Millennials, a group born somewhere between the mid-1980s and early 2000s, may have more in common with the Silent Generation, those who grew up in the 1920’s and experienced the Great Depression, than with their Baby Boomer parents. This generation, also known as ‘Generation Y,’ due to being born right after the X Generation, is often seen by previous generations, including X-ers, boomers, and those of the Greatest generation (World War II era), as spoiled, irresponsible, immature, and entitled.
Much of this has to do the overall lifestyle and social outlook of the millennial, who seems to eschew the traditional work environment of 9-5 office hours, in favor of a life built around a lifestyle of social media, online shopping, and a work and play mentality. Perusing job postings, these 20-30 somethings will scoff at the listing offering perks like promotion within, in favor of work-at-home arrangements and social activities, and will not be afraid to ask up front for share in company equity, even before the initial job interview wraps up.
Looking in from outside, it is understandable that previous generations view Generation Y-ers as an entitled bunch, but the reality is that, as young as these millennials are, Standard and Poor suggests that one should not immediately dismiss their foresight, wisdom, potential for creating a robust economy and righting some of the wrongs of the previous generations. And one only needs to look back about 80 years to take note that millennials are very much the new silent generation.
Generation Y and the Silent Generation are not without their differences, and this is most apparent in today’s world where the country faces a slow economic growth. The wages offered entry level positions do not even come close to covering the cost of living, and on top millennials have to deal with an enormous accumulated debt. While the Silent Generation came of age during an economic crisis, programs such as the Works Progress Administration and the New Deal helped ensure some kind of financial safety net, however, millennials today are entering a work force that offers, at best, a low gain in wages, and no guarantee to longevity to their position within a given company
Further complicating life for millennials, and making it next to impossible for them to attain financial solvency is the automatic requirement by even the lowest paying job to secure a college degree. Thus, while millennials are most educated generation by far, due to the high college tuitions, this group has the highest cumulative debt attributed to it, ranging in the neighborhood of hundreds of billions of dollars. Given the fact that typical millennial owes more money than what his or her job pays, spending ability is in turn hindered, as well as the ability save, invest safely, or to purchase a home, which in turn spirals into a weakening economy.
Though the situations of millennials and their great-grandparents differ in some ways, because of the fact that both generations have entered the workforce in the midst of a financial crisis, there is a lot the two generations, so distant in years have in common. Since their current situation leaves them for the most part significantly strapped, millennials will be less likely to purchase costly items like homes, cars, and other luxury items. In addition, many will choose to delay starting their families as they get to work on putting more money into savings and long term investments. This was very much like the Silent generation who used the social programs available to drive the economy forward and create a future of hope for their children and grandchildren.
While baby boomers are often critical of the lifestyle and outlook of millennials, what must be understood is that it was mainly due to the excessive spending of their generation during the previous economic boom that prices were artificially driven up. This was especially in the housing market where in some neighborhoods, prices increased ten-fold, ultimately creating an environment daunting to future generations. The business community, policymakers, and economists must see to it that an environment is created with options in place to transition a promising and intelligent generation into the workforce. Millennials, like those of the silent generation, are career oriented and eager to take on new endeavors and challenges as well as implement change to the status quo with little to lose. With a strong and robust economy coupled with feasible wages, they can truly deliver up to their full potential.
Opinion by Bill Ades