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Privilege, Luck And Hard Work Brighten Prospects For Some, But Not All, Millennials

A millenial  holds a ball and chain representing his college loan debt, during a protest in Washington, D. C. Two-thirds of college graduates aged 30 and under finished school with loan debt averaging $21,000. (Jacquelyn Martin, AP)
A millenial holds a ball and chain representing his college loan debt, during a protest in Washington, D. C. Two-thirds of college graduates aged 30 and under finished school with loan debt averaging $21,000. (Jacquelyn Martin, AP)
This article is more than 5 years old.

As a millennial, I had it easier than others. My parents were able to buy a house in a Boston suburb with exceptional public schools. I studied under highly skilled teachers and eventually attended a private university on an academic scholarship that sliced my annual tuition in half. Within the same year that I received my degree, I had a job, a shared apartment and a manageable payment plan for my student loans.

Millennials who have gotten relatively lucky in the post-recession economy shouldn’t be leading a discussion about upward mobility and financial solvency for an entire generation.

Did I work hard to achieve all that? Sure. But I couldn’t have done it without the financial and emotional support of my parents. Simply put, I picked a winning number in the birth lottery.

Compared to the more common tribulations of the millennial generation — a generation coming of age during a catastrophic period of income inequality — my own relatively cushy experiences as an emerging young professional should not be considered normal. The only life advice I would consider myself qualified to offer my entire generation would be “try to avoid getting killed.”

So when WBUR recently published a post titled “Grow Up, Millennials — And Stop Taking Money From Mom And Dad,” I assumed the author to be a Baby Boomer or a Generation X’er, projecting her own economic uncertainties upon today’s young adults. In fact, the author is one of those young adults, a fellow millennial. And her apparent lack of generational empathy is deeply disturbing.

Here are some facts that any millennials penning wisdom pieces aimed at their generation would do well to remember. As of 2014, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has placed America’s total outstanding student loan debt at $1.1 trillion. That breaks down to roughly $21,000 for the average college graduate aged 30 and under. Adding insult to injury, the London School of Economics recently revealed that in America, the wealthiest 160,000 families now own as much wealth as the poorest 145 million families.

Naturally, with this kind of disparity cleaving our country in two, any kind of financial advice one millennial offers to another could hit innumerable nerves. But for those of us who have led relatively comfortable lives, who currently have jobs that pay living wages and families that are there to help if the job ever goes away, it is completely inexcusable — not to mention, insulting — to presume equivalency between our struggles and the broader, more alarming struggles of our increasingly underemployed, indebted generation.

...from one privileged millennial to a few others, I offer a sincere plea: Look beyond your own experience. Remember that millions of your fellow young adults are desperately trying to stay afloat.

Let’s take that argument one step further: Millennials who have gotten relatively lucky in the post-recession economy shouldn’t be leading a discussion about upward mobility and financial solvency for an entire generation. This conversation needs to begin at the bottom of the economic ladder and go up from there, because, after all, those of us closer to the top have made it already, haven’t we? [tweettext]
Aside from a particularly noxious dose of humblebraggery, what could sharing enviable success stories possibly offer at this point?[/tweettext]

Unfortunately, the few entry-level jobs left in American news media are commonly earned through unpaid internships. This means that those millennials with the power and resources to lead this important discussion in print, on the air and across the web, are more than likely going to come from well-off families, perpetuating the solidarity deficit displayed by the author of Cognoscenti's recent post.

So to 2014’s newest crop of journalists and opinion makers, from one privileged millennial to a few others, I offer a sincere plea: Look beyond your own experience. Remember that millions of your fellow young adults are desperately trying to stay afloat. Instead of whitewashing the growing masses of less fortunate millennials from the national conversation about our generation, find them, make contact and bring them into the spotlight for a change.

The rest of us have been hogging it for far too long.


Related:

Amory Sivertson: Grow Up, Millennials — And Stop Taking Money From Mom And Dad

Miles Howard Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Miles Howard is a freelance writer who covers culture, travel and transformational politics.

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