But Seriously, Let’s Talk About Millennial Poverty
Hanna Brooks Olsen
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Let’s Keep Talking About Millennial Poverty

Old Dreams Don’t Work. We Need New Ones.

As I sit and write this on my laptop I am struck by two competing narratives on the lives of Millennials:

This is the dream that I have. This is the dream that I suspect many of us have.

Okay — they’re not really competing. One is a level of aspiration, the other is harsh reality. But they both agree on one basic thing:

Pursuing dead-end jobs simply doesn’t work. You’ll scrape by, maybe have a slightly better life than being jobless, but then, what? Will it be worth all the time wasted?

I’m not a resident of the US, and many things in Hanna Brooks Olsen’s writing don’t exactly apply to me. College debt, for instance, isn’t that big of a trend in Indonesia.

It’s not an economic success indicator — It’s just that loans don’t come that easily. So we overwork ourselves in impossible late-night shifts. Or, you know, sell kidneys.

One thing is for sure:
Millennial poverty is a global thing.

Globally, too, to varying degrees, there is a certain shame that comes with being poor. A certain guilt about being poorer than your parents.

That’s what parents always seem to say — at least the parents of most Asian families I know— despite the fact that we’ve worked our hardest to be the richer, more successful version of them. Despite following the path we were told to follow.

We blame ourselves when things don’t work out. When things get so severe, we kill ourselves. Indonesia has the ninth highest suicide rate in the world, and most are caused by poverty.

So we take those dead-end jobs anyway, just to escape that ghost — because, hey, it must be us, right?

It’s not us, and we know that. And we’re no longer ashamed to talk about it — see? We’re talking about it now.

And talking about this issue openly, admitting how poor we are and how it’s not our fault, is very empowering.

Which is why we need to keep talking about it. Narratives inform our sense of meaning, our sense of shame and guilt.

The first thing we need to do is to let go of that shame. It’s the only way we can start chipping away at the old toxic myth of millionaire successes.

Because here is the harsh truth:

It’s all a cruel joke.
And we need to start saying “NO.”

We need to start building new dreams and lifestyle alternatives, ones that do not involve slaving away at a 9-to-5 under a vague hope of upwards mobility. Nor should we aspire to lifestyles that require the kind of consistent flow of material wealth that can, for most, only be achieved by this enslavement.

No, not because we’re some kind of deranged hippies, but simply because the economy has made huge numbers of us unable to afford it.

The old dreams don’t work anymore — and, as we have now learned, are mostly toxic to other people and the environment, anyway.

We’ll keep talking about us, because it’s never really about us. It’s about how broken things are. And our helplessness to fix it.

We will be poor. We will struggle. But we will stop feeling guilty and shaming ourselves about it.

Someday, maybe — just maybe — we’ll get this right.