(image by David Eyestone, used with permission.)
I view the Millenial perspective as especially urgent this election year.
As the parent of two Millenials, what they see makes me sad.
They are still fresh enough to see the discrepancies between what they are being told and how they are actually living, and they still care enough to take it personally.
They don’t believe what older generations are saying about America, specifically the following points:
1) America is the greatest nation on earth.
I remember the night Obama was elected for his first term. My kids were crying with joy, and my daughter said, ” Mom, tonight America lived up to the hype!” Whether one agreed with the results that election night or not, all came together to do something historic. France said, ” This is the America we love!”
Since that time, I’ve lost count of the number of times my children have seen the entire government shut down due to Congressional petty politics. We have been at war their whole lives. This generation has no reason to have faith in their government, charged with running the country.
More importantly, these kids understand how interrelated and interdependent every country on earth is, and feel they are citizens of the world. They will not buy into the us versus them mentality.
They know social security, job security, and perhaps a middle- class existence will not be there for them. They understand they will have to hustle their whole lives, and stand out in every way from the pack. There is a reason for their drive to be famous, to be a brand, instantly recognizable.
2) We are the land of opportunity.
Not for them. A large number of them are working minimum wages, after shouldering mountains of debt to get the college educations they were told would assure their futures, and from their perspective, no one seems to care if they can live on that wage or ever pay off the debt.
In fact, Congress declined to lower the interest rates for college loans, and minimum wage has been nothing more than an election year hot potato.
Employment figures include any job; so yes, my daughter, who graduated with a Fashion Merchandising Degree, with a minor in business, is employed– but she works at DSW for $9 an hour, which is two dollars more than most local retail stores pay. So with a college degree in her field, she is worse off than if she had skipped college and gone to work in a retail store straight out of high school.
Ditto for her friends. One worked for free in an internship for two years until finally getting a job, with sizable debt to pay off. Another left the country.
Increasingly the land of opportunity is someplace other than America, for these graduates.
It really hurts me to see that some in this generation believe they are a permanent underclass, with diminishing chances of rising. That may seem very fatalistic, but how does a person making $8 an hour plan or invest for their future? No one is saying social security or Medicaid will be there for this generation, not even the politicians. No one is talking to or about this generation at all.
I know the results for graduates of Ivy League schools are very different, but most people don’t go to Ivy League schools. Perhaps even more importantly, this generation wants to be out in the world, and feel a part of it. They aren’t afraid of places they’ve never been.
3) America is the safest nation on earth.
For whom? This generation was in elementary school or younger on 9/11. Safe, impregnable America does not exist for them.
While we may deny, our children have been watching. We keep talking about our enemies over there. We are more likely to be hurt by our fellow countrymen then anybody over there.
How many mass shootings have there been just since Sandy Hook? This isn’t a political piece about guns or mental health; it’s about our children, and so, it’s about both guns and mental health. What do these young people see being done about these two huge looming issues? Nothing. What we do is less important, than our willingness to do something.
4) You are the hope of the future. We want to hear your voice!
I don’t know if it was coincidence, ” election fraud reform”, or something else, but both of my kids, who were in college, attempted to vote in the last election and were turned away. Both, like very many college students, were going to college in cities other than the city they were born. They had their voter registration and their IDs, and were told “You must drive back to the county where you registered to vote.”
We vote on a Tuesday, and classes are held the next day. If the voice of young America matters, why not make voting day a student holiday, so they can get to where they need to be to vote?
We want to teach this generation so many things: the value of a work ethic, actual face- to face conversations, independence, simply being happy in one’s own company, and yes, how to get out of their parents’ basements!
But perhaps the student is also the teacher. There have been tectonic shifts in our world, and it is we who need help adapting.