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Yes, Millennials Really Are That Screwed

Intelligencer logo Intelligencer 5/27/2020 Sarah Jones
a group of people standing in front of a crowd: They were right. Spencer Platt/Getty Images © Spencer Platt/Getty Images They were right. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Ah, homeownership! I pass many a wistful hour on Zillow trying to imagine the possibilities. Alas, I can more easily picture myself leading a left-wing militia into battle than I can see myself buying a house — and data suggests this isn’t just because I made a series of questionable life choices. Millennials, as a generation, are lavishly screwed. More screwed than Gen X, more screwed than the boomers, more screwed than the Silent Generation, God rest ’em. But don’t take my word for it! Read the Washington Post. Adjust for the pandemic, and millennials, a new analysis concludes, have “experienced slower economic growth since entering the workforce than any other generation in U.S. history.”

The U.S. has survived other serious economic downturns. But millennials are on track to endure two, both within the first two decades of adulthood. That means lower rates of homeownership, higher debt burdens, delayed families, and overall despair. Older millennials, who became adults in the early 2000s, may experience a particularly acute case of déjà vu. “One brutal month of the coronavirus set the labor market back to the turn of the millennium,” the Post continued. “The last time there were about 131 million jobs was January 2000.”

The pandemic’s job losses also hit millennials at a disproportionately high rate. Though you wouldn’t necessarily know it from all the headlines about feckless young snowflakes, the oldest millennials are nearly 40 years old, and the Post says that, as of 2019, the cohort had become “the largest generation in the U.S. full-time workforce, surpassing Gen X.” But reality bites. Post-coronavirus, our generational older siblings may soon be back on top, possibly occupying the largest share of the U.S. workforce in the absence of millennial workers.

Millennials may never catch up with older cohorts. This is something lawmakers could change if they wanted. The same way today’s mass unemployment is a policy decision, not a natural consequence of the pandemic, so too is millennial suffering. But both major parties seem to lag behind the needs of the time. On the right, Republicans champion ethnonationalism in tandem with welfare cuts. On the left — or, more accurately, the center — Democrats suffer from an unfocused identity and unclear priorities. A wide gap separates the party’s most left-wing members from the moderates who occupy leadership, and as the pandemic drags on, that translates to slow or nonexistent progress on progressive issues, like the cancellation of student-loan debt. That’s not a recipe for high youth enthusiasm.

So far, neither is the presidential candidacy of Joe Biden. Young voters don’t like him. In March, voters under 45 still backed Bernie Sanders by a comfortable margin, NBC News reported, and in April, a CNN analysis of five major polls found that Biden ran, on average, about ten points behind Hillary Clinton’s 2016 numbers with voters under 34. The antipathy appeared mutual. “The younger generation now tells me how tough things are. Give me a break. No, no. I have no empathy for it. Give me a break,” he said in 2018. “Because here’s the deal, guys: We decided we were gonna change the world. And we did. We did. We finished the civil-rights movement in the first stage. The women’s movement came to be.” Two years later, his youth outreach is both lackluster and, well, odd. On May 26, the candidate announced a new youth coalition, which appears vaguely baseball themed:

But even in 2018, when Biden was still just a prospective candidate and not the presumptive nominee, millennials needed more than sturdy bootstraps. The insufficiency of such rhetoric is even more obvious now. The radically redistributive vision that younger Democrats tend to prefer might look foolish to Biden, who says he won’t move on issues like Medicare for All. But consider the preferences of young Democrats against the circumstances the young occupy at large, and their progressive dreams look markedly pragmatic. Young voters are living through an unprecedented catastrophe. The consequences will be felt for decades — and demand policy solutions that match them for scale.

Barring that, there’s always my militia.

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