Crushing the Dreams of the “Snowflakes”
Ross Perot warned Americans, during his 1992 presidential campaign, that if present trends continued, we were about to become the first generation whose children have a lower standard of living than their predecessors. His prediction has come true in spades.
Reports surfaced in mid-2016 that, for the first time in 130 years, more young people aged 18-34 lived with their parents than in any other living arrangement. In 1960, 62% of that demographic lived with a spouse or romantic partner, but by 2014 the number had dipped to 31.6%, as opposed to 32.1% residing with their parents. In 1960, 84% of young males were employed. By 2014, only 71% were.
These are alarming but predictable statistics. The cost of housing, combined with a bleak employment market, made this situation inevitable. One of the primary reasons home-ownership in America is at a 26 year low of 64% is the undeniable fact that Millennials simply can’t afford to buy real estate. Home ownership rates for those aged 18-34 fell 7.3% from 2005 to 2015. In a recent survey, 80% of Millennials reported that it was hard for them to find affordable housing.
For those Millennials that are lucky enough to have a full-time job, upward mobility is difficult. One ugly aspect of the “new normal” was reflected in a recent Bloomberg headline: “Say Goodbye to the Annual Pay Raise.” The fortunate souls in the Top 20 percent of wage earners are given bonuses and other perks that the mass of employees can only dream about. All of these mind-boggling disparities will be discussed in depth in my upcoming book Survival of the Richest.
The traditional pension is going the way of the annual pay raise as well. As another recent article stated, “Will the Youngest Ever Get to Retire?” We’re all familiar with the impossible financial logistics involved in Social Security. As huge numbers of Baby Boomers begin collecting their benefits, the system will become more overdrawn than ever. As usual, our clueless leaders can only push “solutions” like raising the retirement age again. No one seems to want means-testing, or taxing all income, not just the first $119,000 as under the present regressive system.
We know from polls released last year that some 62% of Americans have less than $1000 in savings. In a less reported poll, it was discovered that Americans under 35 have a collective savings rate of negative 2%. With only a slight possibility of a 401K plan (which they largely fund themselves), no yearly raises and no traditional pension, how can Millennials ever hope to advance in life? Like most Americans, they aren’t being paid enough to save anything. Without savings, not only are inevitable emergency expenses problematic, but home ownership is a virtual impossibility.
Millennials on average are 29% less likely to buy a car than those in Gen X. The average cost of an engagement ring these days is nearly $5,000. The average wedding costs $26,645. This is just part of the reason why marriage rates in America hit a record low in 2015. Based on current trends, about one fourth of all Millennials will forego marriage. Just from 2008-2015, the marriage rate for young women with only a high school diploma or less dropped 13%. Meanwhile, the marriage rate for young women with a college degree rose 6% over the same time period. I think we’re confronting financial reality here more than a massive cultural shift.
While the disparity of income and wealth in America continues to grow, this gap is especially noticeable among Millennials. While so many of these younger Americans are unemployed or underemployed, one third of those who make over $500,000 a year are Millennials. That is startling, considering that 90% of Millennials make less than $60,000 annually. While many Google employees start at six figures and get free organic meals, free haircuts, nap pods and other incredible amenities, numerous Millennial peers are filling out vague psychological questionnaires online just to be considered for an $8 hourly retail job.
Student debt has overtaken credit card debt in America. Young people are paying exorbitant tuition fees and not receiving their money’s worth. The job market has changed dramatically in the past twenty five years or so. Many of the jobs that used to require only a high school degree now demand at least a Bachelor’s. Not only this, but they pay less than they used to. And, of course, the benefits have been slashed across the board for working-class people.
As I will detail in my book, the poorer you are, the more you pay for nearly everything. If you fall behind on your credit card payments, your interest rate goes up. Your credit score will impact your ability to get a job, and if it’s too low, you’ll pay more for things like insurance. If you’re rich enough, you get incomprehensible amounts of corporate welfare, from lucrative contracts and tax breaks, to valuable swag bags for celebrities. The average celebrity gets $100,000 in free stuff every year.
We all should want our children to do better than us. Too many of my fellow Baby Boomers have faulty memories, and ascribe to the popular mantra that they worked especially hard, walked fifteen miles to school every day, etc. I was there. We had it easy compared to the situation most Millennials must deal with today. A college degree was worth something then. Yearly raises were a reality for nearly all workers. And it was much easier to earn promotions and move onto other jobs than it is now.
Society responds to any valid complaints by Millennials by calling them “Snowflakes,” and joking about them “living in their parents’ basement.” The selfishness and greed on the part of too many old people now is uglier than it has ever been. I know Baby Boomers who’ve written their adult children off for no good reason, for making the same kinds of mistakes our generation made. They’ve disowned them, and appear to have forgotten all the illicit sex they engaged in, and all the rampant drug and booze- fueled parties they regularly attended in the 1970s and 1980s.
It’s sobering to think of what the generation after the Millennials- their children- will face. Unless Donald Trump can stop the approaching tidal wave of draconian austerity, they will be full-fledged citizens of a Third World nation that resembles the historical United States little more than a colony on Mars would.
Ralph Waldo Emerson offered this timeless gem: “To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived- that is to have succeeded.” In his greatest speech, John F. Kennedy said “we all cherish our children’s futures.” Does it really seem at this point in time that older Americans are concerned with making anyone breathe easier, or that all of them cherish their children’s futures?
If older Americans truly cared about the world they are leaving to their children, their grandchildren and future generations beyond that, then they’d be enacting policies that reflected that concern. They’d educate themselves on the current job market, the relative worthlessness of many college degrees, the limited path to upward mobility, and start showing some empathy for the younger generation. None of them would bark, “You’re out the door when you turn eighteen” or similar remarks.
I used to worry about how I’d react to having an empty nest. I don’t think about that very often now, because fewer empty nests are a part of the “new normal” world we’ve created. My generation grew up spoiled, in an unusual era where jobs were plentiful and opportunities were greater. America is morphing into a Waltons-style system of living, wherein 3 or even 4 generations living together under one roof is becoming more commonplace. Families being driven closer through financial necessity is perhaps the only bright spot in this “new normal” set of circumstances.
As far back as 1999, the head of the Australian Human Rights Commission called Baby Boomers “the most selfish generation in history.” Polls show that while Baby Boomers label themselves responsible and self-sufficient, Millennials have negative self-images and feel pressured by expectations that are becoming increasingly hard to meet. In a word, our children by and large consider themselves failures. Not only have autism-spectrum diagnoses soared among Millennials, a full quarter of them struggle with mental illness.
Successful Baby Boomers swear by the essentials that brought them their secure standard of living, and especially place great value on a college education. Mention the “college conspiracy” or crushing student loan debt to them, and you’ll get the kind of vacant look most human beings have always been known for. They’ll brag about working in a restaurant or at construction when they were young, and bemoan how little they were paid, without the least bit of knowledge of the present employment market. They act, much as their own parents did, as if the world hasn’t changed dramatically in the last fifty years.
I’m impressed by how insightful so many Millennials are. They question everything, as young people should. But unlike previous generations, I don’t think most of them will outgrow this intellectual curiosity. In the past, when people attained a level of financial security, they stopped questioning the system that granted it to them. The undeniable reality is that, for an alarming number of Millennials, they will continue to see themselves as existing outside a system where opportunities are shrinking daily.
If “Snowflakes” are not maturing into adults, accepting responsibility and paying their fair share of taxes, it’s largely because our collapsing economy has forced them into their parents’ basements. If they spend inordinate amounts of time playing video games or smoking dope, can we blame them? They understand how bleak the future is for them. What else would we expect them to be, other than perpetual adolescents?
Love your children. If you treat them the way you should, maybe they’ll take care of you in your old age, instead of dumping you into one of our odious nursing homes. Take the time to learn about our present economic reality. Most of the hard-nosed Baby Boomers are completely unfamiliar with the “new normal” in even applying for a job. They are anxiously looking forward to a leisurely retirement, and their attitude appears to be that the “Snowflakes” are lazy and entitled.
Our leaders love to advise us to “think of the children.” Is life about dying with the most toys, or leaving the world a better place for our descendants?