As the new academic year begins, many college students either have just started or are beginning to settle into the fall semester, and others are preparing to return to campus for another academic year. The majority of these students are referred to as millennials (or generation Y). From Lena Dunham to Rihanna to Mark Zuckerberg to Meghan McCain, they are a group of 20-somethings who have been a hot topic of conversation in the media and all avenues of society. Like previous generations before them, millennials have been pegged with various descriptions, some positive, others negative. The most recent accusation being leveled against this group is that they feel "entitled."
As a person who teaches many students in this age demographic, I can readily attest to the fact that there are indeed a number of young people who have a sense of entitlement.That being said, such self-absorbing behavior is no more commonplace among millennials than it is among any other age group. It seems that it is trendy or hip to tag certain generations with labels. For baby boomers, terms such as "selfish" and "indulgent" were commonly used. "Slackers" and "narcissistic" were labels deeply etched into the minds of many Americans when they thought of generation X. The fact is that generational characterization is nothing new.
I would argue that millennials have been the victim of circumstances that have treated them poorly as they have reached young adulthood and their post-college years. The economy has been less than kind to them. Many of them are working several jobs while attending college. Indeed, for many in this age group, it has not been uncommon to go without a full-time job for years. Some are nearing 30 years old and have not even landed that first, entry-level job. This fact itself is alarming.
When those of us of previous generations graduated from college, many of us could not wait to enter the work world (in my case, I went to graduate school) and establish our own identities, purchase our own goods, and, for some of us, do some good in the world. At the very least, we relished the prospect of living on our own. Many of us in previous generations were able to do so.
For many millennials, the current state of the economy has made such a level of independence difficult, if not outright impossible. The reason that many generation Y adults are living at home with Mom and Dad is that unemployment or underemployment, coupled with the minimum-wage jobs that they have disproportionately inhabited by default, do not provide wages ample enough to make renting a decent apartment or putting a down payment on a home possible. Needless to say, this makes future plans such as marriage, starting families, and other potential prospects a remote reality at best. Moreover, we can only imagine those young people who have become so frustrated and demoralized that they have stopped looking for work. If anything, millennials are a stressed-out generation. There have been a plethora of stories detailing the high level of depression and anxiety that is rampant among this age demographic.
What makes the situation for millennials so much more acute is the fact that, unlike other groups, many millennials (though not all) have not been able to break into the mainstream workforce at the level that previous generations have been able to do so. As a result, they are in danger of having little if any decent amount of health insurance, Social Security, savings for retirement or other benefits that used to be a rite of passage for previous generations of Americans. This is a chilling situation that must be addressed with a frantic degree of urgency.