There is no denying that it is hip to hate on millennials. We are commonly characterized as entitled, lazy, and naive. I have been criticized unfairly by some older business associates, lumped in and judged along with millions of young people that they don’t know the first thing about. Now, some criticisms have their roots in fact: millennials aren’t taking a typical career path: we aren’t working at big corporate companies, getting married young, buying houses, or finishing the checklist of success that was ingrained into previous generations. Recently I overheard some millennials having a conversation about this topic, apologizing to each other for their “millennial attitudes” and seemingly buying into the hype. However, I believe that when you analyze our current economic situation in this country, Millennial attitudes start to make a lot more sense and are more valuable than they seem.
Employment: Taking Advantage of a System That Left Us Behind
When I was younger, I always imagined myself working for a large company. As I got older and saw some of my friend sand family take those sorts of job, my opinions changed. Is it clear that while our generation typically has high levels of education, wages have stagnated relative to worker productivity. At the same time, US workers work more than any other first-world country. My best friend and former roommate had a pretty good job at an accounting firm. The wages were good, and the hours seemed good… at first. Next thing we knew, he was working 55 hours a week and spending several nights a week in hotels across the state. It’s safe to say that the job he dreamed about growing up isn’t the same one that he resents when he wakes up in the morning.
Over the last few decades, companies have been changing in light of our global economy. It is now easier to stash profits abroad to avoid taxes, outsource jobs to Asia, and break up unions that previously helped middle class workers make a living wage. All of these factors (and more) have attributed to the stagnation of wages, decline of social services, and the disenfranchising of millennials. The economic realities of the 2000s make working for a corporation less efficient and enticing. However, millennials who have grown up in a global world and with the technology in their pockets have found ways to use this economic climate for their own benefit: it’s possible to start a niche business in many industries, thanks to the global market, expansion of technology, and innovation across a wide variety of subjects. Unfortunately…
Millennials Accumulated Tens of Thousands of Dollars in Debt for Jobs that Aren’t There
Go to college, and study whatever you want! You’ll find a great job! All of us heard that through our childhood and through high school. Four years and $28,000 in debt later, I was no better off than I was before. Thanks to the economic problems caused by the same generation that promised us great jobs, we had a recession with millions of layoffs. Suddenly, millennials had all of this debt and were forced to apply for jobs in competition with those who had been laid off after years of experience. Finding a job was difficult: even with an MBA and business owner experience, I couldn’t get a call or even an email back from the dozens of companies I applied to.
I decided that I didn’t want to take the route that most of my friends took: several of them went to work in restaurants after graduating from our “prestigious university.” Many others took mediocre jobs, working 50 hours a week to make $35,000 and barely stay on top of their student loan payments. My experience is somewhat unique since I have special skills and experience that allow me to start my own business, but I was not the only one. Several of my contemporaries have decided to pursue their own projects and goals. The sentiment among us in universal: these jobs, if we could even find them, just aren’t worth the long hours, terrible pay, and total lack of work-life balance. We are confident that we can find success our own way, because…
We Have a Different Definition of Success
In the past, success was all about making lots of money and inflating your lifestyle to match it. Older generations give Millennials a hard time and do their best to vote against their own best interests, but the reality of things is that they aren’t really as successful as they think. They will be heavily reliant on us to support them in retirement. We will be paying for their social security, which is conveniently expected to be gone by the time we retire. Additionally, they buried their heads in the sands regarding climate change and continue to take advantage of carbon emissions that will only have severe consequences for younger generations.
Millennials have changed the definition of success: we don’t need to be rich, we just need to be happy. Rather than work and spend, we millennials are saving at a high rate, especially considering that we have compound interest in our corner. We are planning for the future as well as we can with our low wages and massive student debt. We have been criticized for years for valuing work-life balance and satisfaction in our jobs over material success. I find this to be a positive: I would much rather work less and have what I need than work all the time and buy stuff that forces me to keep working all the time.
We hear all the time that millennials have different approaches to work than older generations do, and it’s a fair assertion. At the same time, these older generations fail to acknowledge their role in creating the economic context of these approaches. Simultaneously, older generations consistently ignore the healthy attitudes that we Millennials adopt towards work, happiness, and fulfillment. Ideally, all generations will find a balance and acknowledge that every perspective has value. The economy and the country need people of all types to make it work as efficiently as possible and to create a situation that will allow the next generation to be our greatest one.