There is a lot of animosity between Baby Boomers and Millennials right now. Shots are being fired on both sides and it has been going on for years. Mainstream media articles take more shots at Millennials either by directly blaming them for the downfall or decline of certain brands or industries or by simply being out of touch. And Millennials have mostly been firing back through social media. Avocado and “By the time you’re thirty” jokes abound. So what’s going on?
This has been the most fun thing to come out of this. In our frustration, many Millennials have been fighting back through the use of memes. Outside Xtra has an entire video about mortgages in games and how they purchased too many avocados to afford one in real life. The never-ending list of tweets fighting back against the very out of touch idea that by the time you’re thirty you should have twice your income saved in your retirement, including my favorite that by the time you’re thirty you should have a potato masher in a drawer making it impossible to open that drawer. There’s the old couple meme, the university building meme, and the interviewer meme, all of which point out how out of touch Baby Boomers and universities are to the current academic and job market situations which make getting an education too expensive and make getting a job nearly impossible. But it’s not as if the older generation isn’t generating content against Millennials.
Articles abound saying that Millennials are killing the housing market, Applebee’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Ruby Tuesday’s, TGI Fridays, fabric softener, the car industry, the wedding industry, domestic brand beer, mayo, department stores, razors, toys (like Toys R’ Us), Hooters (good riddance), cereal, golf, motorcycles, normal yogurt, soda, bars of soap, napkins (source: https://www.businessinsider.com/millennials-hurt-industries-sales-2018-10#fabric-softener-18), Campbells, McDonald’s, the NFL, Tiffany’s, De Beers (source: https://www.cheatsheet.com/money-career/young-people-killing-off-these-brands-faster-than-you-think.html/), designer bags, gyms, home improvement stores, the oil industry (https://www.businessinsider.com/millennials-are-killing-list-2017-8), and so on and so on.
Lazy, Luxurious Millennials?
The idea is that Millennials spend their money on stupid things like going out to bars and unique restaurants with avocado toast and aren’t willing to work hard and that’s why we can’t afford things like houses. That’s actually bullshit. Millennials often do not prioritize a clean and tidy home over things like working long hours and having some moments of relaxation, exercise, and enjoyment in their day. In the work-life balance, there is not a lot of cleaning. Having a messy home can make people appear lazy. This often comes from a Hollywood idea that if a person’s home isn’t clean then they are obviously trashy welfare assholes. The idea that we also like pricey things, while not wrong, is not an accurate depiction of Millennial values.
Failing Industries and a Loss of Value
Millennials like valuable things. There is a good reason for all of these articles and the perception about Millennials. For one thing, Uber Eats and Postmates exist as does Amazon! It’s come out that some of the foods that are failing are bad for you, and some of these items are simply luxuries that Millennials can’t afford, like golf, motorcycles, gyms, and huge weddings. Big weddings were traditionally paid for by parents, but most parents don’t have the money to spend on that anymore. Baby Boomers have even stopped buying from these places or stopped buying these things for the same reasons that Millennials have. Some of these companies are just not adapting well to the new shape and direction of the markets. On the thing about houses: it’s not that Millennials don’t want to own a home, it’s that a lot of them can’t afford a home until they are much older. One of the articles I listed above said we were specifically killing the starter home market. I’ve not seen a new development with any starter homes in it at all for the last fifteen years. So it might more be that the development companies are not building them. The tiny houses trend is actually big with Millennials, and typically you have to go to a pre-fab company to get one of those because every home built in the last twenty to thirty years by developments all have a fucking “great” room. What’s so great about a giant empty space that no one knows what to do with? It’s the same thing with the car market. What happened to companies making the economy car? Where is that? So these articles are off base in blaming us, not because we’re not responsible in some cases, but because they fail to recognize that trends come and go. Women don’t wear stockings all the time anymore and you don’t hear the hosiery companies still bitching about it. Frankly, this blame game has to stop. It’s not actually making anyone happy. Even if the memes are funny.
Millennials are also not at all lazy. Most of them work two jobs when they can get them with projects on the side. The idea that we like luxury items has more to do with the fact that we are paid less than previous generations at our same age. Millennials do follow the adage that the poor man pays twice. We are not affluent. When we have money to spend or need to spend money on something it better be worth the expense. It should be healthy, quality, durable, and/or enjoyable, or we don’t want it. This is why McDonald’s is failing. This is where avocado toast comes in. It’s not Millennials’ fault that healthy, quality food is more expensive. This is why when you see a Millennial “splurge”, the item appears high value/cost. We value money more. We spend it less, but when we do spend it, we want it to mean something. Millennials are actually pretty smart with money. Most try to plan for rainy days while at the same time enjoying small pleasures every once in a while. The problem isn’t that they’re dumb with money; it’s that money isn’t coming into their pockets at the levels it should be. Work is valued less than it used to be, as in people’s time is not being compensated to match the cost of living, so Millennials have to work about twice as hard to afford essentials than previous generations did at their age. It’s no secret that tuition costs have skyrocketed. It’s no secret that the minimum wage is not keeping up with the cost of living for one person, let alone for a family of four as it was supposed. If articles could stop trendily slamming Millennials for being poor and frugal, and instead start slamming industries for not adapting or paying employees livable wages, maybe the economy would be doing better overall because people would start hearing the truth instead of whiny complaints about how we don’t buy fabric softener.
Greedy, Thoughtless Baby Boomers?
There’s quite a bit of hate going backwards too. Most of this is through memes as stated before, but the idea is that Baby Boomers are out of touch with the reality of the job market and cost of academic degrees today. They don’t understand how hard it is to get a job, job benefits are mostly abysmal, that minimum wage is not a livable wage for even one person, and that tuition prices are way too high. They aren’t willing to help either. They are also looking for jobs, but finding them more easily due to their experience, but they inflated the housing market, consume way too much in products, and are rude to lower paid individuals. This is just the idea that people have about Baby Boomers. It’s not completely true, nor is it true of all Baby Boomers, especially those who have done things out of the traditional order and tried to get degrees without employer help in the ’90s or later. Younger Baby Boomers do not always represent this depiction as well. But where does this attitude come from for those that do accurately represent this depiction?
An Abundance of Everything and Raised by Those Who Grew Up with Nothing
Baby Boomers were children and young adults in a time of great industry growth. Post-WWII saw more growing companies, more colleges, more access to upward mobility. Until the ’80s, everything was upward trending, so consumerism also rose. People could afford more, so they got more. This isn’t really this generation’s fault. It’s just how our brains work. They don’t believe in the future. They believe in surviving now. (You know? The future is a lie, the pasta is now.) At least, that is the part of the brain that is all urges. Baby Boomers’ parents actually didn’t grow up with much, so they actually encouraged Baby Boomers’ to consume when they could. The problem is that the world changes. We’re back to a time of less, instead of more. Partially because of over-consumption. The housing market crash doesn’t happen without this. Were balloon mortgages a good idea? Absolutely not. Doesn’t mean that they didn’t take what was offered them. It’s part of the reason so many of them are still working into retirement age. Immediacy was too strong with them. It’s hard to know how to have temperance when you are surrounded by cookies. If you know you won’t be getting cookies often, then it is much easier to save some of them for later. But after a lifetime of giant piles of cookies, these habits are hard to break, and it’s hard to see past your visions of those piles to notice that other people have never been surrounded by the piles. The cookies aren’t the greatest of metaphors because I’m not talking about something pointless but tasty. I’m talking about the things required for living: jobs, homes, decent wages. Speaking of . . .
Entitlement and Privilege and What Is Deserved
The words Entitlement and Privilege have been bandied about quiet a bit in negative ways. Oh, Millennials are just entitled. They have privilege. There are actually scales of entitlement and privilege and a slave is on the end with no entitlement and no privilege. And that’s a bad thing. We also hear those things as if other generations or demographics don’t have any entitlement or privilege, and that’s just laughable. We also hear them as if fighting for more entitlement or privilege is a bad thing, and if you know anything of labor history that’s also laughable. Baby Boomers had as much as they did because they and previous generations fought for labor rights: things like livable wages, overtime pay, sick leave, FMLA, anti-discrimination, worker’s comp, OSHA, etc on both federal and state levels. Then there were all the unions separate from government laws to hold industries to even higher standards. So when someone tells younger generations they are just entitled and don’t deserve anything, I can’t help but think that not only is this unempathetic, it is also ignorant of American history and law, and just generally stupid. It’s great to sit on your mountain of entitlements and rights and pretend that no one fought for those, because they very obviously did. There were strikes, riots, and protests to get where we are today. Why wouldn’t we continue that history of activism for more or for application of what we already have in other industries or for other workers in areas without those rights? The argument that we don’t deserve anything if patently false based solely on the law. I believe some of this comes from the inaccurate idea that working hard and exploitation are one in the same. I know how to work hard. I work very hard. But as I said before, I’m going to avoid exploitation of my hard work when I can (https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/letters/when-opportunity-knocks-now-its-the-opportunity-to-be-exploited/), and there is nothing wrong with others doing the same.
The other major argument, that minimum wage jobs are for teenagers, is completely and historically inaccurate. The minimum wage was meant to be a livable wage for a family of four with one income at full time work (source: https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/minimum_wage), and since a single person in most locations cannot live on a minimum wage (i.e. pay for shelter, food, utilities, and healthcare), it is obviously not high enough. Fighting for a higher minimum wage is completely justified, and while people argue that it will hurt business, I don’t see how more people, especially the poor who tend to spend more of their money, with more spending money is a bad thing. The majority of the people living paycheck to paycheck and having no disposable income and often no livable income is not sustainable to business, especially for those industries which rely on luxury purchases, such as restaurants, entertainment, and retail (yes, this is a luxury, since most of the people under the poverty level purchase clothes from resellers). I have hardly ever heard real arguments against these changes. Just more of the same unsupported claims. The only argument I’ve heard against raising minimum wage or increased benefits that made any kind of sense was the increase in daycare and disability care costs argument; however, considering the fact that these people are taking care of our loved ones and often have advanced degrees and stringent requirements, I can’t help but think that they shouldn’t be making minimum wage, but far more than that. We should value that work more. And to prevent costs from becoming unmanageable, their work should be at least partially, if not substantially, subsidized by the government. While some of them are, I don’t believe our government is valuing their work or the need for them enough. These things are all worth fighting for, as other “entitlements” were worth fighting for in the past.
The Forgotten Generation
For some reason in all this, Gen X is just not involved or considered. It’s possible because this generation is small by comparison (by population, not years) and that it actually doesn’t have a name. Millennials were called Gen Y for a hot second before Millennial became the name. They almost had the name of Latchkey, but it didn’t stick, and neither did the name MTV. There isn’t, however, as much data on the experience of Gen X. The generation is considered happy, active, and entrepreneurial in nature (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_X). Maybe no one talks about them because they are happy and aren’t trying to blame anyone else for their problems. Maybe they aren’t fighting for anything either. It just seems weird though that in the all shots fired, Gen X hasn’t taken one hit or fired one shot, generally speaking. When I read comments on articles bashing Millennials, a few Gen Xers will pop their heads up and voice their support of the problems facing Millennials, which is nice. I really don’t think we should forget this generation or their experience. It’s not as if they are invisible or not contributing. I’d actually like to hear more of their voices.
The New Generation
While Millennials are self-deprecating and fatalistic, Gen Z makes an art form of it. Some of this comes from the idea that they may not be able to go to college at all or afford the lifestyle of the American dream, things Millennials thought they were going to have. It also comes from growing up in a post 9/11, Great Recession America. They feel insecure and unsettled, but this wasn’t jarring to them, like it was for Millennials, who grew up in prosperity and then had the rug pulled out from under them. There’s also more of them then there are Millennials or Baby Boomers. I would like it if Gen Z had more to look forward to. I would like them to have hope for their futures.
What Does It All Mean?
That’s a good question, because as it turns out, generational traits are contentious. They’ve found that they don’t really cross socioeconomic lines, race, and sometimes even gender. African Americans, Hispanics, other minority groups, and rural Americans typically are nothing like their generational cohorts. Some of the traits of Baby Boomers really do not apply to all of them. In fact, it seems some of them are more like Millennials. Some of the traits applied to Millennials really do not apply to all of them. For example, it is believed that Millennials are supportive of the government restricting public speech offensive to minorities, more so than previous generations, believing in trigger warnings and safe spaces. I am not one of those people. Even though I am a Millennial. But I am also a writer, and just as I stated in my post about being a writer over being a woman (https://empatheticwriter.wordpress.com/2018/03/24/im-not-a-female-writer-im-a-writer/), I didn’t choose to be a Millennial. I absolutely chose to be a writer, and writers, especially American ones, have a long standing tradition of not supporting government sanctioned censorship. I may not have liked the things the Black Hebrew Israelites were saying to the Native Americans, but they still have the right to say it (https://empatheticwriter.wordpress.com/2019/01/26/fake-news-what-happens-when-trump-is-right/). Part of the reason why I don’t support censorship is that, as I stated in my blog post about satire (https://empatheticwriter.wordpress.com/2014/11/13/irony-satire-and-sarcasm-and-those-who-dont-get-it/), too many people are not intelligent enough to recognize it. They become offended and demand censorship, while the point sails clear over their heads. I do not trust mobs to decide what is or isn’t offensive because mobs do not have the ability to reason what is satiristic. That makes me an atypical Millennial. My point is, you can’t assume a person’s personality based on their generational group. Yes, vast numbers of them adhere to certain traits, but not all of those traits and not all of those people. Like any other demographic, a person has to learn about an individual before they make any judgements about them. You know? Like a good person.