Last week, I posted an article on “The Midlife Millennial”–an homage (or so I intended) to a generation that has been much maligned of late.
In the article, I defended the generation as being one of the most idealistic, creative, and diverse in the last 100 years.
It was met with generally positive response from millennials and their parents’ generation alike, with one singular hold out who pointed out a (very large) hole in my piece:
The millennial experience I spoke of was representative of a very small slice (9%) of the millennial population–middle-class, educated, mostly-white Americans. Those whose parents were able to provide a psychological and economical safety net that supported their idealism while they explored their creativity.
The privileged few, in other words.
What of the other 91%?
What of the millennial poor? How has their experience been different from their middle-class peers? And perhaps more importantly, how do these generational labels obscure some of the real problems that exist in the new millennium?
I set about to find out.
Millennials and Poverty
More millennials (19% ages 18-35) live in poverty today compared to the previous generation (14% of those aged 18-35 in 1980). Now I’m not sure if this statistic refers to those who were born into poverty or the sum total of all the individuals aged 18-35. Maybe it doesn’t matter. There is a sizable increase in poverty rates for millennials, and this, I’m sure, has an impact on their experiences when compared to the privileged 9%.
For one, they may not have the luxury of holding out for the perfect job that is creatively and spiritually fulfilling. We know that over half (57%) of millennials aged 25-34 are employed full-time, year-round–an increase from their parents’ generation, only 46% of which worked full-time, year round. So that’s pretty solid.
But still, that leaves a good chunk of the population who may be under-employed or not employed at all. What of them?
Chances are they have to do “whatever it takes” to make it, even if that means living with their parents. This is borne out by the census data that shows that 20% of millennials (aged 25-34) live at home with their parents. And of those who do live with their parents, almost half (43.6%) work full-time, year-round and 15.2% are enrolled in school.
So what does this all mean?
Millennials (especially those who live under the poverty line) are no more coddled or idle when compared to generations that came before. If anything, they are more educated, more employed than generations before, and this in spite of having lived through one of the most prolonged economic down-turns in modern history.
Millennials and Diversity
But all is not rosy and glowing. There is the temptation to celebrate the generation as being one of the most enlightened, the most diverse of any that has come before it, but that would be short-sighted and premature. While it is true that non-white adults aged 18-34 now comprise 43% of the overall millennial population, true diversity–of identifications, of ideas, of policies–is still out of our reach.
As Kimberly Quick, Policy Associate at the Century Foundation and author of the article, “A New Silent Majority–Low-income and Minority Millennials,” points out: “When people only see a small portion of the picture, they are less likely to support policies that address less-than-visible, but equally real, needs. Why would the “most educated” generation, for example, need job training? How could the “most diverse” generation be racist?”
I’ll let you read through her article for herself, but here are a few ideas that are particularly pertinent to the idea that there is a great diversity even among millennials:
- Even though this is, arguably, the “most educated” generation, the generation that has had the most access to a college education, the reality is that not all these students persist to the end. In fact, only one third of this “most educated” generation go on to earn a Bachelor’s degree, which means that a full two-thirds are still denied the privilege (and economic advantage) that comes from holding a college degree.
- The sheltered Millennial is a class-based phenomenon, since low-income parents tended to turn over more responsibility (not less) to their millennial children, such that they had to figure out how to navigate an unfamiliar world and advocate for themselves.
- Finally, there is this idea that millennials are somehow “colorblind.” Not so, says Quick. Whereas it is true that millennials as a group are much more tolerant of interracial marriage and LGBTQ rights, ” when researchers isolate the survey responses of white American millennials, little difference exists between their responses and those of their parents. So millennials—white millennials, at least—might not in fact be more tolerant; they might just be outnumbered. And what’s worse, this picture of a more colorblind society might actually be making life harder for minorities, not better.”
So all of this to say, millennials are as diverse a generation as any other, and to broad brush them in any way (however flattering or not) is reductive.
And I am guilty.
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