Monday, May 6, 2013

Today's America and the Millennial Generation

I'm back again! Hopefully, this will be a growing trend and I'd like to see more of you drop by and leave comments.

There is this idea, a prevailing promise made by those of us who are older to those who are younger that "you will do better than us, we will give you a life that we were only able to dream of when we were your age." The idea that each generation will be richer, healthier, longer lived, and better off than the previous one was. Yet here in 2013, we find ourselves confronted with some VERY nasty truths: We will NOT be richer, we are NOT healthier, we will NOT live longer, and we will not be better off than our elders. This is a rough time to be young, specifically, a millennial. There's a lot of people asking what happened, why this is happening, and who we we blame? As the saying goes, the truth...is a hard thing to swallow.

Millenials in the age of outsourcing

For anyone born through from 1980-2000, the concept of outsourcing isn't a foreign concept: Labor is too expensive here in the states, so we contract it out to other countries that will charge significantly less to do the same work at a similar level of quality (hopefully).This migration of low paying jobs put a lot of the older generation out of work and they did what anyone else would do in that situation; look for a new place to work or retrain to work in a different field. A lot of unskilled entry level labor jobs are now either outsourced or automated, the IT field is a great example. These entry level jobs used to be a way for the unskilled to enter a field, you do your time as a peon, build your knowledge and skills and you can move up to a better position. However, with the majority of those jobs gone, only the highly educated jobs remain. Everyone wants them, but there are two problems: 1) companies not only want education, but also experience 2) there's only so many positions available. So how is some with a master's degree in computer science and no practical job experience supposed to compete against someone with 15 years of experience in the field and an associate's degree? No idea.

Health and longevity

There has been a fundamental shift in the way the world works of the last 50 years. After The depression era ended and WW2 was finished, there was HUGE boom in business. Many intelligent people began to create companies that would change the landscape of food forever. With the popularization of fast food in the 60's and 70's, cooking at home slowly became a thing of the past. Why spend an hour making a meatloaf when you can pick up a Burger and fries from McDonalds in 3-5 min? So we have a generation of people raised on fast food, but the fist food from the 60's was healthier than today's fast food because in the late 60's early 70's sugar was expensive, so it was used sparingly. But in the late 70's the sugar prices rose sharply and an alternative was found and implemented: High Fructose Corn Syrup. For reasons slightly beyond my understanding, this sweetener is bad for us and when consumed in high quantities increases health risks by huge percentages. Those who grew up in the 60's and 70's remained healthy mostly because they still cooked at home from time to time and they had healthy food growing up. However, Millennials were raised on fast food. Through the 80's and 90's as various diet fads took hold, the HFCS content was upped to make up for the poor taste of fat free foods and the like. This created in us a huge addiction to sweets, we were raised on the stuff. So, we ate and ate because mom and dad both work and don't have time to fix dinner. The damage is done. We are addicted to the stuff and our health is affected too. The best we can do is try and reduce the damage to our health this material has done. How? Learn to cook. Learn to make foods that don't come in a box marked "instant". Learn to make your own pasta, your own pizzas (not healthy, but still better than the alternative), your own fruit juices. This addiction to sweets has shortened our lives and we can not change that, what we can do is teach OUR children that fast food is a treat, something to be consumed in moderation.

Where my generation went wrong

We made a mistake. We don't want to admit it, but we did. We are probably one of the larger (if not largest) generation of "liberal arts" majors. Why? We do what we love, we are exploring and pushing culture to its limits and we enjoy every moment of it. Problem is, culture doesn't earn you anything unless you're ultra gifted. We all want to be the next Yo-Yo Ma, the next F. Scott Fitzgerald, the next Andy Warhol, but those people are unique and so few of us have that quality and no matter how hard we wish it, it won't appear there. I, myself, am a musician, I thought oh, I'll be a music teacher and move my way up to getting bigger money on the professional level. Well, more and more I find myself wondering if I made the right choice, will I ever get a job that will pay me more than $50,000/yr? Chances are, no, I will not, but the can-do attitude instilled in my by parents, teachers, and mentors make me believe that if I work myself to the bone, then I can can earn as much or more than an entry level petroleum engineer (about 75-80K/yr). Too many of us are convinced that even though we're unemployable, we can still find a way to get our money's worth from our diploma. Some will (Doug Walker from thatguywiththeglasses.com is a great example), and some won't. I think its time we collectively said "it was good while it lasted, but now we need to fix this."

The blame game

Everyone wants to find who's to blame, but the problem is there's not just one source. I've read many arguments that go all sorts of directions and what I've been able to piece together is this. The Millennials are to blame for their lack of work ethic concerning finding a new path. If you've got a degree in English and haven't gotten yourself into an actual career 5 years after you've graduated, then its time to go to community college and get an associates degree in something more practical. Baby boomers and Gen-X, you each get a slice of the blame for different reasons. Baby boomers, you preached and preached that it was all about education, get education, get a PhD, they'll hire you then! That isn't the case. Education is helpful, but what we really needed to be told is "don't go into liberal arts, get a degree in something that will allow you to be productive and stick with it." Gen-X...by far the most self centered generation ever, the message of your generation was "screw everybody else I'm gonna get what I want". I see it in your children, the self serving attitude, the greed, the lack of empathy for others. It has served you well because those of you who weren't above trying to stick it to "the man" got an education and used that ruthlessness to obtain a fair amount of wealth. However, you never learned that if you hog all the toys, then the other kids are gonna get mad. My generation has had to learn "to make do with what we have" but we're still trying to understand "why you need so much when all you do is hold onto it?" To both the boomers and the X's, you've set up a world filled with distractions; shiny objects and electronics that we grew up with. It was the environment YOU gave us that made us what we are, we didn't invent the cell phone, smart phone, the MP3 player, or the laptop, we were given these things to keep us occupied because mommy and daddy didn't want to put up with raising us. We are products of our upbringing. Now, I've bagged a LOT on the older people, I want to point out that we, Millennials, still have a share of the blame. I mentioned we need to change our work ethic and I mean it. I have seen too many of us content to live at home with our parents while skating by on part time jobs and it has to change. We may not have been given the best work ethic around, but with some effort we can work together to get ourselves out of our situation. Again, Doug Walker is a great reference, he turned his "Nostalgia Critic" review into a business and has over a dozen contract employees. We don't have the money to buy nice things, we don't have the skill to get the high paying jobs, but we DO have creativity and that's a good quality to have when you try and open your own business.

Where do we go from here?

Well, its already established that the current generation will never have the income or earning power that our predecessors had, but we will do what we've always done. We make do with what we have. There no use in bemoaning our place or regretting the past, its done and its time to move on. I want this generation to be the one that is faced with an insurmountable challenge, and fights it, and overcomes it. We're entering an age where new markets are emerging alongside new frontiers and we are there to capitalize on it, not just financially, but culturally as well. Don't be afraid to step outside your shell and learn new skills and take a new job, you never know when it might just pay off.


As a closing note, I wanted to write this because I have read some articles about what is going on in my generation and it made me think and reconsider my own situation. I've linked two of these articles below:

http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2012/11/hipsters_on_food_stamps.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/31/magazine/do-millennials-stand-a-chance-in-the-real-world.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Join me next week for a new article, but in the meantime, please comment on it, like it, share it on FB, +1 it, and all that jazz.