By Ross Pomeroy & William Handke
For the first time in America’s history, an entire generation of her citizens is poorer, more indebted, and less employed than the preceding generations.
That generation is the Millennials – our generation.
The culprit, say some social commenters, are Millennials themselves. In this telling, we are a lazy cohort of entitled and narcissistic brats– the proverbial “Generation Me.” But this is a classic case of blaming the victim.
The true cause of this unfortunate situation is clear: it’s the economy. The Great Recession stymied economic growth, halted job creation, kept older Americans in the workforce longer, and encouraged younger Americans to continue debt-financed schooling.
Moreover, the Great Recession was not merely a one-off calamity – it was a symptom of economic ills long perpetuated and ignored. And the criticism and labels that have been heaped upon Millennials bear much more resemblance to the type of intergenerational stereotyping that has always existed (“Darn kids these days.”) than to any measurable reality.
The truth: The economic tragedy of the Millennial generation was written before many of us had even learned to read – by Baby Boomer parents and grandparents who, at once, genuinely love and care for us, but have also created or perpetuated institutions, policies, and economic realities that have now hobbled us.
Our generation has been called “entitled.” We beg to differ. If any generation is entitled, it’s our parents’ and grandparents’ generation: the Baby Boomers.
True entitlement is tripling the national debt since the 1980s and using the proceeds to spend lavishly on tax cuts and government programs that primarily provided short-term economic boosts, while refusing to raise the Social Security age of retirement or to reduce benefits, even as the gluttonous program careens toward unsustainability.
True entitlement is allowing the reasonable minimum wage that Baby Boomers enjoyed when they were our age to deteriorate while opting to cut taxes on the gains from stocks and bonds that they accrued during periods of debt-driven economic and stock-market surges – creating an economy where wage earners at all income levels, as of 2012, receive a smaller portion of economic output at any time since 1929.
True entitlement is, for decades, enjoying the benefits of the lowest energy costs in the world while refusing to price-in the external costs of carbon emissions, exacerbating the real changes to our planet that pose profound risks to the environment and economy for which Millennials will soon be the primary stewards.
These grave consequences were entirely foreseeable – but they happened. Young Americans have been fleeced in order to fund the transient excesses of the old – and yet Milliennials are labeled “entitled” because we were given “participation trophies” and “personal tutors” before we were old enough to vote…?
Give us a break. Millennials are not entitled. But we are frustrated.
We’re frustrated because the same Baby Boomer bloc that created or tacitly perpetuated the policies that have hamstrung Millennials now makes up almost a third of the American voting -aged population and holds nearly two-thirds of the seats of the United States House of Representatives and Senate. This, during a decade-long span when incumbent House and Senate members are richly rewarded for being the most unproductive legislators in U.S. history, respectively winning reelection 94 percent and 87 percent of the time.
Granted, many members of our generation need to learn how to vote every two years, not just every four. And we need to begin to fulfill the civic-minded label – “The Next Great Generation” – which social scientists have bestowed upon us. When we do begin to regularly share our opinions in the voting booth, not just on Twitter, you can be assured that we’ll act to keep this country great. We’ll make the “hard” choices the Baby Boomers have refused to make.
Already, we’ve learned how to be fiscally responsible – with the most student debt of any generation in history, we’ve had to. More than any other generation, we eschew expensive possessions like cars and large houses, opting instead for bikes and shared living spaces. Sure, we would like to own all that fancy stuff someday, but we realize that we can’t have everything we want.
We know that our government would be better off spending more of our tax dollars on jobs and education, and not just on social security and defense. We overwhelmingly recognize that the war on drugs has been an embarrassing waste of money and lives and that anyone should be able to marry whomever they love.
Perhaps we Millennials are entitled: we seemed to think that Baby Boomer politicians will enact much needed changes while we fiddle with our smartphones. We were definitely wrong on that one.