(Clinton, KY) - As we were driving back from Louisville last weekend, Ivan began reading an article in Washington Monthly to me. He stopped reading somewhere around Beaver Dam (that's halfway home to those of you unfamiliar with the joys of the West Kentucky Parkway). I was not sorry. We were both totally bummed out by the sad situation described by Monica Potts in "The Post-Ownership Society."
As Baby Boomers (notice I capitalize those words) we believed that our lives were worse than our parents. Yes, yes, they did have That War. But they got to be called The Greatest Generation after it was over. We had the Vietnam War that gleaned us no accolades. We divided ourselves into for it and against it. Eventually the "against it" faction prevailed but not before thousands of young men died in Southeast Asia.
Great piles of us hit the education system all at the same time. Somehow, adults made us feel like it was our fault that classrooms were overcrowded and teachers overworked.
Those of us who went on to higher education found more of the same. My first year at Eastern, I slept in the top bunk and shared a room smaller than a closet with two other women. Then, of course, when we graduated, we graduated in huge waves. Those who listened to their teachers complain about overcrowding went into education. But, as luck would have it, by the time we got our teaching degrees, the wave had passed. There were too many of us for the jobs that needed to be filled.
Because many of our elders had fixed retirement plans (read here: 401-K plans did not exist), they left the job market in a timely fashion and we were eventually able to take their places. Thus began one of the affluent periods in American history. Those who didn't go to college went into the labor market and built stuff. The baby boomers had jobs, money to spend and spend we did. We bought houses and cars and took vacations. We had babies - but fewer than our parents did. We could lavish time and attention on the offspring we had. Ah, life was good.
Fast forward to the lives of the Millennials as described by Ms. Potts: no houses, no cars, no steady jobs. Millennials, the generation born in the decades around the turn of the century, are the grandchildren and the children of the late Boomers. Their lives are on their smart phones. Need a car? Call Zipcar and share one. Need a ride? Call Lyft or Uber. Hungry? There's a smart phone app lets you send an emoji that will send a message to a pizza chain that you are hungry.
Potts says "Before we get too excited about all the low-cost goods and services our generation can summon with an app, we need to understand that even these features of the "sharing economy" are making some people above us very rich while we become a generation that owns virtually nothing."
In addition to owning virtually nothing, Potts' generation will have the largest education bill in history - all of it nondischargeable in bankruptcy because Congress allowed banks to get into the student loan business using the veil of the federal government to protect them from discharge. Student loans will follow them into their retirement years if nothing changes.
Their jobs are now are "gigs" as they shunt from one assignment to the next. They are not employed as much as they are used. For those who have jobs, especially in the South, they work for less than Mom and Dad did at their age. Boomers and Gen X'ers are not retiring in a timely fashion (unless they have a fixed retirement plan) which means young people stand in line longer to take their places.
The generation we and our children raised to think that they deserve a medal for every race they entered now find
themselves one of a herd. Disposable. Exchangeable. Fungible.
They may be the best educated of us all, but they vote in smaller numbers which makes their influence smaller. Their last revolt - Occupy Wall Street - ended in a wheeze. Protest is virtual. Start an online petition! Sign up, join in the fight. Feel the power of your finger on the app.
It makes me tired for them. It makes me glad I'm a boomer. Because right now in 2015 - it sucks to be a Millennial.