From February to May of this year, nearly 5 million millennials lost their jobs,
the Wall Street Journal reported recently. Older folks didn't get off unscathed, but their job loss numbers are not nearly as dire. And these latest losses come just a little over a decade after millennials were the generation hurt the worst by the Great Recession of 2008-2009
. As young adults just starting our working years, we were first on the chopping block when companies had to downsize; many of us spent months or years without jobs at all. That created an earnings penalty from which we still have not recovered -- and likely never will.
For millennials like myself, the only hope for real change is to elect people who are a part of our generation, but we have been largely cut out of an American political process that does not represent us. The oldest millennials are turning 39 this year, if you use the Pew Research Center's definition (anyone born between 1981-1997), or 38, if you use the Census Bureau's (anyone born between 1982-2000 )
, and yet there is not a single millennial in the US Senate. The same was not true for Baby Boomers, many of whom were elected in their 30s, including Russ Feingold, John E. Sununu, Don Nickles and Rick Santorum. Joe Biden, a member of the Silent Generation, was 30 when he became a senator. While millennials made some gains in the House in the 2018 primary, they're still shockingly under-represented: millennials, who make up 22%
of the US population and now outnumber Baby Boomers, went from 1% of House members to 6%.
Tellingly, those millennial members of Congress have still had significant influence, prioritizing the type of ambitious progressive legislation that matters most to young people. They've taken on our most pressing problems: soaring health care costs (we pay twice as much for health care
as boomers did when they were young adults), shameful lack of childcare, skyrocketing student debt, lack of affordable housing, our warming and increasingly uninhabitable planet and now our coronavirus-fueled job losses.
While these proposals have not yet become policy, they are at least having an impact, including on older Democratic Party leaders. But that's part of the problem: Our leaders see millennials as children with nice ideas, not as equals ready to take our fair share of power. If we want the future to look brighter, let's elect the people who have a bigger stake in it.
The story of millennial life goes something like this: We are the largest adult generation in America,
the best educated, and the most diverse,
according to Pew.
But we are also the first generation that is downwardly mobile,
set to do worse than our parents and our grandparents.
Race is also a big factor here. Systemic racial discrimination in employment, housing
and basic freedom and liberty cut off avenues for Black and brown families to find stability and build wealth. The results of those inequities -- poverty, lack of opportunity, low pay, little savings and low rates of home ownership -- are now magnified in the more diverse millennial generation.
As working class wages dropped precipitously
, millennials needed to go to college just to stay in, or make it into, the middle class. But parents of color had less wealth to draw from, making millennials of color even more likely to take on student loan debt
than their White counterparts (who are themselves deep in an educational debt hole). When Black and brown millennials graduated, racial discrimination in pay meant they made less than Whites, even with the same credentials and doing the same job. And other expenses were higher: the median home today costs twice what it did in 1970.
Rents, too, have exploded since boomers were young -- and Black and brown renters pay more in rent for similar homes in similar neighborhoods
. In other words, millennials generally hold more debt, have higher basic living costs and make less money than generations before, with those of color being disproportionately affected.
And now coronavirus.
The job loss numbers are extreme and especially devastating for workers of color.
But there are also more subtle reverberations that are coming down the pike -- and they may not be so easy to quantify. While working from home with no childcare is a challenge for every parent, that burden is not shared equally. Anecdotes abound about women leaving or scaling back at work because, despite believing they were in egalitarian relationships, moms are doing much more than dads -- and it turns out that doing it all is impossible. Slowly, researchers and surveyors are beginning to quantify these burdens, and the results are not exactly the stuff of feminist dreams.
According to pre-coronavirus data analyzed by the Council on Contemporary Families
, when parents work from home, women wind up doing more of the housework and children spend twice as much time with their work-from-home moms than they do with work-from-home dads. Unsurprisingly, once coronavirus hit telecommuting moms reported higher levels of anxiety, loneliness and depression compared to what working mothers reported before the pandemic. Dads are doing better -- their levels of anxiety actually decreased when they transitioned to working from home. According to International Monetary Fund
economists, women have borne the brunt of coronavirus financial harms, and the blows threaten to roll back decades of progress toward gender equality.
This problem falls heavily on millennials, who are parents to most of America's young children. And it falls particularly heavily on women, who accounted for more than half of this spring's job losses.
This does not bode well for the futures of millennials, which is why our political parties need to support sending more politicians from this demographic (and those younger than we are) to DC.
As we head into an election where millennials and Gen Zers make up the largest number of potential voters,
politicians need to tell us -- and the Gen Zers who face similar fates -- what exactly they're going to do to improve our prospects and make up for some of the damage boomer-created policies caused. It's millennials who have paid the price for boomer leaders and boomer-elected politicians gutting public higher education funding,
failing to adequately respond to the threat of climate change and sending health care costs soaring
. Voters and those in power need to listen to elected millennials, like New York's Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and youth movements including Black Lives Matter and the climate-change-fighting Sunrise
They have proposed and supported legislation that would tackle some of millennials' greatest challenges: the Green New Deal
to combat climate change, the redirection of money away from policing and prisons
and toward education and health and the "A Just Society
" package that aims to keep rental costs under control and fully address poverty in America.
Millennials have spent our entire lives hearing the cliché that we are "the future." Well, we're not so young anymore, and older generations haven't done much to make our futures better and brighter. The chaos of coronavirus, though devastating, has also been clarifying: Our suffering is preventable. We are a nation isolated and hurting because of bad political choices, not bad luck. And it's time for the people in charge to hand over the reins and let the young save ourselves.