A little while ago, someone hilariously called me a “traitor” to my generation for being too harsh on others my age. You see, I’m of the opinion that a large number of problems in America could be solved better (and often without much delay) by the people experiencing them. Of course, this mindset clashes with the current attitude out there in the zeitgeist – that the “system” is what’s holding you down. To my knowledge, this generalized victimhood has never been more pervasive in America than it is today. It’s displayed by most socioeconomic levels, as well as nearly all demographic groups, and none express the attitude more strongly than my fellow millennials.
Overall, our cohort is experiencing a failure to launch. No, not all millennials are unable to find a job, leave home, or get their emotional and social lives together, but by any reasonable yardstick, far too many are failing. To give just one example, the percentage of adults age 25-29 who are living with their parents increased from 18% to 25% between 2006 and 2014 alone. The percentage is higher for those between 18-24, as expected for prime schooling years. Also, those without a bachelor’s degree were, unsurprisingly, least likely to move out, but the overall growing number of aging adults who are unable to start their lives should be shocking. Especially when you remeber that millennials were raised with more wealth, knowledge and security available to them than any other cohort in history.
Before you start getting defensive, and proclaim that I’m some kind of a mouthpiece for those grumpy old folks who are always lecturing young people, no, I am not really a fan of those other generations either. Since the Greatest Generation, it’s pretty much been all downhill, and fast. For example, the Baby Boomers were given the greatest country in history (relative to the rest of the world at the time), by parents who struggled and bled through the 1930s and 1940s, and proceeded to not “trust anyone over 30, man.” They’ve left their children with a $20 trillion national debt, a culture of single parenthood and divorce, and over half have, or are, entering retirement with insufficient funds, which is going to become a colossal economic issue in the coming years that younger people will have to make up for. In addition, they were the ones who raised Gen X and millennial children, so it’s fair to partially blame anything wrong with these groups on the failed parenting of Baby Boomers.
All this is not an excuse for millennials to lower the bar even further though. The answer to your economic woes isn’t Bernie Sanders and social democracy. It isn’t waiting for others to go away, and it isn’t trying to remake the entire “system,” because frankly, none of us have the proper life experience to know how to do so. The actual solution to what’s preventing you from getting ahead economically is in the mirror. Here’s what I mean:
No, it is not that hard to get a good job right out of college. Yes, it is harder to get a job with a major that is less in demand, and plenty of majors have high underemployment rates. But plenty of other majors have very low unemployment rates among recent grads. For example, those who studied nursing, agriculture, and construction have an unemployment rate under 2%. That may have something to do with the fact that those are very useful, applicable skills that people in the real world want and use all the time. As is repeated often, STEM fields tend to pay well in additional to having low unemployment rates. And unsurprisingly, Fine Arts majors are on the other end of the spectrum, with an unemployment rate above the national average and an average income of just $29,000. Nothing is guaranteed, but focusing your talents into fields you know will be in demand can, at a minimum, increase your chances of finding success and starting your life off.
Yes, you should have economized your education better. Not that many people do everything they can to reduce their student loan burden. I personally know plenty of people who went to more expensive schools because they “enjoyed” it more during their search, or they felt like it was a “good fit.” No, it is not a good fit if it means thousands of dollars more every year. You can deal with the less luxurious dorms, or campus life, so stop acting overly pampered. In addition, consider community college to start, and a transfer after a couple years. You can also do everything possible to earn some additional money while in school if you choose to get a head start on loan payments. Every dollar counts when the interest starts raking up.
Have you truly considered trade school or certification? Why go to college at all? There are plenty of students who drop out every year after paying for one, two, three, four, or even more semesters because they just couldn’t handle it. If it isn’t for you, look into all your options, and consider becoming something like a plumber, electrician, welder, or mechanic. You’ll earn a good living (in some cases, six-figures once you get established), and it won’t cost you three and a half limbs the way a private college education will.
No, you are not broke because you are underpaid. You just don’t know how to save. I see so many college kids and recent grads going out nonstop, buying alcohol for every weekend, paying more than they need to for food because they don’t make their own minimalist meals, buying new electronics before they need to, and purchasing more clothes, shoes, hats and the like than they should. Are you sure you can’t make coffee at home before buying it at Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks? Are you positive you are doing your very best to budget? If not, you could be saving more. It adds up quicker than you think.
Use your free time to better yourself. Our generation has a lot of free time, and if you’re unemployed, or taking five or less classes a semester at your standard non-ivy school, you’re likely drowning in it. Have you considered learning some coding languages to pad your resume? Lessons are available for free online. Do you have access to a car that is accepted by Uber/Lyft? Maybe make some additional money that way. Is there a skill or hobby you show promise at? Work at it, and give your product away for free if you have to at the start. Perhaps it’ll turn into something down the road, but if not it’ll give you some additional discipline that will transfer over to other domains.
No, everything I listed is not applicable to all cases. Yes, I’m sure you know someone who you feel did everything right and still fell short. No need to email or tweet me about it. This is directed at the cases I’ve seen first hand – people my age who throw away tremendous opportunities, like a quality education, in exchange for getting high, partying, or even just playing video games excessively. Those who get bad majors or rack up debt without a second thought, only to blame a “system” when things get rough after their four year vacation.
We as a generation are not putting in anything close to 100%. Until we do so, it’s not a healthy mindset to blame others, regardless of how much you think they are actually at fault. A sense of victimhood is only going to hold you down by draining your ambition.
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