Our Generation Isn't Lazy, We're Broke
An article in the Boston Globe by Boomer Jennifer Graham interpreted last week's release of the Opportunity Index not as a bunch of kids struggling to find jobs or procure a decent education but as millennials, once again, being lazy and coddled.
While she acknowledges the economic woes facing our generation, she believes the real reason behind our lack of home ownership is that our Boomer parents made the nest at home seem too cozy — and the comforts of our parents' lifestyles were too attractive — for us to really develop any ambition.
Derek Thompson of The Atlantic took the words right out of my mouth, citing Graham's piece as the quintessential "worst possible column about millennials." Such reporting is akin to blaming a five-year old for the economy 15 years from now. It’s definitely the toddler’s fault.
The notion that 36% of millennials are still at home as the economy plods along because we’re just unmotivated or get everything we need from Mommy and Daddy is grossly insulting. It’s funny to me that Graham references two things — pregnancy and living in a home of our own — that millennials have had to delay. It is as though, in her world, all millennials are spoiled, over-coddled rich kids whose childhood McMansion is just too perfect to abandon.
Her interpretation of the story is that millennials are the fisherman. We aren't going the harder way because why would we if we already have all we want?
Yet, in the real-world interpretation of the story, the message is about living the simple life, measuring success by a life well-lived when basic needs are met. And in that, at least, she's right: that's precisely what millennials are seeking.
Graham assumes millennials are living with our parents because we're accustomed to the nice homes and extra bedrooms, yet most millennials don't even want the homes their parents have. In fact, 30% want fixer-upper homes where they can do the work and improvements themselves. I know, so lazy!
Alternatively, millennials may aspire to home ownership and at least some of the comforts they grew up with, but we're less drawn to big status-symbol homes and more likely to want convenient, usable space. We're into walkable neighborhoods with reliable transportation more than the suburbs.
It took us a while to get here, but fortunately there are some great articles about buying a home as a millennial: how to identify the homes with the most bang for the buck; where you can live to start shopping earlier; and how important it is to start saving if you haven't and leverage savings if you have. All of these advice columns offer useful, actionable, and truthful assessments of the housing market for millennials starting with a fundamental truth: millennials have a great challenge ahead and have to think differently than generations before us.
What Graham misses entirely is that, for some millennials, a home isn't an option. Not their own, and not that of their parents. Kristin Iverson points this out in a powerful rebuttal to an earlier article by Megan McArdle telling millennials to "get over" our "raw deal."
I suppose that’s what set me off about Graham’s condescending (and yet entirely predictable) critique of our generation. Because 36% of millennials are living with our parents and 15% are neither working nor in school, it must be because we don’t want to succeed.
I can only speak for myself. I'm able to write about the challenges of finding a house or finding a mentor or the need for reforming family leave because I have a job I love, two degrees, and no debt. But I am completely unwilling to buy the notion that a majority of our generation fits the caricature painted by Jennifer Graham (Boomer), or Megan McArdle (Gen X), or Jim Urban (millennial). We are not how the boomers in media portray us (here’s a handy guide of those stereotypes) and are actually remarkably diverse.
We've already written the worst possible column on millennials, many times over. Isn't it time for something else?