Are millennials a lost generation?
I’ve always thought the term “lost generation” is a bit whiny, especially given the blue collar American work ethic that is a corner stone value in this country. American history is filled with moments that highlight a gritty push through adversity. Classifying one’s self as “lost” versus “determined” seems counter-productive, uninspiring, and, well, anti-American.
But it seems like millennials more and more so are being left behind, forced to find their own way by tapping blindly in an increasingly complex and challenging socio-economic landscape. When we reflect down the road in history, I wonder if the millennial generation will indeed be considered one that was defined by an inability to find their way. Ultimately, as is always the case in America, the bad times will be overcome and replaced by prosperity, but this time it seems like the fight will be harder and grittier than ever.
On Thursday, a report by the Pew Research Center highlighted that the U.S. jobs gap between young and old is the widest ever. The report shows massive problems among millennials in finding jobs, paying off debt, and getting a good education. The report hints at problems for the future of America by showing that the “leaders of tomorrow” are facing unparalleled adversity … and clearly aren’t winning.
According to the report, 41% of Americans believe that younger adults have been hit the hardest of any other age group, compared to 29% who said middle-aged Americans and 24% who said seniors 65 years and up are suffering the most.
When compared to their parent’s generation, nearly 70% of the public say that it’s more difficult for today’s young adults to pay for college, find a job, buy a home, or even simply save for the future.
The polling data buttresses other tough facts. In 2011, with the annual unemployment rate standing at 15.9%, young people were disproportionately under-employed, with 18 to 24-year-olds at a 28.6% underemployment rate and 25 to 34-year-olds with 16.6% rate.
Minorities have it especially tough. The youngest African Americans have the highest rate of underemployment in the nation – with 42.6% barely clinging to their place the labor force.
Millennials are more and more so decrying their place in society. Many of us graduated right as or right after the bottom fell out of the economy. With few job options and holding suffocating college debt, millennials have been funneled into unappealing and soul-sucking job positions that are anything but the starts to career tracks they had hoped for.
There is no economic relief in sight for the millennial generation. According to projections analyzing when America will again be at pre-Great Recession unemployment levels, full recovery ranges in a time period anywhere between 2014 and 2020 (based on the strength of GDP growth and job creation).
There is no political relief in sight for millennials. In 2011 dissatisfaction with government reached an all-time high, with 81% of Americans believing that the country is being governed wrongly. There is no unifying leader to show millennials the way and push us out of our funk.
If anything there is only discord, and that drips down into the ranks of millennials themselves. As last year’s Arab Spring and London riots proved, there is a clear correlation between youth unemployment and civil disorder. Violence is proving to be one option to handle our plight. Polarized activism is another. The left-leaning Occupy Wall Street movement has been fueled by the varying things cited by Thursday’s Pew report.
From economics to basic social order, this generation faces significant obstacles blocking the way to success.
The “lost generation” tag, then, might ring truer than any optimistic millennial would want. As we face adversity of unparalleled proportions, it's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. As America starts to recover from the economic disaster it's faced over the last few years, it is clear that the millennial generation is being left behind to find their own way. And unfortunately, a path hasn't been discovered.
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