Many of us jeopardized our financial futures by going to college despite the fact we (or our parents, who encouraged us to go) couldn’t afford to pay up front.
We also came of age during a time when the promise of homeownership was flipped on its head.
The extent to which a gangsterized Wall Street money-making machine could suck home buyers in, rob them, and then turn them back out was on full display by the fall of 2008. Writing for Rolling Stone in 2009, Matt Taibbi likened bankers at Goldman Sachs to “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”
If you’re looking to point fingers, point them at widespread, rampant, wholesale financial deregulation during the 1990s.
Washington let the foxes on Wall Street watch the hen houses on Main Street.
You know the story.
Buying a house came to be viewed as a shaky proposition, like playing a game of roulette rigged by Jamie Dimon himself.
Millennials are therefore skeptical of the “American Dream” of homeownership the way it’s been sold since the 1960s. It’s not just homeownership. We’re skeptical of many things, and for good reason.
According to The Last Psychiatrist (TLP), one of the finest semi-anonymous writers on the Internet, “You were tricked, your parents were tricked, your peers were tricked, your employers were not tricked at all. ‘There’s more to a college education than employability’[you say]. No there’s not.” (from Hipsters on Food Stamps: Part 1)
We were tricked.
We have every reason to be skeptical.
Education was a huge #fail for many of us, regardless of whether we worked hard or blew our financial aid money on weed and tickets to Coachella. I don’t want to hear it in the comments if you think you’re exceptional, an exemplary specimen, a real “product of the system.” To that I say “Good for you, glad you think so.”
Buyer’s remorse is a hard thing to admit after you’ve spent 10s of thousands of dollars, and I can’t judge your socioeconomic background without asking you 50 questions over Tuesday morning mimosas.
I can make an argument my degree was worth it, too. And I have.
Because buyer’s remorse is a hard pill to swallow.
But let’s be real.
I would have received the same education by dating rich girls and hanging out with their families in between half-days spent at the local library. I don’t even like working for people who care more about my degree than the rest of my resume.
Let’s look at a few things that went from “safe bet” to “my future on 22 black” in the space of our collective, Millennial adolescence.
The value of a college education dropped to an all-time low. Millennials went anyway because we had been watching people have fun at college in movies since elementary school.
The housing bubble popped. The world of finance kind-of looked like it was going to collapse in on itself back in late ‘08.
Houses became cheaper, but it’s not like we could afford to buy them because…
Jobs became scarce. Millennials reacted with entrepreneurial swagger, freelancing and starting companies in order to find the meaningful work experiences we craved.
We delayed starting families. Many of us are cynical about families, too.
The rest of the story is we think we’re different.
We think we can build a better world than the one our parents and grandparents built. Despite everything – worthless educations, financial deregulation, our parents (boomers, the “stupidest generation alive”), both political parties, broken promises, shattered dreams – as a generation, speaking in the most general sense here, we are endlessly optimistic.
We really think we can change the world. Even cynics like me think that.
Gen Xers think we’re cute.
Baby boomers think we’re hopelessly stupid, which is fine because everyone worth listening to knows they’re the stupidest generation alive.
Most business owners are still trying to figure out what to do with us.
Smart business owners already know what to do with us.
We see college for the scam that it is. We’re fine with starting freelance pop-up shops on the web and taking odd jobs to make ends meet. Most of us will rent for longer than our parents did. For many of us, we will be the first generation in American history who doesn’t do better than our parents did.
But what are the long term implications?
It is naïve to believe we, as a generation, will live to see old age without experiencing another economic calamity. Or 5.
The system is rigged, and despite what plutocrat-owned libertarian think tanks have to say about it, the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer. This has little to do with the collective behaviors of Millennials or anyone else and everything to do with structural issues caused by deregulation in the financial sector during the 1990s.
It doesn’t matter what you do.
Work hard. Buy a house.
Get high and go to shows.
The same thing is going to happen regardless, and there will be no way to avoid it.
“Yes, we’re all going to die” you say, facetiously.
But that’s not what I’m talking about here.
Guess who bought all of those cheap houses while the housing market was depressed and Millennials couldn’t find jobs? Investment banks and hedge funds, that’s who. Rich, richer. Poor, poorer. The issue is structural, and the rich built it from scratch. I’m not suggesting institutional players crash economies to pick up underpriced assets on purpose.
It just looks that way if you’re paying attention.
The next time something like that happens, and it will, I don’t expect the good people of the United States to be as understanding as they were last time. With any luck, they might even start asking the right questions.
Depending on how bad it gets, the people may grow hungry enough to walk into the streets en masse and start breaking things. Just like people have done in other parts of the world. Greece. Parisian suburbs. Argentina. Almost every nation in South America at one time or another, usually after their governments default on debts Wall Street and London financiers knew they wouldn’t be able to pay in the first place.
Boomers will be old, retired, or dead.
Gen-Xers will have some money to spend. Money gets things done in ways dreamy-eyed, idealistic kids do not.
An older and wiser Millennial generation will then become the catalyst for real, meaningful social change in the aftermath of the mother of all financial collapses. Notice I’m not talking about societal collapse. The 2 are different. There are any number of precedents, some fairly recent, for financial collapse without societal collapse.
Argentina and Greece, among others.
If financial institutions and politicians want to turn the USA and the rest of the world into their own personal banana republic, they’re not going to pull it off without overcoming Millennial angst cum outrage at the polls. They won’t be able to pull it off without fearing for their lives, which is something they already do.
They’re building bunkers.
Because they’re paranoid.
Because of all the “prepper,” survivalist bullshit that’s popular at the moment.
On a deeper level they are afraid the consequences of their greed will be used to justify the wholesale dismantling of the structures that made them rich in the first place.
When what comes to pass comes to pass, Millennials will still be here with our unwavering optimism and our sincere desire to build something better in the ashes of what was. History will have given us the perfect opportunity to change the unjustifiable structures our parents and their parents put in place before we were born.
We will get our chance to change the world. It won’t be easy, and we will not have a choice.
We will have to start from the very bottom, in the cultural rubble of outmoded corporations and institutions. It will not be easy, nor will it be quick, but it will be necessary.
And the world will be a better place for it.
A “generation of renters” is the least of our worries. Millennials aren’t delaying buying houses because we’re lazy, or we don’t want to work, or because we’re afraid we will have to sell them to the ugly houses people after we lose our jobs. We’re not buying houses because we have other things on our minds, like coping with and rebuilding the structures our parents and their parents created.
The American Dream?
And we’re already working on rebuilding it.