As a recent college grad and millennial in the workforce, I have spent much of my time reading articles about myself – and Millennials in general. While I’m not surprised that much of these articles are about how terrible we are as a generation, it really just saddens me. I have been telling myself that I was going to write something to tell everyone what I really think and today I finally got fed up enough to do it. So I put the skills I learned in college to good use and started researching. This was sparked but an over exaggerated and poorly written comment on an article trying to bridge some of the gaps between millennials and employers. This comment read: “If Millennials keep acting like little entitled brats that they are, they’ll soon be replaced by cheap, foreign workers.” (And yes “entitled” is misspelled).
In my college days, I worked as a manager of a school-owned store and had to work and manage Millennials. It was challenging, but one of the things I learned is that you cannot generalize the entire generation like society is trying to do. There were some employees that were entitled and lazy and rude. They complained about making rent but didn’t ever want more hours. They wanted to be promoted without even applying for the position. They complained about working too much but were unwilling to cut down on hours. There’s no pleasing some people. Then there were the employees who were always willing to cover someone’s shift, who volunteered for the worst aspects of the job to keep everyone else smiling, who went above and beyond to make sure the customer was satisfied. Every generation had the first employee I described. And every generation has the latter.
The New York Times recently published an op-ed written by a law school student at Syracuse University. The headline read “We’re Being Punished by Crippling Student Debt.” The author, Ana Lucia Urizar starts the article by saying she was surprised when she first saw her student loan debt balance. She goes on to talk about the prevalence of student loans and the increasing costs of tuition. Not surprisingly, the comments section is filled with hate. “Stop whining about the choices you made and assume responsibility for your behavior,” “We have to find the person who put a gun to your head and forced you to go to law school,” “Perhaps if your not smart enough to figure this out, you are not qualified to be a lawyer” (again, someone commenting on intelligence and not using proper spelling or grammar) and “Punished by student debt? That just shows that you weren’t responsible enough to go to school in the first place,” were just some of the comments that blamed this woman for wanting to get ahead in life.
Now I am able to see both sides of this debate. Since I was a junior in high school, I set my sights on going to law school. All my major life decisions were based on that plan. Senior year of college rolled around and I started to rethink that plan. I was already leaving college with almost $80,000 in debt from a state school. The law school that I wanted to go to was a private university that would cost me well over $120,000 total. There seems to be a belief that when you are able to practice law, you automatically make six figures and you can pay off those loans in no time. Not quite. My plan was to be a district attorney. In my state, the average district attorney salary is around $40,000. I can make about the same amount as a legal assistant without doubling my amount of debt. That being said, I make about $2,200/month after taxes. My monthly student loan payment is $300. Time Magazine recently announced that Denver’s housing market is the third most expensive in the country, preceded only by Manhattan and San Francisco. The average rent in Denver is $1,600. That leaves me a whopping $300 for living; including gas, groceries, etc. To try and combat the cost of renting, I am looking into buying a condo that would bring my monthly housing cost down to about $1000. The problem is, with a mountain of debt on my shoulders (and my credit report,) it isn’t likely that I will qualify for a homeowner’s loan. This equation alone was enough for me to determine that law school wasn’t for me –at least not immediately. Finding information like this is not difficult. Urizar should not have been surprised at her balance. She also could have easily figured this into her decision to go to law school, and which law school to attend. In that sense, she may have been a little bit irresponsible in her lack of planning before attending. But, that doesn’t mean that she needs to have so much anger and hatred thrown at her.
Millennials also are not helping their case by continually whining about their debt and begging the government for loan forgiveness before they’ve even begun paying for it.
Many of the comments in that article said “if you can’t afford it, don’t go” or “you made the choice to go to college.” Yes, we did make the choice to go to college, despite the inability to pay for it. This is because we were urged by our parents, the baby boomers that seem to despise us so much, to be better, to do better and to go to college. And it turns out their advice was warranted. Pew Research recently conducted a study comparing college grads to those who did not go to college.
“The economic analysis finds that Millennial college graduates ages 25 to 32 who are working full time earn more annually—about $17,500 more—than employed young adults holding only a high school diploma. The pay gap was significantly smaller in previous generations. College-educated Millennials also are more likely to be employed full time than their less-educated counterparts (89% vs. 82%) and significantly less likely to be unemployed (3.8% vs. 12.2%).”
It is also worth mentioning that even those of us with college degrees are making less than our parents were making at our age. This is something that is almost completely over looked when older generations try to compare themselves to Millennials. Another Pew study also finds that
“While other generations have faced tough employment markets as they entered adulthood, as some Boomers did during the 1981-1982 recession, the labor market recovery for Millennials has been much less robust following the Great Recession. A consistent 78% of men in the Gen X, Boomer and Silent generations were employed at ages 18 to 33, a share that dropped 10 points to 68% among Millennial men. In addition, while employment among young women had been increasing with each generation, it dropped 6 points between Gen X women in 1998 (69%) and Millennial women in 2014 (63%).
I believe that part of the problem with the outlook society has on Millennials stems from comparisons. The article that was mentioned earlier was simply trying to draw similarities between Millennials and Baby Boomers in hopes that they can find common ground and get along better. While I can see how the third and fourth points in the list included could easily be seen as negative attributes, why is it that the rest are? Since when is consistent feedback a bad thing so long as you take what you hear to heart and learn from it? Yes, we do want a job that allows balance between work and home life not only because we saw what it did to our parents’ generation, but because we have consistently been reminded that life is short. Think of all the tragedies and wars that we have witnessed in our short lifespan. And excuse us for taking these tragedies to heart and trying to make the world a better place.
I have a theory that the Millennial generation is simply bored at work. As Pew notes, we are the most highly educated generation thus far and the entry level jobs that we get do not reflect that. I do not believe that I am above an entry-level job. I am entirely okay with working my way up. What I’m not okay with is not getting any intellectual challenge or stimulation throughout my workday. Many people believe that college today is much harder than it was in the past. It is harder to get in and it is harder to succeed. Those who disagree with this statement often rely on the fact that we have technology to help us. “You can just Google something and get the answer, I had to use actually books from the library.” It is my opinion that having the internet at our fingertips has actually been a detriment to us. There is no excuse as to why we should not know the answer to something. There’s no reason for us to use a source that isn’t credible. And the pace at which we are supposed to learn things has increased greatly because we have instant access to help. Apparently most of us don’t even know how to use a Google search effectively. But many assume that we do because we are the “digital natives.”
We are bored at work. We aren’t satisfied because we were told that going to college would be worth it and that we would use our degree. Then we are stuck behind a desk with nothing to do but wait for another task. We are accustomed to high pressure, fast pace, and intellectually demanding tasks. Give us more responsibility and trust that we can handle it.
The Atlantic named my generation “the unluckiest generation” and yet none of our critics like to admit that we don’t have it as easy as they believe. Millennials need to stop constantly complaining and do something about it. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers need to stop generalizing us and maybe give us some of your wisdom. We are clearly open to feedback and if your generation had a better grasp on things at our age than we do, then help us. Don’t hate us.