Summer is well underway and as another school year for students in British Columbia has concluded, our kids have probably heard some phenomenal speeches from valedictorians and other guests. Like most in Grade 12, they've been pondering their future and what lies ahead. Unfortunately, what all of those young people have in common is that they are about to encounter an ever-mounting barrage of distaste toward their generation.
Often labelled as entitled, lazy, bored and self-obsessed, millennials continually endure a verbal firestorm from older generations. Joel Stein famously published his "Me Me Me Generation" column in Time Magazine two years ago, observing the high level of narcissism amongst millennials and their common narrow-mindedness.
While not essential, I think it's important to note that people who continually push these arguments are not millennials themselves. In fact, as I will soon explain, it's always the previous generation criticizing the young.
As a millennial myself, I've heard that common charge of our generation being "lazy" and I think this viewpoint is worth a deeper look, as I feel millennials have had to endure as much direct and intense criticism as generations past have.
Weathered Societal Storms
People born in the 1980s and early 1990s have had to weather a number of storms, historically. The events of 9/11 dampened the world economy when young people born in the early 1980's were moving up in the world.
When political and economic elites (most of whom are baby-boomers) got financial oversight wrong, it led to the worst economic crash since the Great Depression. This was a tumultuous time as many millennials planned to enter the workforce at times that were worsened through no fault of their own.
These tough times forced a lot of millennials back to school or into skills-training programs at a time when the costs of getting into higher education in North America continued to rise. With federal, provincial and state budgets cutting back in some areas, reducing tax burdens on some and making investments in things that had a direct ROI, public K-12 and higher education took hits in many provinces, including right here in British Columbia.
The Impact of Technology
Let's not forget the rise of technology in displacing many more traditional industries. Of course, technology has led to job creation in other areas. We can't dismiss that fact. But if you compare the 1950's, 1960's and 1970's where North Americans experienced high investments in public education [LINK] and work training because there were mass factories and plants that required man or woman power.
Folks in generations previous had more opportunities because investments in a whole host of areas -- whether they were in education, training or technology -- led to them being ushered into jobs in factories or of the "shovel-ready" variety. In other words, there was employment waiting for you after university.
Technology is responsible for innovation but is in some ways eliminating jobs in sectors that were reliant on well-trained, well-educated people.
Millennials are the first group of people who aren't experiencing the opportunities that their parents and grandparents had and they have grown up with technological advancements growing at a rapid pace. This, from a North American point-of-view, has seen jobs outsourced overseas for cheaper labour and easier regulations.
The Next Generation Is Always The Subject of Criticism
If we go back in history, Plato and other philosophers were disillusioned by the youth in their day. From the Romans to the Victorians to the Puritans, throughout history, words and feelings of dismay have been directed at subsequent generations. Authors Christopher Lasch and Allan Bloom offered their individual critiques of younger generations in 1979 and 1987 books The Culture of Narcissism and The Closing of the American Mind.
While it's easy to pick up on the perceived sense of achievement on university campuses across North America, it's hard to fault millennials for it. After all, they didn't set the high entrance requirements to exceed nor the standardized tests to muster through. Nor did they devise the highly complex and intense application and interview processes at larger firms, post-graduation.
Engaged But Not Motivated?
By most studies, millennials are more likely to support a particular cause but less likely to actually participate. Take voting for example. Millennials are engaged on issues but as voting statistics indicate, young people are less likely to get out to voting stations by the close of polls.
A person may care about Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and may have partaken in the famed "ALS Ice Bucket Challenge" with some funds donated. But when it comes to volunteering and donating their time to the cause, millennials are less likely to do that.
However, to contextualize this, we must recognize that millennials are facing tough times that no one since the Great Depression has faced, which means less time to dedicate to outside causes.
Millennials are paying far more for university tuition than their parents were while the cost-of-living skyrockets. They're working tooth and nail to pay those fees or the debt they've been forced to subscribe to in the form of student loans. An aging population and greater number of retirees mean that funds are paid out through public pensions while the healthcare system works much more intensely than it ever has.
As a result, public debt and tax burdens are increasing while public investment cannot keep with previously held levels. Getting meaningful, sustainable employment is increasingly difficult for millennials and a broken, underfunded education system isn't creating the leaders of tomorrow but is preparing a generation of debtors for the inevitable.
Don't confuse this column with complaining and excuse-making. What we as a society need is understanding.
At the end of the day, the common theme amongst most millennials is that they are overeducated and underemployed, a problem that no generation has faced. It's much easier to criticize than to endure, empathize and encourage. So before calling a millennial "lazy," consider where we've been and where we're headed.