Hey Millennials, want to get enraged? Do we have a meme for you. Old Economy Steve, currently eyeing you dismissively from beneath feathered bangs at BuzzFeed and Quickmeme, has some wisdom to impart to you, the youth of today. Short version: you have it super easy, even though your life looks like dystopian science fiction next to Old Economy Steve’s post-graduation years.
(Photo Credit: BuzzFeed)
Like all good memes, this one is frivolity with a solid underpinning of facts. Here’s why Millennials have a tougher time than Baby Boomers did when they were starting out:
1. Income inequality today is the highest since 1928.
“In 1928, the top 1% of families received 23.9% of all pretax income, while the bottom 90% received 50.7%,” writes Drew DeSilver at Pew Research Center’s FactTank. “But the Depression and World War II dramatically reshaped the nation’s income distribution: By 1944 the top 1%’s share was down to 11.3%, while the bottom 90% were receiving 67.5%, levels that would remain more or less constant for the next three decades. But starting in the mid- to late 1970s, the uppermost tier’s income share began rising dramatically, while that of the bottom 90% started to fall.”
In other words, the rich are richer than they’ve ever been, and the poor are poorer — and the not-so-poor are also pretty poor, as well, compared with previous generations.
2. Unemployment is higher for Millennials than any other age group.
Workers aged 20 to 24 years had a 12.8 percent unemployment rate for 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; workers aged 25 to 29 had an 8.1 percent unemployment rate. All other age groups, by five-year increments (e.g. 30 to 34, 50 to 54), had unemployment rates of 6.7 percent or under.
Of course, the common rebuttal is that all recent graduates struggle to establish their careers. But today’s new graduates face an economic landscape that’s been devastated by the worst recession since the 1930s. They’re competing for jobs with workers with more experience, who are ready and willing to take lower pay than they ordinarily would at this point in their careers. Plus, unless they’ve invested heavily in STEM classes, they might find themselves in possession of a degree, but not the skills necessary to woo prospective employers.
3. Tuition is ruinously expensive, and requires loans that students may or may not be able to pay back.
In Old Economy Steve’s day, it was possible to attend a public university for a few hundred dollars a semester. Even taking inflation into account, that was a good set up for a high return on his tuition investment.
Today, even in-state tuition will set you back thousands of dollars a semester. Seventy-one percent of college seniors graduate with student loan debt; the average amount borrowed per student is $29,400.
So the next time a Baby Boomer — or even a Gen Xer — tells you that you’ve got it easy, grit your teeth and show them the numbers. If you’re having a hard time getting your career rolling, it’s not your fault. It’s very different world than the one your older friends and colleagues graduated into.
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