Emily Articulated: What is a Millennial?

By Emily Erickson
Reader Columnist

What is a Millennial? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as … wait, wrong century. You’ve undoubtedly heard the term Millennial before. Just hearing it may summon images of parents’ basement dwelling, selfie-addicted 20-somethings with poor hygiene and an even worse work ethic. You often wonder if their cell phones are actually physical extensions of their arms, and can guarantee sighting troves of them around things like “Dollar Beer Night,” or “Taco Tuesday.”

But, as one of those job-hopping, late-rent-check-signing 20-somethings struggling with mass overgeneralizations and generational biases, I’m here to say we Millennials have more to offer than meets the eye. And that frankly, we’ve gotten a bad rap.

Emily Erickson.

A Millennial is ambiguously defined as an individual born between the early 1980s and the late 1990s and is commonly regarded as being a member of Generation Y. Unique in having grown up alongside the evolution of cellphones and highly consumable internet access, most Millennials remember a time before rampant technology, but also have the intuitive understanding of computers, smartphones and the web that can only come from a half-life’s worth of experience and interaction.

It’s easy to see members of Generation Y doing things a bit differently than generations prior, donning selfie sticks like swords on a battlefield and documenting every consumed cup of coffee on social media, but have you ever wondered why many of them are approaching adult life unconventionally?

Collectively, Millennials are the most highly-educated generation in history, and are consequently straddled with the most debt. According to Make Lemonade, the average amount of post-collegiate tuition debt for our avocado-toast-loving-counterparts is $37,172, with tuition cost roughly 300-percent greater than the cost in 1995. And yes, that’s adjusting for inflation.

Sadly, however, these expensive degrees just aren’t leading to the kinds of jobs a college education afforded in generations past. In the words of Washington Post’s Jeffrey Selingo, “The Bachelor’s degree is becoming the new high school diploma. Rather than a ticket to a high-paying, managerial job, the four-year degree is now the minimum ticket to get in the door to any job.” So Millennials are supposed to hang up their dollar bill stuffed waitress apron for a nine-dollar-an-hour cubicle job, all so Dad will quit asking what they did for five years at University. Or wait, is that just me?

Additionally, leaving their parents’ basement actually costs a lot. No longer able to handle the passive-aggressive, red-ink-circled apartment listings their parents keep taping to the Captain Crunch box, they’re moving out, entering the world of landlords and late rent checks, or for the very brave, homeownership, with both options being more expensive for young people than ever before. Census data indicates that rent rates have increased by 64 percent after adjusting for inflation since 1960, and the skyrocketing price tag on houses has pushed the median age for home ownership to 44, as opposed to 25-34 in 1980.

But, instead of dwelling on all of the obstacles in their path, Millennials are simply figuring out a new way of doing things. They’re opting out of passionlessly punching a timecard at the prospect of someday retiring and then getting to do all the things they’ve dreamed about. They aren’t guaranteed stacked pensions, social security, and retirement before 70 (if at all), so they are finding ways to live a worthy life while they’re still young.

They seek things to be passionate about outside of things that “get them ahead,” and as a whole tend to be more civic-minded, more likely to practice conscious consumerism, and according to PEW research, a generation defined by being “confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change.”

Millennials are innovators and believers in creativity and leading inspired lives. They understand and are excited about technology and all of the advances encompassed within. They have morals and care about upholding them, even at the expense of cushy futures.

Millennials may not have everything figured out and certainly look a bit silly from time to time, but they surely are making their own way. And yes, they have created an app for that.

Emily Erickson is a freelance writer and bartender originally from Wisconsin, with a degree in sociology and an affinity for playing in the mountains.

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