In Defense of Generation Y

It’s amazing what being busy will do to you… I’m feeling really good today, despite being a little sleep-deprived. While I miss the freedom of half-time work, my full days aren’t so bad. I like being busy. I’m challenged, and I’m learning. I think I can do a really, really good job.

I read an interesting article today from NewsHour with Jim Lehrer (drawn to my attention by the blog Boston Girl’s Open Wallet, which makes my somewhat compulsive budget tracking seem mild). Basically, it talks about Generation Y (AKA Generation Next, Millennials, etc.) and their attitudes towards work. I am at the older end of this generation (born in 1981, graduated from high school in 1999), but I think a lot of this applies to me, and the conflict between how I feel about work and the examples my parents have set for me makes a lot more sense when I look at it through this lens. Basically: our Baby Boomer parents worked, worked, worked and then asked for more. They stayed in their jobs. They were more practical, I think. And then they told us that we could do anything we set our minds to, that we should do what we love, that we should be passionate about our jobs… Even though (at least in the case of my parents), they were actually more concerned with making ends meet than they were with pursuing their dreams.

So what does this mean for our generation? We graduated college just after the economy took a dive, and suddenly we were faced with the reality of making ends meet by taking what we were offered, realizing that holding out for the dream job wasn’t paying rent and Old Navy could (if rent was exceptionally low). NewsHour criticizes us for expecting too much — vacation time (even unpaid!), quick advancement up the bureaucratic ladder, even “being millionaires and fantastic [sic] successful by the age of 40.” I think the situation is much, much more complicated than a permeating sense of entitlement.

Consider this: according to Holly Beck at WireTap Magazine (as well as many others), young adults have very low rates of health insurance coverage. Often health insurance (which is nearly unattainable if your workplace doesn’t provide a group plan) comes with a managerial position. It’s not that we completely disregard seniority and expect coveted positions handed to us on a silver platter — we need these jobs (and the “perks” that come with them) to meet our basic needs. (Yes, folks, health insurance is now a perk, not something we can expect from a decent job…)

In response to the vacation argument, consider that work no longer takes place in an office between 9 and 5. Thanks to e-mail, laptops, cell phones, and BlackBerries, our work can be done from anywhere, and many of us end up working on our so-called vacations anyway. In a recent conversation with a friend, we talked about a possible visit and our lack of vacation time, and decided that if she got a cheap ticket, she could work from my apartment or a coffee shop on a Monday, extending her trip without dipping into her precious two weeks of paid vacation. And two weeks?! As this New York Times article points out, just keeping in touch with friends and family takes two weeks.

So, I say to The Man on behalf of Generation Y: The pension promises you made to our parents were empty, and the security of their jobs was a myth. If you can’t support our basic needs and someone else can, why do you deserve our loyalty? We’re not a bunch of entitled brats whining, as NewsHour puts it, “work, work, you want me to work even more? How lame. I think I’ll I.M. my friends and tell them how lame you are, asking me to work even more.” We want to do meaningful work, and we know better than to wait until we retire to have fun. All in all, I think we are a smart generation. We’ve grown up with significant technological advancements, and (so far) take change in stride. We’re an idealistic generation, too, and we view work as one facet of a satisfying life. We wish you would, too.

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1 Comment

Filed under Life, Money, social issues, What's wrong with the world

One response to “In Defense of Generation Y

  1. Barrett the Pontificater

    I like this entry. Because it is about me, and what do millenials like better than to talk about themselves? (See the description pages on Friendster and myspace, take a quiz in Cosmo.)

    I don’t like working. I don’t find my job fulfilling. It oscillates between being chock full, 60 hour weeks to 40 hour weeks that I wish only had to be 20 hours. I’m thinking of moving on. But what if nothing is better? What if this is, sadly enough, as good as it gets?

    I think that our lack of job loyalty and our whingeing about jobs stems from an inherent outcropping of industrialisation. The creation of time and markets, which creates, ironically, absolutely no time and even more markets, allows for the evolution of our culture into one that has absolute faith in the individual and none in the community. We no longer rely on the community to make the things that are necessary for our survival – food, homes, daycare. We rely on individual companies, corporations, and in the end and always always, ourselves.

    We are taught by our parents to be highly individualized, that we are the most important part of our lives. Take care of ourselves first. Work-out first, volunteer later. Even when we volunteer, volunteer for how it feels to you, not necessarily what actual difference you make in the community.

    With this individualized mindset, how are supposed to ever be loyal to a job community? One that was never loyal to us (or our parents, grandparents) in the first place? So we whinge about our paychecks, about our free-time, about it having been one year, which looks good on a resume and means needing a new job. And with our supersized individualities, we find we need more and more money to feed our ever larger sense of self. The chain cannot and will not stop.

    There is no blame, there is no stepping nearer to our tradition of Puritan work-ethic. There is only accepting the culture that we create every day with our overly large perceptions of our role in the world, our world. Changes need not apply. Altruism is never that true anyway.

    But actually, I think it might be. In societies that are not yet industrialized, or that are going through industrialization currently are also currently going through a change from the communal to the individual. The communal will win out until the individuals outweigh the communities.

    People in these “developing” situations still believe in the power of the community. They invented “it takes a village” – because it does in those communities. A single person is of no use – a single person can only live for himself. A group of people can live for each other. Feed each other. Build houses for and with each other. Care for families together. There is no need for an individual. Until said individual starts making money. Money can help the community, too, and so it will until more and more individuals go off to make it. Soon, there are individual communities. Families that live away from other families. Individuals who feed just themselves. Industrialisation. Markets. More time and much, much less time.

    So there it is. Don’t carp an complain about our generation, or the ones younger than us that can barely respect a teacher in class. It’s not them. It’s us. It’s our parents. It’s their parents and theirs, too. It’s the ones who pulled up on bootstraps, who started from nothing, who forced other populations into the same cycle.

    Unfortunately, until we go through an ice age or a true energy crisis that puts us back to relying on the community, we will not change. Life’s too good.

    Now back to work.

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