The word "snowflake" may have once described frozen precipitation, but today it's increasingly being used to describe young people, as a way of mocking millennials for perceived oversensitivity and preciousness.
"Snowflake" is often used to connote liberalism when it's used in a derogatory way: On Sunday, former congressman Allen West tweeted the following praise for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who recently promised to cut funding for colleges that attempt to shelter undocumented immigrants:
But the term also carries another connotation: laziness — and the idea that millennials are mooching off their moms and dads, living in their basements.
The millennial snowflake trope is only the latest attempt to write off the youngest working generation as entitled and lazy. But research has cast doubt on the idea that young people's character flaws are to blame for their struggles in finding stable jobs and their tendency to delay markers of adulthood like homeownership.
Indeed, studies suggest millennials might actually have reason to complain even more: Thanks to a combination of demographic forces and social policies, young people not born into wealth face greater inequality and less upward mobility than ever before — all while picking up a bigger and bigger slice of the tab for older workers.
At least half of older millennials aren't getting a taste of the American Dream
Right now roughly half of 30-year-olds make more money than their parents did when they were the same age, according to a December paper on social mobility. A separate study from the Guardian published in March found that Americans under 30 are already poorer than retirees — despite the fact that they're working.
While a fifty-fifty shot at being richer than your folks might not sound too terrible, the data on 30-year-olds shows a fairly consistent downward trend over the last roughly 75 years: Back in the 1940s, more than 90% of 30-year-olds out-earned their folks, and about 60% did so in 1970.
That research — from researchers at Harvard University, Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley — shows that it's getting harder and harder for people born into lower-earning families to move up the income ladder.
There are two main reasons that Americans born in the 1980s face higher hurdles than their parents, the researchers found.
The first is that throughout much of the 20th century, the U.S. economy grew a lot faster than it has in more recent years, as millennials have come of age.
The second reason has to do with inequality in the way gains have been distributed among Americans. The authors estimate that for growth alone to restore economic mobility, gross domestic product would have to increase by more than 6% each year, more than double the rate it grew in the past year.
Millennials inherited a vastly wider wage gap between the rich and poor
A separate study released on Tuesday also found that income inequality has grown far faster than previously thought: In fact, half of the country has seen stagnant wages since 1980, while the wealthiest Americans have seen incomes skyrocket.
In the last 3 1/2 decades, the gap between what the richest 1% makes and what the bottom 50% earns has grown nearly threefold.
Rising income inequality is one factor behind the decline in social mobility.
Unequal distribution of income gains, economist Emmanuel Saez told Mic, makes it harder for even talented kids to get education and job training needed to rise up the economic ladder.
Geography can make a difference, according to the Equal Opportunity Project: Cities like Minneapolis and Salt Lake City have much higher rates of social mobility, while regions in the American southeast tend to offer less opportunity for young people.
The researchers note that cities with better mobility tend to have certain qualities in common, including a large middle class, strong public schools and low rates of segregation.
Globally, young people are increasingly subsidizing the elderly
Call it a thank you, despite the economic lot they've inherited: Across the globe, millennials are increasingly likelier than previous generations to pass financial resources to older groups — beyond what they receive.
That reverses a pattern that's played out for most of human history, where older people have traditionally subsidized younger people, according to a study from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
In fact, there are already five countries, including Germany and Japan, where younger people pass more resources to older people than they get in return, the authors wrote; "many other countries" are expected join this trend by 2050.
While the United States isn't yet in that group, the lion's share of U.S. government spending targets vulnerable elderly groups, as opposed to vulnerable children. In fact, total spending on U.S. children has been flat at roughly $471 billion for the last four years, according to a recent analysis of government spending by the left-leaning Urban Institute. In 2015, spending on Social Security alone was nearly double that.
Perhaps ironically, most millennials don't believe they will be able to claim Social Security themselves once they grow up; contrary to stereotypes, that's one reason they are making the responsible move of hiking up retirement savings — at a faster rate than older generations.
In other words, should the topic come up when you visit your family over the holidays, there's a great deal of evidence that there's more to millennial whining than meets the eye.
If you catch crap, bust out one of these statistics. You can even leave your student debt out of it.