If I read one more “trend piece” trying to analyze “millennials,” I’m gonna scream.
- This story says millennials are so unable to stand on their own, they can’t stop texting their parents.
- This one says millennial women aren’t interested in having high-powered jobs.
- This one says millenials want nice things without having to work for them. (A description of literally every person who has ever existed.)
- And, of course, there’s the infamous Time Magazine piece that calls millennials the “me, me, me” generation.
There are articles talking about how millennials constantly need praise, how they have no self-motivation, how they are lazy and only concerned with having fun, how they are materialistic, and how each one of them believes they are a special little snowflake.
Are there young people who embody some of these characteristics? Sure. But there are also people of all ages that fit these descriptions, too. These behaviors are not unique to young people, nor are they unique to one generation.
But that doesn’t make for an easy-to-write “trend” piece.
Sometimes young people seem “scary” to older generations because they’re so different. In the 1960s, young people who became “hippies” were going to be the downfall of the U.S.; today, those “hippies” are talking about how young people today are really going to be the downfall of the U.S., the end of society as we know it.
But the truth is this: millennials are far less spoiled, narcissistic, and egotistical than most news articles would have you believe. In fact, many of us are just poor, bitter, and frustrated.
Why we’re poor
Some argue that millennials are too frivolous with their money, and that is why they are in so much debt. We buy too many iPhone cases! And iPads! And clothes!
Yet the reality is that we are saddled with crippling amounts of debt, with no job prospects.
But federal minimum wage – what most college students are earning, since many companies won’t pay more than that without the employee having a full, four-year degree – is a measly $7.25 an hour.
To paint a picture: in 1978, college tuition, on average, cost $2,411 annually. In 2011, it was $18,133, a 652.095% increase. Meanwhile, minimum wage has only seen a 173.585% increase in that same time frame (going from $2.65 in 1978 to $7.25 in 2011).
Today, if someone made $7.25 an hour, and they were attending a four year college (so, their debt would be $72,532 total), they would need to work 10,004.41 hours. Those hours, divided by 4 years (that you are away at college) and that’s 2,501.10 hours a year. Divide that by 52 weeks in a year, and college students would need to be working 48.10 hours per week (no vacations or sick time) in order to pay off their loans by the time they graduated.
For most of us, that’s completely unrealistic. College in itself is a full-time job. So we take out loans with horrible, awful interest rates to pay for our education now, in hopes that our hard work will pay off financially later.
After college, if we’re lucky, we get a job — but our loan payments are so big, it isn’t much of a life. And the interest rates? Well, the interest rates on federal student loans recently doubled from 3.4% to 6.8%, while private lenders can charge astronomical rates like 18%. It makes it hard (sometimes impossible) to afford anything else.
Why we’re bitter
As kids and teens, we were promised a bright, shiny tomorrow. We were told we could be whatever we wanted to be. This is where some shake their fists and say, “See?! That’s what’s wrong with you guys! You were all coddled!” Well, sure, maybe we were. But I don’t think most of us had unrealistic expectations. We were told college was the only way to get a job, and those jobs, if we had a degree, would be guaranteed.
Unfortunately, there are too many of us, and too few jobs.
That doesn’t stop our student loans, though. We’ve got six months from the time we graduate until we need to start paying them back. Depending on how many loans you took out, you may have several different payments to juggle (my boyfriend’s payments, consolidated, total $600 each month – we could be renting an extra apartment).
We sign up for these loans when we’re bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 17- and 18-year-olds. I’m not saying when you’re that age you’re stupid, but no one tells you just how much of your life you’re signing away – and at an age where you can’t even drink. So 17- and 18-year-olds are not responsible enough to hold alcohol, but are responsible enough to determine if $100,000 in debt upon graduation is a good idea.
Why we’re frustrated
Nothing is changing, and it feels like everyone blames us. On a day to day basis, we may hear any of the following statements:
- When I was in college, I just worked a summer job to pay off my student loans.
- I can’t believe you’re still living at home. Don’t you have any ambition?
- Mooching off mom and dad, are ya?
- When are you going to get a job – a real job?
- It’s not that bad out there.
- If you couldn’t afford an education, you shouldn’t have gone to school.
- When are you going to start acting like an adult?
- If I were you, here’s what I would do…
- Grow up.
Our future feels grim. Social security will run out before we can retire. We’re earning way less money than before. We got kinda screwed. Most of us are struggling to pay our monthly debts and, if we are able to, there’s little leftover. We’re sometimes forced to either stay living at home or to move back there – something we often do with our tails tucked between our legs.
It feels like we’re failing.
Even though this was just the life that was handed to us.
Why we’re going to rise above
For one thing, not all of us are in dire straights. If you’re one of the lucky ones to have a great job and to be out on your own, that’s fantastic.
On top of that, millennials are smart. We are strong. And we will do great things. We are already are. Millennials are “confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat, and open to change. [We] are more ethnically and racially diverse than older adults. … [We] are on track to become the most educated generation in American history. … [Our] entry into careers and first jobs has been badly set back by the Great Recession, but [we] are more upbeat than [our] elders about [our] own economic futures as well as about the overall state of the nation.” (All this, according to research done by Pew.)
Misconceptions aside, we’re doing okay. Not fantastic, not wonderful — but okay. We’re doing what we can with what we’ve got.
Someday, when we’re older, we’ll join the ranks of those who came before us and wonder if the next generation will be the end of society as we know it.
Until then, if we’re lucky enough to have some extra cash, we’ll sip our Starbucks and treat ourselves to the latest iPhone. We deserve it.
Photo credit Jessica Gale.