As July comes to a close, those still in the warm embrace of academia feel the first pangs of dread, because they know that summer isn’t long for this world. This feeling goes double for those, like myself, about to enter their senior years of college, because they know that this is their last summer vacation, probably ever. As the fall rushes to meet them, they slowly, but surely prepare for the autumn winds, and the harsh realities, that await them.
It’s no secret that they are about to enter the worst job market in modern history. It is also common knowledge that income inequality has risen to near cartoonish levels. More millennials will move back into their parents’ homes than into their own. And For those that aren’t, making ends meet will be a challenge. The jobs that are available are overwhelmingly part-time, and skyrocketing rent consumes what little money does make its way into millennials’ pockets.
All of this has led me to notice a trend among lifestyle pieces written for millennials. Publishers, which have taken to calling a second job a ‘side hustle,’ have begun offering tips to help millennials cultivate their second, and even third jobs.. This is not your father donating plasma for beer money; these are time-consuming moneymaking endeavors that have become necessary staples of the modern millennial’s financial diet.
The little brother of such articles is the helpful money-saving tip. I recently read one about cutting your own hair, and there are a litany of others that tell readers it’s fine, or even cool, to go without constitutive parts of what was considered the modern middle-class lifestyle. These articles have begun spinning poverty to make it palatable for a generation for whom a smartphone is marketed as a necessity, but a haircut as a luxury. I almost want to laugh, but only so I don’t cry.
If it is unclear what is happening, the middle class is disappearing, and we are witnessing the normalizing of a new reality for recent college graduates. This is the boots-on-the-ground experience for the millions of un- and underemployed young adults struggling in the job market post-2008. I’m surprised I haven’t seen Buzfeed’s “Twenty Top Tips for Dumpster Diving”, but I’ll hold my relief until the end of the decade, as to avoid celebrating prematurely.
I guess all of this is to say that I am surprised. I’ve been watching the news since 2008. I watched the crash, and the job market tank, and never quite recover. I’ve heard pundit after pundit and study after study relay my economic future to me with certainty and helpful graphics, but it was all very abstract. The survival tips are what woke me up. This wasn’t a prognosis, or worse, condescension by the old-guard of “real” adults; this was the real people living the situation, doing their best to figure out how to survive in a world that has little regard for their comfort and success.
However, here is one tip that we could take from our parents: get real. I’m not talking about giving up on our dreams or accepting our economic fate like a terminal diagnosis, but it is time to take seriously the idea that we will not live as our parents did, and that we should succeed where they failed in making a better world for the next generation.
So, in the future, I’d like to see some of the following from lifestyle websites, blogs and magazines (myself included). First, economics lessons. It is a common (and righteous) screed by millennials that personal finance is woefully under-covered in public schools, so I think it’s time for the “Top 10 Ways to Budget Effectively” to show up on my newsfeed.
Second, the focus on identity politics and social justice this decade is something not seen since the 60’s, and the intersectional bent that much of it takes is unprecedented in the best possible way, but it’s not enough. Identity doesn’t stop at home. Socioeconomic justice deserves its place on the dais of public attention.
Union membership has been shrinking for fifty years, and this affects minorities far more than it does their white counterparts. A black family is nearly three times as likely to be in poverty as a white one. It is evident to all of us that black lives matter, (or at least it should be) but black jobs matter too. When the slaves were freed at the end of the Civil War, it was believed that true social equality would not be achieved until economic equality had been achieved as well, and this is a credo we must all carry with us into the modern era.
As I prepare to be set upon by a world that doesn’t notice or care about me, I know that I am not alone. I know millennials are out there succeeding, and failing, and surviving and doing everything in between. I think those of us with a platform have a duty to share what we know, and take some responsibility for helping our generation thrive in spite of their hardships, and this is my very roundabout way of saying I want to.