Millennials Signal the New Society
The American Affordability Crisis is the worst kept secret in history.
Millennials are lovely to think about. But eating avocado toast and living with the after-effects of the great recession of 2008 (like living with their parents indefinitely), might not be so amazing!
Millennials inherit a lot of things from baby boomers and GenX that are more or less detrimental to their future, and some of that is translating into real hardships at finding their place in the world. I talk about this also because I have experienced this personally.
I’m interested at a sociological level in global trends that relate to the demographics of different segments of the population.
There’s a new society in America, and it’s not just about privilege, it’s about the future of wealth inequality and the ethics of capitalism.
Primarily, this is a story of troubled economics and inadequate distribution of wealth. In this article I will try to make both factual and emotional pleas to help some of us wrap our head around what is actually happening.
For Millennials and the Gen Z who come after them, there are many disturbing signs of a transition to a new society, one based on wage stagnation, high debt to income levels and rising wealth inequality characterizing a capitalism that’s breaking down social economic mobility and the American dream at its core.
Is the Middle Class Being Disrupted?
It could be argued the middle class is being disrupted and the pain points of Millennials mean each subsequent generation of young Americans will feel these pains.
These are some of the meta-trends that come to mind:
- Wage stagnation
- Student debt crisis
- Part time and Gig economy work imprisonment (like a glass ceiling for the lower middle class)
- Rising costs of housing, healthcare and the affordability of the next milestone (home ownership, marriage, children)
- Mental health issues surrounding technological addiction
- Finding the right life-work balance while developing a career path that’s both economically and morally fulfilling
- Loneliness epidemic with isolation and unsubstantial support systems in place
Millennial “Deaths of Despair” Increasing
Not all of us are lucky enough that “things will work out”. For some of us, they simply don’t.
- ‘Deaths of despair’ are taking more lives of millennial Americans than any other generation.
- More millennials are dying “deaths of despair” — deaths related to drugs, alcohol and suicide, reported Jamie Ducharme for TIME, citing a new report.
- Surveys indicate Millennials and those younger are more likely to be pessimistic about the future of humanity and less trusting of capitalism, democracy and American institutions that have become corrupted over time.
From racial inequality to class struggles, America is not for the brave, it’s for the disillusioned. Financial burdens and “economic press” specific to the millennial generation — like student loan debt and the housing market, according to the report, have made Millennials more vulnerable to things like the opiod epidemic, mental health issues and what happens when you sort of fall through the cracks.
When Economic Struggles Have Deeper Consequences
We are living in an era where an entire generation are “late bloomers” by default, in a system that hasn’t just not just protected and empowered young people — but of a generation that suffer major disadvantages the youth of other generations didn’t even experience.
The conclusions around the report can be summarized as such: the affordability crisis millennials are dealing with is impacting their mental health at a time when they lack social support. We’ve heard the crazy stories.
- The affordability crisis and career uncertainty has made Millennials subject to dangerous combinations of vulnerability.
- Financial struggles and ruthless capitalism has meant many Millennials have no hope of bettering their circumstances.
- It’s scary but accurate to say “deaths of despair” are increasing among young Americans.
Why Are Young Americans Checking Out?
These deaths — related to drugs, alcohol, or suicide — claimed the lives of 36,000 American millennials in 2017 alone. Drug overdoses are the most common cause of death.
That doesn’t sound like many. This according to Jamie Ducharme for TIME, citing a report by public health groups Trust for America’s Health and Well Being Trust.
Deaths of despair have increased across all ages in the past 10 years, but more so among younger Americans, reported Ducharme.
- From 2007 to 2017, adults 18 to 34 in age saw a 69% increase in alcohol-related deaths; 108% increase in drug-related deaths — largely fueled by the opioid crisis, and a 35% increase in death by suicide.
- It seems substantial numbers of Millennials are having trouble dealing with the pressure of this new society we are living in.
- Young people must face, on a daily basis, myriad financial problems: student loan debt, healthcare, childcare, and an expensive housing market. Those without support are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors that can spiral out of control.
A Great Affordability Crisis is Coming
If you thought 2008 was bad for some people, think about how wealth inequality could scale in America over the next 20 years. Think about the rising healthcare cost bubble and America’s rising national debt (only $22 Trillion as of Feb, 2019).
In such a great affordability crisis the have nots become more of us. More young people are churning from the middle class each generation. With technological automation and its onslaught of AI, software, algorithms, robots and drones — what do you suppose will happen?
What “skills” will be exempt from the automation movement?
With aging populations, many of whom don’t have savings to last as long as they will live, there will be an economic press that will squeeze both seniors and young adults that in the 2030s could be rather bleak.
The middle class might be dismantled in our lifetime. There’s some degree of probability this will occur.
For Millennials, the housing market looks a lot different than it did for their parents and grandparents.
So does career life, financial uncertainty and even how one finds friends and partners in life. Getting married later turns into not getting married at all. Not finding a valid career path turns into not having children. Our lives flash before us as if in a blink of an eye.
We used to chuckle that Millennials were living more with their parents to save cash so they don’t have to wait years for home ownership. That didn’t always even help.
Rising housing costs and mounting student debt have led millennials to buy different types of homes, or realize that renting was just easier or the only option available. They have had to give up their dreams altogether. Too poor to have kids? You aren’t alone. Not everyone feels comfortable having a kid that might be marked by poverty or struggle.
Imagine you are a young person, for a moment.
Some 70% of recent college graduates finish school with an average of $29,800 in debt to repay, plus the inevitable interest. Now imagine your career doesn’t take off as you had planned. Now imagine you don’t have much social support, what might happen to you?
America’s New Society of Inequality is Making People Less Hopeful
The new society you grew up in doesn’t sound at all like the American dream of your grandparents.
- Millennials face house prices 39% higher than their parents did in the 1980s
- Many Millennials pay so much interest they won’t practically ever get out of debt.
- Rent prices are up nearly 50% over the last half century.
- Wages and opportunities haven’t scaled with the rising cost of living. Meanwhile part time work has become the new normal for millions of people.
- Social mobility (rising in socio-economic class) is therefore also more problematic.
- Capitalism favors a system where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer or are trapped in the bottom 30%. Forget FOMO, a lot of Millennials have no time for that. The struggle is real is a better motto for these people. Our people.
So, to summarize, Millennials and Gen Z are growing up in a different world. An America that’s less about dreaming and achieving and more about inequality.
The Affordability Crisis Will Get Worse
College tuition, housing, healthcare, childcare are like pillars of an emerging affordability crisis that is handicapping young Americans facing a more brutal capitalism than ever before.
One that does not value young people like it once did.
A capitalism that is increasingly controlled by a minority of billionaires. A capitalism where the most powerful companies in the world aren’t even regulated and their technologies run free, creating chaos in the world without any consequences.
Don’t tell me Millennials are spoiled, lazy, entitled or unable to focus. They also live in the most addictive technology architecture of apps, video games and information ever created on Planet Earth.
The first to grow up on social media, the first to be digital natives in a social experiment called the Internet.
Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and AOC understand some of the issues facing young people today and the defects of capitalism and the dangers ahead.
But Millennials are for the most part at the mercy of a system where they cannot win.
Where the odds are so overwhelming some of them will lose so hard, they will take their own lives.
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