I’m the mother of two millennials. I used to own a kids’ bookstore when millennials were tots and tweens and teens. I have taught millennials at both ends of their age spectrum. I have millennial friends. I am not a millennial (nor a boomer, squarely GenX here), but I think I might be a somewhat knowledgeable outside observer. And my observations are completely counter to the stereotypical millennials that we see in the world of words and pictures.
These people are not special me-centric snowflakes. (That’s boomers, by the way.) Millennials just care a great deal about a number of things that are, in fact, morally wrong, and they refuse to perpetuate those wrongs. Nor are these people afraid of work. (Again, boomers.) They work almost constantly. Without sleep. They simply do not want to do the sorts of jobs that are beneficial to nobody, damaging in a great many ways, and for the sorts of pittance wages and respect that are entailed in most jobs. They prefer to do for themselves outside the wage economy — because they have figured out that their wages will not buy their needs and spending time earning those wages takes away from the time they need to provide for themselves.
Most of all these people are not voluntarily shiftless and rootless. (Yet again, that’s boomers.) They might not have a great propensity to buy stuff. Or maybe that is not even totally true. But they certainly do not like being cut off from community. Nor do they want to put off building families. They are forced into these “decisions”. Because the principle fact in millennial lives is a complete inability to afford a home. (Because boomers.) I have seen headlines that claim that millennials prefer to rent, prefer experiences over things, prefer geographical mobility, don’t want to have children. I do not know one millennial who prefers any of that. They rent because there is no such thing as an affordable starter home anymore. The cost of a home, the credit sufficiently positive to qualify for a mortgage (given school loans), — and especially the necessary down payment — are permanently beyond their financial means.
My second son has a high-paying job at NYU. When I was coming out of college, his wages would have been more than sufficient to buy a family home and a nice new car (with a child seat for the incipient family — which millennials also can not afford). But he can’t afford to buy a home anywhere near where he works, and he can’t find wages at that level except in high-cost urban locations. Yet he is conscientiously ethical enough to not buy into the ridiculously toxic and carbon intensive commuting culture. He has no hope of amassing a down payment while paying New York rent. Which increases every year, by the way (because boomers), meaning that stereotype is fabricated as well: These people don’t want to move; they are forced to move because every few years they are priced out of their homes. He has no hope of securing a mortgage while he is paying off his education loans (because boomers). And the lowest price of a co-op home within a subway ride of NYU — that is, for the non-New-Yorker, a 1-bedroom apartment in any of the NY boroughs that might have most of a kitchen, one toilet, one shower nozzle, and maybe one other room that is not the bedroom — is well over $400,000. Four hundred thousand dollars for at most two rooms and indoor plumbing.
And now let’s consider my options for helping him. For starters, I don’t qualify for a $400,000 mortgage either. I can’t co-sign with him. I don’t have any savings nor do I have any potential inheritance that I can give to him for the down payment. (Nor do I think that is strictly allowed in buying a house. It seems that some large portion of the down payment must come from the buyer.) Together, we have nothing we can sell to raise that kind of money. And I can’t afford to pay his student loans on my retail wages, so that he might clear his credit. And unlike boomers, neither he nor I can expect help from older relatives nor from any societal programs that ease a young person into adulthood. He gets nothing, unlike boomers.
Now, New York used to be especially expensive. It used to be that the rest of the country could shake their heads and laugh at the ridiculous cost of living there and the very meagre life you get at that cost. You used to be able to buy a rather large home in a rather large city with a rather large wage-earning potential for much less than the cost of a commuter home any where near Manhattan. In fact, back in the day, you could buy a lavish home in the nicer parts of Chicago or San Francisco or Seattle for about $200,000. Even as recently as ten years ago, this was still true in many regions. But as profit-seeking boomers saw earnings decrease in other product markets (because boomers), they turned to gouging the housing market for revenue. Everywhere. Today, right now, you can’t buy any standing structure with moderately functional infrastructure anywhere for much less than that $400K mark. In any market. Even those where the wage-potential is far beneath what is necessary to qualify for and pay down that magnitude of mortgage. (Because boomers.) New York housing prices are universal now — though you might actually get more space for stuff in other markets. Maybe. But you’re not going to have a garage or closets or huge kitchen cabinets.
And that brings me back to the media assertion that these people want experiences. No, Boomer Media Person, they bloody well don’t want to forego the clothes and furniture and kitchen gadgets and electronica and multiple cars that you have amassed in your stuff-sucking lives. Well, maybe they don’t want as much of it because nobody wants as much stuff as you boomers do… you are sick hoarders. But millennials don’t have the space for any of that — neither in their budget nor in their homes. What’s more, since you regularly increase their rent and further subdivide the properties that house them and generally force them out every few years so you can increase your rent revenues — they can’t amass much. You can’t move all that much stuff in a Subaru — and U-Haul is expensive. Because boomers.
I’m thinking this stereotype might be a sort of intergenerational psychological projection — with a generous helping of victim blaming — from the boomers (who own all our picture and print capacities) onto the people who are most damaged by the boomer world — millennials. And I am tired of hearing it. So shut the hell up, Boomer.
As a side note, GenX gets nothing. Neither the attention nor the wealth. We are the middle children. The grimly silent generation. The ones that don’t say much; we just do the work. And we get none of the rewards. Not even the freedom that comes from dropping out of this system. Because when we were starting out our lives, we bought into that system… with our blood… because that was the done thing… according to the boomers that run that system… and we are now chained to it almost irrevocably.
My current life goal is to break the chains.
I received a wonderful message from Venkataraman Amarnath about a millennial neighbor. I was given permission to share this story with all of you. It is beautiful! And so very hopeful!
We have known our neighbors’ son since he was ten. After high school he left to get BS and MS in computer science specializing in artificial intelligence. Last year he landed a high paying job in the bay area. We learnt from his parents that he quit the job and now is a pre-doctoral researcher. The reason? He was asked to take a leading part in a project that he thought was unethical (AI program could be used to destroy a large population). I told his parents that I am proud of him because he has an ethical compass in his mind that was lacking in, yes boomers.
©Elizabeth Anker 2021