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The Kids Are All Right
Being a young American today can be discouraging. Things don't look so good for us, even since Bush left office, leaving behind an awful lot of cleaning up for us “Millennials” to do.
BusinessWeek dubbed us a "lost generation," because 18 percent of us can't find work. Those who can are paid less than our counterparts were in earlier decades, and many college grads among us are saddled with thousands of dollars in loans. If the Obama administration’s proposal to federalize and reduce the student loan burden goes through (a big if), that’s a start. But with more than $50,000 in college debt (and that's on the low end), I can confirm it will be a while before I have the cash to buy a home, invest in a retirement fund, or even start a family. Heck, I can barely afford to go home for Christmas.
Our predecessors deregulated industry, thoughtfully ensuring that our food and water aren't as safe as they should be. Of course, in 2007, 13.2 million of us under 35 didn't have health care so there's little to be done if we get sick. Since the Baby Boomers and the oldest Generation Xers refused to seriously research alternative energy, we inherited a nasty oil addiction that led politicians to send thousands of my cohorts to fight an unwinnable war in Iraq.
Meanwhile, it looks like those in charge are making more than ever, even in these pinched days. They also say we’re not really mad, and that we’ll go right on taking it like workers have for decades. They'll make a glib reference to Facebook or Twitter before lamenting how nobody today protests like they used to. Then they smugly destroy a few more acres of rain forest.
The derision isn't universal—after all, I'm talking about our parents, professors, and employers. A recent Wall Street Journal article observed that Baby Boomers encouraged us, their children, to negotiate, to achieve, to be conciliatory, and to think of ourselves as winners. But, perhaps unconsciously, the policies they shaped have us poised to lose.
So guess what? We aren't taking it anymore. People under 35 are harnessing technology and willpower, just as previous generations did, to achieve amazing things. We're crowdsourcing, not outsourcing. We're creating open-source software and outreach programs to level the digital divide. We organize through social networks and text-message donations. Few of us have seen the movie Network, but we're still raising our virtual window-sashes and yelling to the whole world that we're mad as hell.
The best part is that we're taking our upbringing to heart, but not in the way you think. We trend progressive—even the conservatives among us are easygoing when it comes to social issues like gay marriage and the environment. You older folks call us the "trophy generation" because you see us as entitled, but maybe we just want to make sure everybody wins.
Millennials are starting to take charge, and we're acting together. This lost generation is finding itself, and when I see what my peers are accomplishing, I start thinking we'll be just fine.