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Gen Xers Vs. Millennials: Who Has It Harder?

01/15/2016 12:34 EST | Updated 01/15/2017 05:12 EST

When our children are young and we regale them with tales of "when I was a kid," they usually turn a blind eye and go back to watching a YouTube video. But what gets their attention when they reach their 20's is talking to them about when you first started working full-time, buying your first car, renting your first (awful) apartment and being an adult. They will roll their eyes and tell you that things were different (what they mean is easier) when you were younger. Jobs practically fell off trees, particularly if you had a university degree, and cars, gas and insurance were cheap, and real estate could be had for a song even in downtown Toronto.

They're not entirely wrong...but they're not entirely right, either. Certainly real estate in Toronto (and more so, Vancouver) is extremely overpriced today compared to the average salary, but what seems to go unnoticed is that we all worked pretty hard to get what we had, and most of us couldn't afford to live in downtown Toronto, either. Jobs? The unemployment rate in Canada in 1985 was 10.5%; 9.5% in 1995; in 2015 it's way lower, at 6.9%. Should we talk about interest rates?

What jobs did we have? Most of us had terrible entry level jobs which paid barely over minimum wage. People smoked as we walked past them on the way to the photocopy room. We weren't allowed to set our own hours, ask for overtime (if in an office or non-unionized job) and the cars we bought were cheap and the apartments we rented were crap. We were horrified at the thought of living at home with our parents, so we lived with other people, had elevators that were regularly peed in, and hauled our groceries up six flights of stairs.

Admittedly, we didn't have the allure or convenience of technology on which to spend our small disposable income. We ran up credit card debt and (mostly) paid it off. We didn't travel, except maybe a road trip to Montreal, six jammed in a car, and when we arrived we bought breakfast (splitting the bill six ways), and drove back.

Telling your parents, be they Boomers or Gen Xers, that they 'had it easy' isn't fair. It negates the hard work we all did to get to where we are, and puts it all down to luck and advantage, and ignores what I believe are two main ingredients for success: motivation, and initiative.

We've seen a shift in terms of what motivates people to succeed. It's no longer a "loser thing" to live at home with your parents; in fact, some financial advisors tell Millennials it's the best thing they can do. Not for the parents, of course, who are paying the bills. Besides saving money, I believe living at home is bad for the kids as well, who are not taking on the same responsibilities of home renter-ship (in the aforementioned crap place with horrible roommates) and getting motivated to move somewhere they like better.

As a side note, shame on the companies who "offer" unpaid or barely paid internships for what are real, previously paid jobs, and in doing so, push the burden of subsidizing those jobs back on to the parents.

Initiative and motivation are so closely linked, that if you take away one, the other will suffer. As the parents of Millennials, providing our kids with opportunities to show initiative by getting out there in the world and becoming an adult, will go a long way in giving them the motivation they need to really get what they want in life. Nothing pushes initiative like trying to move away from an obnoxious roommate (and no, I'm not talking about their parents).

Teaching our children about the realities of the world; that you have to work hard, do some jobs you don't like, live where you don't want to live, with people you don't like, should be the extracurricular sport we focus on, instead of winning rep hockey tournaments, buying them a car, or renovating the basement for them. I could even get behind giving out a trophy for this achievement. Who's with me?

Kathy Buckworth is a young Boomer or an old Gen Xer, depending on the statistics you read. Two of her kids are Millennials, and two are Generation Z. Let's see what happens there. She is currently at work on her 7th book, "Oops I Helicopter Parented The Kids".

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