Millennial Problems and What to Do About Them: Let’s Talk Economy

A child waves an American flag.

To date, I’ve received loads of (probably rhetorical) questions from readers of my millennial post, asking (in paraphrase) “Watchu gonna do about it?” Since it’s Independence Day in an election year and we’ve all got politics on the brain, I’ve decided to actually answer them. What should we do about the economic plight of young Gen Xers, Millennials and their unemployed parents?

Here’s my short list.

For individuals:

  1. Talk about them. (More below the jump.)
  2. Vote. (Duh!)
  3. Call your senators. (Or, if you prefer, write them letters.)
  4. Run for office (when you turn 35).
  5. Take to the streets! (Occupy Wall Street.)
  6. Quit believing the line that restrictions on massive corporations hamper your “freedom.”

For the government:

  1. Let’s expand upon the recent Supreme Court ruling for universal health care to include a public option and single-payer pool. Observe what works and what doesn’t in the UK and Canada, and make necessary adjustments. Regulate the hell out of private insurance companies, because frankly, they’re parasites sucking money out of both sides of the health care system.
  2. Forgive student loan debt. (You heard me.) Cap public university administration salaries. Lower state school tuition. Where has all the money gone? Into the pockets of big banks and out of the hands of young graduates who might otherwise start small businesses or support existing ones.
  3. End corporate donations to political candidates. Cap campaign budgets for all parties so that elections cease to be a celebrity reality show.
  4. Tax the super-rich. If you don’t want to listen to me, listen to Stephen King and Warren Buffett.

For universities:

  1. End adjuncting. Start paying teachers real salaries again. Ensure that graduate student workers (not just teachers, but research assistants) have access to basic employment protections. We are supposedly hourly workers. We therefore should have a right to overtime pay, a regular shift, and adequate space to do our work (no, sticking four people in an 8×8 space with two desks is not “adequate,” no matter how you rationalize it).

For large corporate employers:

  1. Quit hiring people to work 39 hours so you don’t have to offer them health insurance.
  2. Quit brainwashing 18 year olds on their first jobs to think unions are evil.
  3. Quit firing people without pension as soon as their hair turns grey.
  4. Quit whining about your freedoms whenever someone asks you to treat your employees ethically.
  5. Quit outsourcing.
  6. Quit lobbying against people trying to protect our environment.
  7. Pay your interns. They are doing work for you.
In short, end corporate feudalism.

Answer #1: Talk About Them

Talk about them. The repeated refrain I hear on posts about any sort of injustice – economic, gender-based, religious, etc. – is “stop complaining on the internet and do something about it.” This is a fallacy. Talking about injustice is doing something about it. Feminists in the 1960s called this consciousness-raising. Other movements have done the same thing, some of the most recent being the LGBTQ rights movement and Occupy Wall Street.

Granted, some of what I wrote about in my first millennial post was not directly “injustice” – it was rather the perpetual lie that we and the younger Gen Xers were sold, that if we worked hard we would be successful. That’s deception, not injustice. It’s also a political deception. This is not just some argument between pampered kids and their doting parents. Whenever you deride someone on welfare as lazy, whenever you argue that “kids these days” don’t want to make an honest effort to succeed, whenever you accuse the poor of landing themselves in poverty, you perpetuate the lie that Hard Work must equal Success.

The truth is, most of the poor are hard-working. It doesn’t change the fact that there’s an employer refusing to reward that hard work with a living wage or health insurance. Indeed, some of our hardest-working employees in America are the worst paid. Compare the lives of farmers, mechanics, daycare teachers, public school teachers, construction workers, retail workers, and fishers (to name only a few) to the lives of corporate executives sitting in plush offices with air conditioning and high-speed internet. Their jobs might be “hard” in that they make tough decisions on a daily basis, but are they working harder in an objective sense than these other people? I think not.

There is, however, injustice to a system that places disproportional burdens on the young, the sick and the old. It is unjust that young laborers pay a higher percentage of taxes than Wall Street investors. It is unjust that the quality of education children receive depends on their parents’ wealth. It may be normal, but it’s still unjust. How can we claim to be a free society if the circumstances of your birth determine the course of your life better than your own diligence and smarts?

Now, let’s consider the “arguing on the internet” claim. Worst activism ever, amirite?* This is what unemployed couch-potato college grads do while they’re waiting for Google to call them with a million-dollar job. Here’s the issue with that: to date, more than 80,000 people have read my letter. If I had gone around shouting in the park (considerably more effort), I might have had three people stop to listen and none of them discuss what I said afterwards. We wouldn’t be having a conversation about generational divides and economic injustice if I had decided to preach to the squirrels. Social media is effective: use it or fall behind.

Finally, it takes about twenty minutes to write a blog post. Even if you write several blog posts a day, you have plenty of hours left to put your money where your mouth is. Many people who “complain on the internet” also vote, and volunteer, and call their senators, organize outdoor protests, share petitions, and patronize businesses that share their values. The great thing about the internet is that you don’t have to spend all day on it to write something relevant.

(*I don’t claim that my “open letter” was activism at all. It was merely an irritated response to an arrogant speech that co-opted a celebratory ceremony for young graduates and turned it into a platform for a teacher to complain about bridezillas and helicopter parenting.)

Now… what are you doing about it, and what would you like to see done?

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