Watch out, baby boomers. The Millennials are coming for your jobs.
By Nancy Johnston at The Baltimore Sun
This generational warfare is the story developing in the media, and as with most trend stories, it does have a kernel of truth. The baby boomer generation – born between 1946 and 1964 – has had a stranglehold on nearly every arena in American life, including politics, economics and the culture wars, since I was born. Even President Barack Obama, who campaigned on a promise to leave behind the boomers’ old campus feuds, is, technically, one of them.
But with the rising technological wave changing the way we live, the way we work, and the way we think about the world around us, today’s younger work force, born 1980 and after, is threatening the status quo. Even now, a coalition called 80 Million Strong is planning a D.C. summit in July to highlight this younger bloc, demanding that American leaders better serve this country’s youth, both politically and economically.
“Today’s 20-somethings are likely to be the first generation to not be better off than their parents.” This is the first line of Economic State of Young America, a report released by Demos, a nonpartisan public policy think tank in New York City. And that’s a troubling thesis for a generation that grew up being told they can do and be anything.
Sure, it’s no surprise that with college tuition rising and job opportunities plummeting, the future isn’t looking too bright for the youth of America. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, after factoring for inflation, the average young white man in 2005 earned $35,100 a year, compared to $43,416 in 1976. While tuition at public universities has doubled since the 1980s, income has declined by 19 percent.
Those who can’t afford college in the first place, or can’t find employment after earning their degrees, have also helped raise the unemployment rate for Americans in the 16-24 age range 9 percentage points higher than the general population. Insurance and pension benefits are steadily shrinking, and no one my age labors under the belief that the dollars we send to the Social Security Administration over in Woodlawn will be waiting for us when we retire.
This recession isn’t good for anybody. But blaming baby boomers for staying at the workplace at the expense of Millennials, or insisting that the youth are stealing jobs from their more experienced counterparts, are arguments far too simplistic to explain the destruction of the American dream.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from the no-limits nature of the world that the Internet has wrought, it’s that we do not live in a zero-sum society. We must foster an economy that provides jobs for everyone. From the traditional manufacturing and service jobs that have built the American middle class since after World War II, to the new “green” jobs and cyber-focused industries the Obama administration has declared a priority, there can and should be opportunities for everyone.
Yes, we need to make hard decisions now to address the problems the young and those not yet even born will inherit – climate change, Social Security and Medicare, the national debt. But setting them up as flash points in an ageist conflict between the me-generation boomers and the supposedly altruism-minded Millennials isn’t going to accomplish that. The only way to solve those problems is to create an economic and social order that is fair to all – and the only way to agree on those hard choices is to embrace a political order in which all ages have a seat at the table.