Generation Generalization: Millennials Are The Same As You

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It didn’t start with the amazingly anecdotal “What Is It About the Twentysomethings?” published in The New York Times last August – which featured a nauseating collage of scrawny young kids that looked like the results of a 12th grade art project – but this sure as hell made it official.

Don’t get involved, I told myself. It’ll blow over. If you complain, you’ll just make yourself a target and people will use select quotes to validate their impression of angry, entitled, slacker millennials.

I mean, obviously, newspapers are going to start publishing more of these articles – the average age of their readers is growing older at a steady clip, reaching 45.2 in 2009. The New York Times knows that their average upper-middle-class-white-baby boomer reader wants to read about the flaws of the upcoming generation. These aged journalists are certainly not going to cater to some 18-30 year old assholes who do NOT write for them (because it’s nearly impossible to become a journalist now) and do NOT pay to read things.

No, and neither is  The Wall Street Journal, who really got the ball rolling with 2008’s “The Trophy Kids Go to Work.”

Or maybe it was Portfolio.com’s insightful “Escape from Corporate America,” with the subtitle: six-figure jobs on Wall Street and elsewhere just aren’t enough for “Millennial” workers, who want their jobs to have “meaning,” too. 

Come on, people. We may not all be turning down six-figure salaries, but we’re all in our 20s. Aren’t we supposed to be energetic and unrealistically idealistic? Are you telling me no one other people in their twenties ever were?

But the last two pieces were published before the recession. Maybe Generation Y’s sense of entitlement isn’t the same as when we thought college degrees actually meant something. In May 2009, right when the most unfortunate class of graduates was reaching for their diplomas, the unemployment rate for 18-24 year olds was 16.1%.

But maybe we’re still the same as before, with fewer prospects.

So, what is it? Are we always looking for new jobs? Are we lazier or do we have different work priorities or are we actually “emerging adults” flopping around like dying fish on a beach from position to position?

Here’s the real answer: sites like Monster.com, Indeed.com, Craigslist.com, and LinkedIn have made fluidity between careers a very simple process. There’s no reason to feel loyal to one garishly lit office when you can see outside the window of the opportunity all of the time.

The problem is that companies feel the same way – they know they can tap not just the regional talent, but national, even global talent. This makes competition fiercer than ever. This, compounded with high unemployment, means that workers are already skitterish and businesses can start paying lower salaries with lower benefits. So why would someone making $24,000 a year while working 45 hours a week stay when they could leave, when they can visibly SEE another opportunity that offers (or pretends to) greener grass?

But lazy? I work at a company that employs at least 60 people ages 22 – 28. It is a flagship model of Millennial business. Most everyone is here by 9 at the latest and dozens stay until 6pm or later. We’re growing at an uncontrollable rate.

Some could accuse me of being anecdotal. Well, so is every other god damn post ranting about entitled and lazy millennials, just because one employer didn’t like the cut of some 23-year-old’s jib.

Yet, while these vast generalizations of Generation Y go unchecked – but often impact employer decisions – baby boomers get away with accusing businesses of age discrimination. Can we do the same thing? Please?

Let’s cut the crap, media. Do you think we think being a “pre-adult” or emerging adult or almost adult at 26 is cool or something? Do you think going to a bar and telling a girl/guy that you’re currently working at “nothing” and living at home is more socially acceptable?

Or, better yet, using the words of psychologist Jeffrey Jensen Arnett: “Hey baby, I’m in the phase of my life where I’m going through identity exploration, instability, and self-focus. What are you doing with your life?”

None of us want to live at home. None of us want to be doing nothing. We want to climb the ladder just as much as anyone else – whether that means getting more educated, getting a job or working for a NGO. But, unfortunately, we’re doomed to have a harder time doing it, a worse time clinging to the bars, and a longer – maybe endless – climb.

But, honestly, can’t it be possible to illuminate the dire prospects that many young employees face in the wake of the recession without cushioning it with terms like boomerang kids and pictures like this?

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