The Kids Are Actually Sort of Alright: A Response to the NY Mag Feature

New York Magazine recently did a feature on our generation, titled “The Kids Are Actually Sort of Alright,” and it couldn’t have been more spot on. The article was one of the first of its kind actually written by a Millennial, an important fact considering how many pieces are written about our generation by baby boomers and gen-xers.

“My screwed, coddled, self-absorbed, mocked, surprisingly resilient generation,”describes Noreen Malone. She paints Millennials in varying unique, truthful perspectives without making assumptions, trying to categorize us or compare us against the generations before ours. She takes our generation and discusses why we are the way we are by delving into the history and possible explanations for how we ended up in our current situation, instead of putting blame directly on the economy or our parents.

One of the main points the article (an argument I’ve been trying to get across through many articles), is we are a generation unable to be summed up in one phrase or expression, while also stating, “Ours isn’t a generation that will give you just one adjective to sum up our hurt.” We all know we’ve received the short end of the stick, we know despite our parents’ efforts that we might not be better off than they are in the long-run. We also know that regardless of all of this, we will struggle through it, whether it’s working long hours at two jobs, moving back in with the ‘rents to save some cash, or putting off our ideal careers for a couple more years.

Malone brilliantly states, “It might be hard, in fact, to create a generation more metaphysically ill-equipped to adjust to this new tough-shit world. Yet some of us, somehow, are dealing pretty well.” We all know the facts: Nearly 14% of college graduates from the classes of 2006-2010 can’t find full-time work, and overall, only 55.3% of people aged 16-29 have jobs.

Almost a quarter of people aged 25-34 are living with their parents. Student loans have just hit a record high, averaging $25,000 per student as of 2010, and have just passed credit cards as the nation’s largest source of debt. Oh, good. Are we surprised though? I’m certainly not.

We are more educated than any generation before us, budding with entrepreneurship skills, with astoundingly high adaption to any kind social media because of our digital savviness, and we’re beginning to learn that in order to have a job, we may have to create one.

Malone has a few theories about our generation and sheds some new light on why Millennials remain in the state we’re in. “Our generation is the product of two long-term social experiments conducted by our parents,” she says. “The first sought to create little hyperachievers encouraged to explore our interests and talents so long as that could be spun for maximum effect on a college application.” You all remember this, right? Sophomore or Junior year comes around and we all start joining clubs, doing every extra-curricular activity public school offers, straining our eyes to comprehend all the AP class readings we could fathom, while waking up hungover to attend SAT prep on Saturday mornings.

The second social experiment is, “Our parents tried to see how much self-confidence they could pack into us, like so many overstuffed microfiber love seats, and accordingly we were awarded clip-art certificates of participation just for showing up.” Sound familiar? Since we learned to walk, our parents constantly told us how great a job we were doing at everything, even if we knew we sucked at it. Granted, positive encouragement is never a bad thing, but people wonder why we are “self-centered and convinced of our specialness,” and that may be why.

Malone explains, “Self-esteem among young people in America has been rising since the seventies, but now it’s so dramatically high that social scientists are considering whether they need to find a different measurement system–we’ve broken the scale. Since we are all in fact not perfect, this means the endless praise we got growing up, win or lose, must have really sunk in.”

It’s hard not to agree with this, although many Millennials have gotten some severe reality checks in recent years. Whether it was the day they moved back into their old room at their parents house, took on a waitressing or barista job to make ends meet, or went directly back to grad school in order to buy themselves a bit more time until the economy got better, I think it’s safe to say that although we might have grown up with high self-esteem, we’ve quickly learned it’s not doing much for us now. This could also explain Malone’s theory about our generation being so resilient, despite the feature’s headline, “It sucks to be us.”

Malone also touches on Millennials changing the world and doing something productive, with power in numbers. Mentioning the Arab Spring and the beginning of the Occupy Wall Street Protests, which have recently made huge impacts across our nation, Malone says, “What’s not clear is what exactly [the future] might look like. It’s not that this is a generation that doesn’t want to improve the world–been to a college fair lately?–but ours is a fractured involvement.” And it may seem so right now, but did you see what the young participants of the Arab Spring got accomplished? It’s only a matter of time before the OWS protests make something big happen.

Still, to compare us with the generations before us, especially in this aspect, is just silly. Unlike our parents and grandparents who were able to settle down, start families young and have the chance to be a stay at home parent or wait a few years before starting work again, millennials can’t afford to take any time off, if we’re even that lucky to get a job in the first place. Hence our ability to camp in the nearest city center.

The last thing Malone discusses is the widely-received notion that this generation will be the first of its kind that will be worse off than the one preceding it.  A Pew Research study showed 90% of Millennials believe we will have enough money to reach our long-term financial goals. “We’re more hopeful on that front, in fact, than we were before the recession,” she reports. Time will have to tell, of course, but one thing is definitely certain– we are culturally better off than any generation before us.

Summing up the seven-page article with, “Even as we hold out hope that something will reverse the trajectory, we are managing our decline, we are making do.” And if we really did have to sum up our generation with one phrase, that would be pretty damn close.

So what do you all think? Will our generation be actually sort of alright?

Lexis Galloway Recent Suffolk University graduate and current Cambridge resident, I'm an aspiring journalist/novel writer and I can't live without coffee and my macbook. Oh, and I'm also TNGG's Current Events Editor and writer for TNGG Boston. @lexgalloway

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