When did Millennials become defined by a supposed sense of entitlement? Perhaps it was when Jean Twenge published Generation Me in 2006, questioning their ability to overcome their own overinflated sense of self-worth. Or maybe it was when Joel Stein brazenly labeled the generation as “lazy, entitled narcissists” on the cover of Time last May.
But as Millennials face an economic situation showing little sign of improving as the nation’s wealth gap continues to part as if commanded by Moses, we must shed this outdated notion so this generation can strive for the same opportunity for success as our forebears.
The unemployment rate stood at an optimistically low 6.6 percent in early February, nearing the low rates we saw in the mid-2000s before the mortgage crisis and subsequent recession.
But at the same time, the unemployment rate for college graduates age 20 to 24 remained at 8 percent. Americans in general may be finding jobs, but recent grads seem to be having some trouble. Two major myths surround this unemployed underclass of people, all of which stem from the perception they are entitled.
Until we confront these delusions, we will continue to use “entitlement” as a means to ignore taking action to improve our economic future.
The first myth: College graduates forsake employment to move back in with their parents, where they generally do nothing more than laze about.
Around 2011, many major news outlets reported that 85 percent of college graduates returned home to their parents, creating the sensational moniker “boomerang kids.” The loaded term implies parents lobbed their children out into the world only for them to return, unchanged and unable to make it.
However, closer studies of the census have revealed that the rate was actually about 45 percent — still not promising, but not nearly as bad as sensationalist media would have audiences believe. The condescension inherent in the discussion about these numbers glazed over the fact that these graduates did not return home to leech off their parents. In light of the dire economic situation, many Millennials needed a temporary home free from skyrocketing rents to begin securing funds to live independently. Few pundits considered that some kids even had to move back in to help stabilize the family after their parents lost jobs to the recession as well.
The second myth: College graduates who manage to snag an unpaid internship must be spoiled rich kids. How else could they possibly afford to live in the big cities where these kinds of opportunities exist?
When The New York Times ran a story this year about interns struggling to break into fashion, entertainment and arts industries, many commenters managed to ignore the part where 29-year-old Alec Dudson described sleeping on friends’ sofas as he worked 30 or 40-hour weeks for no pay. They focused instead on their own imagined take on the modern intern — a 20-something, bolstered by a trust fund, pursuing an internship as if it were little more than a hobby.
Because these graduates want jobs in industries that tend to pay higher and offer a sense of prestige in the top ranks, people find it easy to ignore the fact that they are working full-time hours for nothing. Because they want to be the next Calvin Klein or Katie Couric, people treat them as if they were already guaranteed to make millions someday, and not to toil anonymously in one of these industries’ many mid-level positions. No one would call a Millennial “entitled” if they were working full-time as an auto mechanic or a grocery clerk for free.
If someone buys into the “entitled” argument, they watch thousands of interns work full-time hours for no reward apart from the dubious concept of “experience” and say, “I’m okay with this.”
They watch kids mired by student loan debt work minimum wage jobs as they struggle to pay off degrees that aren’t helping them.
They ask, “How much do you want out of life?” and, regardless of the response, they answer, “Sorry, that’s too much.”
People must stop treating the economic obstacles this generation faces as if they are imaginary monsters under the bed for Millennials to whine about, and begin treating them like legitimate issues, the repercussions of which could reverberate throughout our entire economic future.