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Tags: millennials | gen x | baby boomers | economy

Millennials Don't Have It Easy

a young woman looking at an empty wallet she is holding above her head

Jefferson Weaver By Wednesday, 15 May 2024 05:46 PM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

There is a general tendency of each generation to look in horror at the succeeding generation and conclude that the world is doomed. Indeed, Plato, who was a very deep thinker, took a break from philosophizing in the 4th century B.C. to wonder what was wrong with the young people in Greek society.

According to The Guardian, he was heard to say: "They disrespect their elders. They disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets, inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?"

Plato's most famous student, Aristotle, offered a similarly dim view of young people: "Young people have exalted notions because they have not yet been humbled by life or learned its necessary limitations; moreover, their hopeful disposition makes them think themselves equal to great things. They would always rather do noble deeds than useful ones: their lives are regulated more by moral feelings than by reasoning — all their mistakes are in the direction of doing things excessively and vehemently. They overdo everything — they love too much, hate too much, and the same with everything else."

Neither Plato nor Aristotle would have been very empathetic summer camp counselors. But these passages underscore how each generation views each succeeding generation as a slow-motion train wreck while conveniently ignoring the fact that the prior generation is largely responsible for the conditions that face the next generation which, in turn, affect the ways in which that next generation acts and copes with the struggles of daily life.

Perhaps no generation has been pilloried in recent times as much as that age cohort known as the millennials — which consists of those individuals born between the years 1981 and 1996 who are now between 28 and 43 years of age. Not only have they become adults over a period of time that was wracked by enormous economic turmoil, but they have been victimized repeatedly by the unprecedented mismanagement of the American financial system by a succession of political leaders who have decided that the United States can borrow beyond its means indefinitely without suffering any ill effects.  

Prior generations including the Baby Boomers, who were born between the years 1946 and 1964, and, to a lesser extent, the Generation Xers, who were born between the years 1965 and 1980, have been able to enjoy a lifestyle replete with the typical badges of middle class status such as their own houses and automobiles.

Unfortunately, the past several decades have seen policymakers pump up the economy (and the prices of almost everything) by adding nearly $30 trillions in debt — increasing the national debt from $5.2 trillion in 1996 to $34.5 trillion in 2024 — and bringing about an inflationary tidal wave that has made that same coveted middle class lifestyle an unobtainable dream for most millennials.

The cost of living (as measured by the consumer price index) has increased by at least 50% since the turn of the century, far outstripping the average increases in wages and salaries received by most millennials in the workforce. Unfortunately, most inflation indexes severely understate the increases in such things as housing prices, which have doubled or even tripled during that time — depending on the particular area of the country being considered.

It has become a cliche voiced by conservative commentators that ongoing government deficits will severely harm "our children and our children's children," but the inflationary spiral that has continued to gather force over the past few years is slowly but surely decimating the ability of millennials to purchase a house or, indeed, realize any sense of economic security that would encourage them to start a family.

According to the World Bank, the current birth rate in the United States is now 1.6 children per couple, which is below the replacement rate of 2.1 children needed to maintain a stable population. Widespread economic insecurity may contributing to the reluctance of millennials to be fruitful and multiply, because millions of millennials have moved back in with their parents.   

Certainly there is nothing more romantic than trying to conceive a baby in your childhood bedroom while hearing the sounds of your parents' TV blaring through the walls while they argue with each other over who lost the remote. This return to the family homestead is a fate that has plagued millions of millennials who simply cannot afford to purchase their own house or even afford a decent apartment.

According to the economist Gray Kimbrough, this situation is not being helped by the fact that millennials have spent the first decade of their working careers in an economy that has grown only about half as much as it did over the same time period for both the Generation X and Baby Boomer cohorts when they joined the labor force.  

Millennials have also been tormented by the downturn in the economy that occurred at the beginning of the millennium (the so-called dot-com bust), which was followed a few years later by the Great Recession (which nearly saw the entire global banking system collapse), which was then followed by the COVID-19 pandemic (which resulted in the most severe contraction in economic activity in the United States since the Great Depression).

All of these events played havoc with the careers of millennials who were doing their best to climb up the corporate ladder even as the entire world seemed to be conspiring against them.

Millennials have also been forced to shoulder enormous student loan burdens in order to pay for their undergraduate and, in many cases, graduate and professional educations. According to U.S. News and World Report, the cost of higher education has outstripped everything else in the past 20 years with tuition and fees at private national universities increasing 132%, with out-of-state tuition and fees at public national universities increasing by 127%, and with in-state tuition and fees at public national universities increasing by 158%.

As a result, very few millennials have been able to complete their college and professional education without taking on enormous debts — a burden that continues to contribute to their economic insecurity to the current day.

Jefferson Hane Weaver is a transactional lawyer residing in Florida. He received his undergraduate degree in Economics and Political Science from the University of North Carolina and his J.D. and Ph.D. in International Relations from Columbia University. Dr. Weaver is the author of numerous books on varied, compelling subjects. Read more of his reports — Here.

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There is a general tendency of each generation to look in horror at the succeeding generation and conclude that the world is doomed. Indeed, Plato took a break from philosophizing in the 4th century B.C. to wonder what was wrong with the young people in Greek society.
millennials, gen x, baby boomers, economy
Wednesday, 15 May 2024 05:46 PM
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