Hooray, there’s another article out about how Millennials are kinda poor and kinda don’t know what to do about it (besides, of course, making use of the “sharing economy”). I miss the “Hustlin” column in the late Good magazine, which highlighted ways that Millennials are pushing back against the trappings of the recession. At least that journalistic approach left room for Millennials to eventually come out on top–we will have 401Ks, goddammit! We will eventually marry and have kids! We might own a home someday if we ever settle down and get good jobs, which might happen if this Kickstarter campaign takes off . . .
But the more I read about “Millennialism,” the more I think that the media has brainwashed itself with this term. Is it just me, or does the notion of a “Millennial” culture implicitly exclude all but white, middle-class people?
Look at the rhetoric used in this recent Times Magazine story about how Millennials are suffering from permanent downward mobility (which is not news, so I have no idea why this article was even published–it uses old research by Neil Howe from 1991). Quoting Howe’s book directly, the journalist writes: “[Millennials] look at the house their parents live in and say, ‘I could work for 100 years and I couldn’t afford this place.'” That’s true if you grew up in the affluent suburbs. If you hail from a housing project in the Bronx, not so much.
And the article’s final words: “Millennials are the best-educated generation ever. Their challenge may just be to preserve that advantage for their own children.” Once again: Millennials are people whose parents paid for them to go to college (and study abroad, and maybe even have an internship in a city). These are not people who attended college on scholarship or were the first in the families to get a university degree.
Maybe everybody has known all along that when we’re talking about Millennials, we mean white, educated, middle-class people, and so, who cares? But this Times Mag article echoes an ongoing lack of critical discourse about disparities between “Millennials” who are confused about how to have a “meaningful” career while earning a living, and those of the same generation who are glad to simply have a job and be pursuing higher education at all. Have we all been duped into brainlessness by too much Lena Dunham worship (damn you, New Yorker, wake up from the spell she has cast upon you!)? Are we just having a grand ol’ time complaining about how expensive post-Guiliani NYC has become? Regardless, I think it’s important for journalists to remember that we have a duty to go beyond the surface of stories and challenge collective assumptions about society. If we forget this and let the use of “Millennialism” lead us further into myopia, then future generations will not only never own homes or cars, they will also never see the reality of life beyond their blogs and Twitter feeds, which is to say their individual selves, and that’s when the American Dream will really fall apart irreparably.