasion of Iran and have urged the Obama administration to attack Syria.
7. Painfully Low Interest Rates. Those who were adults in the 1980s and 1990s remember the days of higher interest rates, which were an excellent way to build one’s nest egg and plan for the future. Certificates of deposit were a blessing in the days of 10%, 11% or 12% interest; three-month or six-month CDs were a great short-term investment strategy, and for Boomers and Gen-Xers who had IRAs, long-term IRA CDs made perfect sense because that was money you couldn’t touch until retirement—so why not put retirement funds in an IRA CD at 10% or 11% interest? But many Millennials have reached adulthood during a time of pathetically low-interest rates. Assuming they have some extra money to invest, interest rates of less than 1% for a CD or money market account do little to increase one’s nest egg. Thanks to a prolonged period of ultra-low interest rates, many Boomers and X-ers are going to have a hard time retiring; for Millennials, retirement prospects will be much worse.
8. Bailouts and the Federal Deficit. It’s understandable that members of the Tea Party were indignant about the U.S.’ gigantic federal deficit. But the Tea Party become useful idiots for the banksters and stooges for the 1% when they turned their wrath on food stamp recipients and the poor instead of pointing the finger at the real culprits: Wall Street, bailouts that cost billions of dollars, corporate welfare, the military/industrial complex, the failed war on drugs and the prison/industrial complex. Millennials have spent much of their adulthood with an enormous federal deficit hanging over their heads, and they will spend much of their lives dealing with the cuts to our safety net politicians claim are necessary to diminish the deficit.
9. The George W. Bush Administration. It isn’t hard to see why George W. Bush left office in January 2009 with an approval rating of only 22%: he was easily the worst president Boomers and Gen-X experienced in their lifetimes. Between a record federal deficit, the war in Iraq, the torture of political detainees, the eroding of constitutional liberties and the financial meltdown of 2008, the Bush years were devastating for the United States. And many Millennials, unlike Boomers and Gen-X, had the misfortune of reaching adulthood either during the Bush presidency or after Bush had left behind a long list of problems for the Obama administration to deal with. Certainly, many Boomers and Gen-Xers have suffered enormously because of the Bush years, but at least they had the advantage of being in the workforce before the Bush administration did so much to destroy the country.
10. Unlikely Home Ownership. In the United States, banksters went from one extreme to another when it came to mortgages. During the George W. Bush years, many banksters were only too happy to give mortgages to people they knew would likely end up in foreclosure. People making only 15K or 16K were given $300,000 or $400,000 adjustable-rate mortgages with down payments of 3.5% or 5%. But now, some banks have gone to the opposite extreme and are asking for down payments of up to 30% or 40%—and good luck saving that much when the job market is abysmal and rents are skyrocketing in many places. The reality is that unless things seriously turn around, homeownership—which historically, has been a measure of middle-class life—will be out of reach for most Millennials.