Millennials – the lazy generation or victims of circumstance?

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There’s an interesting trend that’s been going on for a while now in the media, in regards to the language that’s used to describe a group of people called millennials.

When I went looking for who exactly counts as a millennial I found that there are no precise dates that define them.  Wikipedia says, “researchers typically use the early 1980s as starting birth years and the mid-1990s to early 2000s as ending birth years…generally the children of baby boomers.”

So, youngish people who range from their late teens to their mid 30s.  I guess that makes me one (being a child of the mid-80s myself).

Now whatever you decide to call the people that fit into this admittedly broad age bracket, I really don’t care.  The part that I care about is the language that is generally used to describe them.  The popular discourse regarding millennials seems to be this: we are lazy, our expectations are far too high, and it’s our own fault we can’t get ahead in life.

If you’ve read any articles online in the last few years (or listened to any talkback radio), this trope must be familiar to you.  Millennials were brought up being told that everyone’s a winner, that we should all strive to live our own personal dream, study what we love and get jobs that are fulfilling and meaningful, and generally we think of ourselves as special snowflakes that are deserving of the most wonderful success and we’re all terribly disappointed and complain far too much now we’ve ended up stuck in the rat race like everyone else.

Even in New Zealand, The Herald has bought into this recently with their hideous serious of articles profiling young people that have supposedly been able to buy a house in the over-inflated Auckland market just by saving really hard and not eating so much smashed avocado on toast at the weekend.

But the thing is, these articles just aren’t true.  A fantastic analysis by Chris McDowall on The Spinoff points out that the majority of these stories are in fact about people who either bought before the housing marking boom, bought out of Auckland, or received huge lump sum deposits from their parents or other inheritance funds.

And when it comes to being a special snowflake, well, the first problem I see with that is that I was raised by boomers who told me to go to university and study something I loved, so I did.  I never received any kind of career advice, budgeting education or aptitude testing.  But I worked incredibly hard to put myself through university independently (often working 3-4 part time jobs to pay rent and bills) and like many people my age, promptly graduated into a recession and couldn’t get any work that paid above minimum wage.

When I use that language to describe my situation, it kind of makes a bit more sense why you’d have a generation that feels a little disappointed, having been set up with some wildly false expectations of how the world (and the job market) works.

So what happened in my situation?  Like many of my friends, I took stock of the job market, went back to university and invested more years (and more student debt) getting a degree that would get me a job that I would both find satisfying as well as well as have more viable career opportunities, along with relatively decent pay (that is, something that would cover both the bills and student loan repayments, never mind the smashed avocado!)

So now my partner and I are a couple in their early 30s, no kids, who have been working full time (and both running personal businesses on the side as well) for a few years.  We have no savings to speak of, because we both have to pour any extra funds we have back on our crippling student debt.  And as for a house?  That’s likely something that will never happen in our lifetime.  (Or at least it could happen, if we felt like not leaving the house for 10 years, paying a million dollars in interest and realistically not paying off a mortgage until retirement – thanks but no thanks).

I don’t really mind about the house part, that’s never been something particularly important to me and compared with a lot of people living in New Zealand, I’m aware we have it really good.  But I have to object to an entire generation being described as lazy and this endless language of “just pull your socks up and work harder”.  The reality is, we are working extremely hard and most of us struggle just to get by.

It’s clear to me that the that trope of the millennial is just another way to justify the rich getting richer and pulling up the ladder behind them, rather than actually taking a really good, hard look at the economic system that is failing so many of us.

So what do you think?

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