I’m a millennial.
I’m a recent college graduate—no matter how much more established colleagues in their late twenties and early thirties say, “I know how hard it is to be a recent grad” or an MSNBC (or any other news network) panel of non-millennials (read: older white dudes who seem to be the sole media mouthpieces of the economy) discussing student debt blindly compare it with their generation, as if this is going to advance the conversation on how to solve this problem further, they have no idea what it is like to come of age and into adulthood during a triple dip recession in a country and culture that keeps being gnawed away by privatization and crisis capitalism.
A few weeks before I graduated, a statistic came out stating that more than fifty percent of recent college graduates were either unemployed or underemployed. But what does “employed” even mean these days? I’m employed—but I need to juggle multiple jobs and freelance gigs to make what begins to look like a salary, forget about benefits. I have friends that are employed full time with actual salaries—but their jobs wouldn’t even think about giving them any benefits. Does that make us underemployed? What the does underemployed even mean? I’m sure there is an official economic definition, but it still sounds like a phony excuse to me.
Millennials are frequently cited as demographic statistics in articles—but the young people who are forgoing health insurance because they don’t have any other choice or are teetering on the precipice of defaulting on their loans because they ignored Sallie Mae for too long are rarely acknowledged as being trapped in a new culture of precariousness.
Saving money for the future has become a hilarious joke.
I see a lot of my friends in my generation having serious problems abusing drugs—of all kinds—as a form of escapism that becomes an obsession. I see a lot of my generation working minimum wage jobs—kicking themselves for their college degrees that they were always told they were supposed to get along with enormous burdensome debt–because they are unable to break into a career in their field of study. Others of us are constantly hustling, juggling multiple jobs and trying to find ourselves a viable space in the brave new economy. We know that even though we are working our asses off—laughing at eight hour work days as we continue to our serial jobs once our first is over—any of these gigs could evaporate at any given moment.
Our role in the labor force is precarious in a way that changes how we think about the future. Most of our future plans logically have to prioritize work, but many of us have no idea whether or not we will have still have certain gigs. We don’t commit to anything. We rarely have much savings. It is impossible to make plans. It is difficult to answer “long term plan” questions in job interviews. My personal definition of “long term” is September—and yes, I have no idea where I will be then.
Still, I have a difficult time saying that it is “hard” to be a recent grad—there are so many who are in the same, or worse economic predicaments from all ages, that these conditions are too universally normal to call “hard” for one group more than others. What I personally would call it is divisive—whereas many others have been affected by the recession, we were somewhat born into it, and are constantly coming up with a whole new set of rules to navigate what makes up the new “normal.”
It makes it difficult to take advice from older generations who do not realize what it is like to have this economic climate as the starting point of our careers. My father always tells me that my uncle used to say, “If you don’t like your job, quit.” My uncle clearly wasn’t living in 2012 in a double/triple dip recession that just keeps on dipping.
It is also difficult to know what standards we should hold for ourselves—how can you demand more when you are told that you should be grateful for anything and know that you are the last ones hired and the first ones fired? How do we know how long to put up with certain conditions—sexual harassment, late pay, expectations to be on call and responding to e-mails around the clock—before our need for sanity outweighs our need for economic livelihood? How do we convey that we are trying our hardest?
In addition to all of this, how do we talk about our place in the economy with each other? With so many of us coping with the same conditions in different ways, it seems insensitive to talk about the trials and tribulations of the workday with unemployed friends, roommates and partners. But when you work sixteen hour days regularly, what else do you have to talk about? Does it affect a relationship if one partner is struggling and another is not? How do we overcome this? (Can we?)
Our current economic climate is creating individualistic competition and exhaustion—as well as massive depression and drug addiction. In addition to being an economic crisis, it is also a psychological and existential crisis. If you think this is a dramatic statement, look at the suicides committed over student loan debt and joblessness.
However, as society is structured right now this is only going to be further institutionalized as the new and unshakable reality of living and working—or not working–in the twenty-first century. It’s not just the statistics of capitalism gone awry—it’s a whole generation that is characterized by the social and psychological effects of wild, unabated capitalism and privatization. It’s a feeling of worthlessness and defeat at the foot of this machine. It’s depression and escapism and refusal to confront the world. It’s suicides—more and more of them. It’s the sick desperation of scrambling for jobs that aren’t even that good. It’s knowing that this is not “the way things are” but that the “way things are” is rigged for profits and the beneficiaries of income inequality. It’s knowing that these beneficiaries were bailed out, and that this was at our expense.
Occupy Wall Street may have lost momentum as a movement. There may be no more camps or massive rallies, or echoes throughout downtown Manhattan. But its demands are never out of style—we need economic justice for our survival and we need it now.