I just don’t get Millennials! You guys are so needy and entitled. It’s like you expect the world to bend over backwards to give you interesting projects and jobs without ever having to put in the work. You’re the on-demand generation. You grew up getting whatever you wanted whenever you wanted so now you expect the same from all aspects of life. When I was in my 20s, I was paying my dues with a smile on my face.
This particular quip came from an old boss of mine during a casual conversation. But, to Millennials, this attitude seems to represent the popular opinion of anybody over the age of 30.
For the last couple of years, we’ve seen headline after headline echoing the disappointment in Millennial malaise.
“Millennials Are Selfish and Entitled” - TIME
“Millennial Workers: Entitled, Needy, Self-Centered? - US News & World Report
“Millennials May Be More Likely to Take Credit for Others’ Work” - NBC
“The Entitled Generation” - The New York Times
Even the normally sympathetic and progressive Huffington Post has a tag for “Millennials Entitlement.”
Let’s ignore for a second that young adults, by virtue of their age, exhibit more selfishness (and, thus, entitlement) than relatively older adults, and that every generation has labeled the generation before it the selfish generation and try to assess from where this entitlement might be coming.
Hypotheses range from technology making us lazy, to parents giving us too many trophies, to America losing its edge. But, instead of guessing at cultural influences, let’s look at the numbers.
Social Explorer, a company that visualizes census data, released a report called “Young Adults Then and Now,” which compared US adults ages 18 to 34 in 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2009-2013. The report draws upon past and current US Census Data, and reveals some startling trends for Millennials today.
1. We’re earning less.
The median earnings for full-time workers today is at the lowest point in a 30-year period at $33.8k. Compare that to $37.4k just 10 years ago.
2. We still live with our folks.
Between 1980 and 2000, roughly 24 percent of young adults lived with their parents, but in the last 10 years, that number has jumped to 30 percent.
3. More of us live in poverty.
A full 20 percent of young adults today live below the poverty line, compared to a consistent 15 percent in the previous 30 years.
4. We’re rolling solo.
While in the last 30 years we’ve seen a consistent increase in young adults who do not marry before the age of 35, the biggest jump of unmarrieds has occurred in the last 10 years, with 66 percent of today’s young adults not marrying in their young adulthood.
5. We’re highly educated.
More of us have bachelor’s degrees or higher than ever before: 22 percent today compared to 20 percent in 2000, 17 percent in 1990 and 16 percent in 1980.
6. We’re unemployed.
Today’s young adults are experiencing, by far, the highest rate of unemployment in recent history, with 35 percent without a job. Compare that to 31 percent in 2000 and 29 percent in 1990.
So, we’re highly educated, but struggle to find jobs. When we do land a job, we earn less than we ever did before. As a result, more of us live under the poverty line, are forced to live with our parents and don’t have the stability necessary to get married.
These trends don’t surprise Millennials who are experiencing them in their actual lives and not as a statistic, but I’ll admit, I never expected to see everything spelled out so clearly in charts. After the US Census report's publication, a lengthy conversation ensued on Hacker News.
As kilroy123 put it:
As a Millennial, these trends are frightening to see. It's frustrating when I chat with friends who are a few years older than me about this (mid-30s), and they blame all of this on Millennials just being lazy. Or stupid, for picking bad degrees. I think the issues are larger and more systemic than that.
Millennials are simply asking for what was promised to them at the onset of their education: eventual entry into the working world. They want an opportunity to turn their education into a livable wage that can afford them a reasonable lifestyle.
But, today’s culture and economy can’t even provide the basic lifestyle once characterized as a guarantee, sold to us when we were teens.
Blaming the generation misses the point entirely. We are products of a broken structure. Organizations and systems we once trusted are now failing us. We’re needy because we’re in need.
Tony Sheng writes at TonySheng.com. He quit his tech job to help people do more of what they love, which led him to write Working Jobs and host Working Jobs Radio. Join thousands that read his weekly newsletter where he shares his best strategies and resources to experience more joy through work. Click here