But Seriously, Let’s Talk About Millennial Poverty
Hanna Brooks Olsen
1K65

Much of this doesn’t fit what first comes to mind with the word Millennial. I find it the most pejorative descriptor of young adults and I am not one. We should retire the term but that doesn’t seem likely. “Looking poor” is older than the current generation. Taking it from the other direction, there were “gypsies” in Victorian England who looked poor as dirt but were in fact landlords and extremely wealthy. Not wealthy compared to their living conditions but compared to their supposed class masters. But you’d never think it to look at ‘em. Not that they comprised the majority of their demographic, by any measure, just as the typical idea of the Millennial doesn’t comprise all young adults coming of age in the glories of the 21st Century. Or, it seems, even close to half if the census report you cite is accurate. College education has long been thin ice. In the 1990s it was becoming increasingly difficult in Canada to get a simple job without a bachelor’s degree. Every high school grad was told that the future turned on your eventual tassel. I took this advice to McMaster University in Ontario. McMaster is primarily an engineering school with a highly regarded Humanities program. I was in that program around the time noted geneticist David Suzuki told a hall full of Humanities candidates at a different school, “congratulations, you just wasted four years of your life.” This is akin to Neil DeGrasse Tyson announcing you are a born loser. Suzuki later apologized. In my last year, the professor of a tiny class gave an off-hand description of the nature of a university education: “You don’t go to a university to learn a trade. It is a place of higher learning where you come to broaden yourself.” This was a class on Existentialism. He was on crutches and had come out of retirement to teach it. Most of what I took away from my time in higher education came from him. The year I graduated, 1999, the Ontario government began a campaign of billboards and TV ads showing young adults striding proudly off to bright futures as plumbers and electricians. There was a deficit, apparently, in young people learning necessary trades and the government wanted them to bypass university for trade school. I don’t know if the program worked. I do know that a couple of years later, with a steady low-paying job and a good size account, I approached my bank for a credit card. They denied me. Yet while I was in school and in debt they repeatedly offered me a line of credit — a line of credit to put my student loan on so they could charge me interest. Make of that what you will.

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