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. (Robert Reich, former secretary of labor under the Clinton administration, complains that 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 homeownership.
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.