Tonawanda News

December 1, 2013

DUVALL: Taking stock of the millennial generation

By Eric DuVall
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — The holidays are upon us. The dead sprint to 2014 is on — and with it comes the obligatory taking of stock in another year, if only because over the next month we’re all forced to have an answer prepared for “how have you been?” while catching up with all the people you only see this time of year.

It’s also an opportunity to step back and take stock of the larger picture. As a thirty-something professional I take great interest in pondering the fate of my generation, the millennials.

We’re defined as those born after 1980. (I was born in 1982.) And an honest accounting would reveal things aren’t too great for people my age.

Still, looking around at my contemporaries I’m incredibly excited for what’s to come. 

First, let’s toss out the terrible “damn kids” argument every generation makes about the newest generation. Millennials are no more selfish, self-absorbed, naive or reckless than any other generation.

To the contrary, statistically speaking we’re the most educated generation in American history. We hold more college degrees by percentage than any other. And while the student loan debt associated with that is a major factor in our lives, we should focus first on what that means for society.

I find most people my age to be more open-minded and engaged than other generations. We read and write obsessively on the Internet. Sure, much of that reading and writing is what-I-had-for-breakfast social media drivel, but communication and engagement with the world writ large isn’t a problem for us.

Our commitment to technological advancement is driving a marketplace of ideas — and commodities — that has made the world a better place. Older generations might scoff at Twitter but it’s a force to be reckoned with in the new millennium. No medium before it so quickly toppled dictators in the history of mankind.

I also find young people today to be incredibly compassionate. The old talking heads in Washington could learn a thing or two from young people. Our politics, while certainly not easily defined, isn’t of the winner-take-all variety. Certainly I can get into a heated argument with conservative friends but there’s a shared sense of purpose behind those arguments with other millennials that’s lacking in our nation’s larger discourse. 

I get the sense we’re learning by (bad) example right now and when the torch is passed to a new generation — when it comes our turn to lead — things won’t be quite as bad in Washington. Here’s hoping, anyway.

But for all the promise there are headwinds preventing us from asserting ourselves in ways generations before us enjoyed when they were at our station in life.

The Great Recession has hit my age group harder than any other. Older workers aren’t retiring, businesses still aren’t hiring and when they do they give out fewer — if any — significant raises.

Most friends I know have had to make sacrifices our parents largely didn’t. A quick survey of my friends shows married couples struggling to make ends meet. Lots of us work more than one job. We face debt in staggering amounts, some a result of the cheap credit tossed around when we were in our early 20s but most of it from college loans that won’t be paid off for another decade.

The housing crash means home ownership rates are down and many of us instead rent, money lost to the ether instead of being put to use building the kind of equity that will be of service as our working lifespan trudges toward retirement.

There’s a flip side to that, too. Thanks to the absence of alluring mortgages in suburban American, millennials are driving an urban renewal in the nation’s cities, making for dynamic population centers where youth is a unifying force.

So, yes, there are problems. But by and large I’m excited to think about how the larger picture framing this American life is shaping up.

My 20-year-old self would be aghast at this aging sentiment, but it’s is a good time to be 30 in America.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com or follow him on Twitter, @EricRDuVall.