Former conservative news commenter Tomi Lahren has ranted about the ubiquitous “mediocre” and whiny unemployed millennial, saying “we don’t have failure-to-launch syndrome because we are lazy; we failed to launch because with no foot in the butt, the butt stays on the couch.” Ironically, today Lahren is, herself, one of those unemployed millennials.
Just how accurate is the stereotype of the un- or underemployed millennial still living at his or her parents’ home?
Facebook lets me know exactly which of my 20-something friends have gotten married, where newly minted doctors will be starting their residencies, and when master’s-toting college buddies have published essays in prestigious journals, but I also don’t have to look far to find well educated friends waiting tables, hocking doughnuts, or doing nothing much at all.
While a Pew survey found that millennials with at least a bachelor’s can earn almost $20,000 more per year than those with only a high school degree, higher education is, more and more, coming to be seen as a prerequisite, and not the window to opportunity it once was.
One of my close friends here in New York City has a bachelor’s in fine arts and has been working as a hostess so she can make time for auditions, but it’s been years since she graduated. Maybe she chose the wrong major.
Another has a master’s in international relations, but didn’t have much luck getting that coveted consulting gig, so he taught himself to code and is still living at home while he pursues a passion project, the next big idea. He’s on the wrong end of 25.
Then again, neither of my roommates finished college. One, 26, is a paramedic for the FDNY and the other, 23, works as a film editor. Both can afford our Upper West Side Manhattan rent without help from mom and dad.
Another degree-less friend worked as a sound engineer at a popular live music bar downtown for a few years before he saw the writing on the wall and enrolled at one of the city’s top coding boot camps in pursuit of a career in software development.
It’s true that most of us are making rent, but the only millennial I can name offhand who actually owns her own home is my cousin, a 27-year-old human resources professional who recently bought a three-bedroom house in Seattle.
What’s holding so many of us back? Why aren’t we entering the housing market and achieving the American Dream: a white picket fence and 2.5 kids?
Maybe it’s not our fault. Those of us who did graduate college did so at the worst possible time – the height of the Great Recession. My first job out of college was at a major healthcare advertising agency. It paid $10 an hour without benefits.
Further, New York Federal Reserve Board data shows that educational debt for Americans under 30 has increased from some $13,000 to $21,000 since 2005. By 2012, Americans owed a massive sum of $1 trillion for student loans.
Luckily for me, I don’t have any student debt. I’m 27, I make well over the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ mean annual wage of $50,232 for 25 to 34-year-olds, but the prospect of owning a home isn’t even sort of on my radar.
There’s a serious discrepancy between where we are now and where our parents were back then. Home ownership rates among Americans under 35 are 34.1 percent, just above half the national rate. This is a record low, some 20 percent down from its peak in the mid-2000s.
Today almost one-third of U.S. 18 to 34-year-olds live with their parents and, according to the Pew Research Center, we millennials are now more likely than the elderly to live in a multigenerational home.
Granted, there are other forces at work – for example, we’re putting off getting married – but the real problem is simply that we’re poor. There are fewer opportunities and they pay less.
I hesitate to lay the blame at the feet of past generations, but I also think it’s terribly stupid to say we’re just lazy or unmotivated.
Perhaps it’s time to admit that the American Dream has been dead for some time now. When can we bury it? It’s starting to stink.