It’s a pretty well-picked-through trash pile when it comes to social commentary and ironic jokes but it’s still something worth looking at. Millennials are killing this or that. Applebee’s is killed, JCPenny is gone. It almost sounds like millennials are actively trying to bring down all of America’s industries and implode our economy and way of life.
None of this is really what’s happening. The generation the label describes are either college graduates or hitting 40. If they really are the society-killing machines, wouldn’t you think they would have done it by now and brought down the really big guns? Rather, it seems that they’re doing just fine and getting bigger all the time.
I think a huge part of this dissatisfaction with this generation and the generations after (which I am part of) is due to our challenging of the status quo.
It is pretty well hashed by now that the world and economy of (white) Americans immediately after WWII are worlds apart from where we are now with student debt skyrocketing and income inequality widening to where if we don’t do anything, our housing and healthcare crisis worsened by the pandemic will collapse the US economy as it cripples our working population (look up late-stage capitalism). Gloomy projections aside, all of this sets up a fundamentally different worldview and expectation for what young people are capable of once they leave their parents’ home.
The need to upset the status quo that makes the older generations so uncomfortable comes from a cry of survival, really. As the wealth and power of society gradually trickle upwards to concentrate in a few individuals, there’s too little left for the rest of us. We’re told that if we work hard and graduate college, we can get good jobs, buy our first house and pay off the mortgage in thirty years. That is not the reality for most of us. This disillusionment and uncertainty of the future fuels a large part of our desire to seek out alternative means of fulfillment and expression.
It used to be “get a high school diploma” and you’re set and then “get a college degree” and now, jobs are getting more and more demanding while our debt piles higher and higher.
The minimum-wage jobs of our time could not pay for college the same way those from the 50s could. The rich have effectively constructed barriers to success to everyone but themselves in a circle of lobbyists and politicians that pour billions into wars that leave the rich richer and the poor are sent to fight, while they defund public schools and send their kids to private schools, while the taxpayers pay for their healthcare and they gut Medicare and Medicaid, while cutting back environmental regulations and watch as people suffer and die due to complications from air and water pollution. They’ll lock up the youths of entire neighborhoods and wonder why the neighborhoods struggle. They’ll strip you naked and then laugh at you for not wearing clothes.
News outlets exalt at the record-high stock market while millions are at risk of eviction and starvation. Of course, they fail to mention that the lower 50% of the country own less than one percent of the stock market. Half of the people in the US (~164 million people) own less than the top one percent (~3 million people). 164 million people could die and the market would barely have a bleep on it. I mean, isn’t this what the pandemic is right now? It will cost too much for the economy to shut down, even for a little while but the 300,000 deaths and counting aren’t too high a price. That’s not even to mention the disabilities and complications that result in survivors.
What about the other things older people complain about? What about all those “new-fangled” genders and sexual orientations?
The later 1900s destroyed a generation of LGBTQ would-be mentors for our current generation. They were forced into hiding, intimidated, killed or died by disease and neglect.
There’s no end of atrocities and glaring injustices in this country. Everyone who claims that “America is great” is willfully blinding themselves to the truth of millions of people. There are great American achievements, of course, but as people, we should always strive for better. America is great and the best suggests no more room for improvement. At least for people who are comfortable, they may very well wish for everything to stay the same.
In business, broadly speaking, once owners break out and grow their business, there will eventually be a stagnation phase where if the business doesn’t rise above the competition, they’ll be swallowed. You can choose to wring every bit of profit you can out of the company and ultimately abandon it or you can re-invest and innovate.
Right now, America is being milked dry.
Big companies have to be bullied into providing even minimal protections for their workers. Independent newspapers like Popular Information have to publicly shame companies into giving their employees hazard pay for working during a pandemic. The federal gov’t is resisting a lockdown to keep the economy going, knowing full well that hundreds of thousands if not millions will be infected and get sick. It’s not like we didn’t have the technology or knowledge. We did. Other countries like Australia and China had really strong lockdowns and now, their lives are back to normal. Instead of locking down for a solid one or two months, we’ve been in paralysis for the better part of the past year with millions having to choose between possibly getting infected and passing it to their loved ones or rent and food.
As young people, our lives have been constantly wracked with these traumatic events. So far, there has been no silver lining. No breakout moment where we felt safe and secure in our future. 9/11, the 2008 crisis, the mass expose of police violence and racism, daily school shootings and now this pandemic. Other than the immediate present, we also have the looming climate crisis.
Throughout it all, the authorities, the people in government we elected to protect and serve us instead choose to line their own pockets. That’s why we march. That’s why young people seem so intent on tearing down the current structures that enable and encourage this theft of our futures.
It’ll be lazy to just call us entitled and lacking the discipline to be successful because the avenues of success that were available to the previous generations have systematically denied to us. We have endured our whole lives without the reassuring promise of a brighter future — this time around, there was no “enemy” to fight, no sense of purpose. We were just told that things should be easy and should work out but were left alone when it didn’t actually work out like that.
Back to the millennial-killing-businesses thing from the beginning, there’s a reason for that too. Spending patterns are driven by consumer trust and if that trust in the economy isn’t there, spending tends to go way down. It’s a little more complicated than that if you wanna go into theories but that’s basically the gist. And what do the younger lack? Trust and money. We don’t even have much money to begin with due to the stuff I talked about above. Even if we have the money to spend, we’re not gonna be throwing it away at Applebee’s.
Our planet-conscious spending habits also get ridiculed. Our mason jars and metal straws are just pretentious trappings. Our insistence on sustainable and ethical goods is putting malls, department stores and other all-American staples out of business. Boohoo. I can’t take this one very seriously at all. With all of our worship of the merits of capitalism, them going down when they no longer could keep up with market trends is the definition of what capitalism is all about. Our desire to maintain a livable climate should be something admirable. It’s something of an underdog story, really.
Besides, it’s like complaining about the new generation using washing machines instead of washing by hand, which, I’m sure the old people of the 1950s also complained about. Now, we have direct-to-consumer models facilitated by the internet that lowers overhead and allows for much more flexibility and direct connection between business and consumer. Why buy overpriced, culturally appropriated trinkets from Anthropologie when you can support an artist on Etsy? Who cares about the $30 T-shirts made from child labor from Abercrombie when you can support businesses that donate their profit to good causes? And thrifting: everything from fashion to furniture. It’s cheaper and more sustainable to thrift but also keeps your money out of a system that routinely uses prison labor (aka not-slavery).
To be honest, there is very little at this point that can be done to change things except to make their pockets hurt. Because it seems to be the only thing that works. Them being the people in charge of Fortune 500 companies and the politicians that work for them.
Next week is election day for the GA Senate Runoffs. I hope to God for our sakes that this race will swing to the Democrats because a loss would mean a loss of two years worth of progress and change. Many Americans won’t be able to last those two years.