Weekend Read – Millennials are Screwed

I had missed this in December, but I’m glad I caught up to this longer piece in HuffPost Highline that has honest to God historical analysis that explains, as well as personal stories that illustrate, the enfuckening Millennials find themselves in since the 2008 meltdown (on top of an economy that’s systematically screwed and sloughed off workers for 30 years). The generation born between 1982 and 2004 is the least hopeful generation in… generations.

Millennials are Screwed – Why millennials are facing the scariest financial future of any generation since the Great Depression. by Michael Hobbes

“It’s tempting to look at the recession as the cause of all this, the Great Fuckening from which we are still waiting to recover. But what we are living through now, and what the recession merely accelerated, is a historic convergence of economic maladies, many of them decades in the making. Decision by decision, the economy has turned into a young people-screwing machine. And unless something changes, our calamity is going to become America’s.”

The 2008 meltdown caused a statistical “divot” in our workforce specific to this generation.

 “A lot of workers were just 18 at the wrong time,” says William Spriggs, an economics professor at Howard University and an assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Labor in the Obama administration. “Employers didn’t say, ‘Oops, we missed a generation. In 2008 we weren’t hiring graduates, let’s hire all the people we passed over.’ No, they hired the class of 2012.”

You can even see this in the statistics, a divot from 2008 to 2012 where millions of jobs and billions in earnings should be. In 2007, more than 50 percent of college graduates had a job offer lined up. For the class of 2009, fewer than 20 percent of them did.

So millions didn’t get the jobs they were promised because they hit 18 at the wrong time and that will undoubtedly lower their paychecks over their entire lifetimes. For many others the job meltdown happened at the same time as the costs of a higher education continued a stratospheric rise, causing a student loan explosion.  So millions more Millennials didn’t go to college when a college degree has never been more essential to employment prospects.

Since 2010, the economy has added 11.6 million jobs—and 11.5 million of them have gone to workers with at least some college education. In 2016, young workers with a high school diploma had roughly triple the unemployment rate and three and a half times the poverty rate of college grads.

But all that is specific to this generation, the worker’s economy (the real economy for the average person excluding the Wall Street casino) has been raising the bars and costs of  employment for 40 years.

Thirty years ago, she says, you could walk into any hotel in America and everyone in the building, from the cleaners to the security guards to the bartenders, was a direct hire, each worker on the same pay scale and enjoying the same benefits as everyone else. Today, they’re almost all indirect hires, employees of random, anonymous contracting companies: Laundry Inc., Rent-A-Guard Inc., Watery Margarita Inc. In 2015, the Government Accountability Office estimated that 40 percent of American workers were employed under some sort of “contingent” arrangement like this—from barbers to midwives to nuclear waste inspectors to symphony cellists. Since the downturn, the industry that has added the most jobs is not tech or retail or nursing. It is “temporary help services”—all the small, no-brand contractors who recruit workers and rent them out to bigger companies.

We have a growing contingent of 1099 workers without benefits or a 401k.  They don’t get bonuses or annual raises.  Add this to the extreme insecurity that workers have in the 21st century because corporate stock prices guide personnel decisions, the destruction of unions (1 in 3 were in a union 50 years ago, now 1 in 10) and the natural explosion of state licensing requirements that add more costs and mystification to jobs that people used to do without special training and vetting (5% of jobs required state licensing in 1950, now its 33%) and it’s never been harder to achieve the American dream, no matter how hard you work.

All of these trends—the cost of education, the rise of contracting, the barriers to skilled occupations—add up to an economy that has deliberately shifted the risk of economic recession and industry disruption away from companies and onto individuals. For our parents, a job was a guarantee of a secure adulthood. For us, it is a gamble. And if we suffer a setback along the way, there’s so little to keep us from sliding into disaster.

It’s a clever piece with smart graphics emphasizing some very disturbing, but essential data points about our economy (including housing policy) that do not get talked about in the media.  Please read and enjoy (to the extent you can enjoy the systematic destruction of our children’s futures).  But no, at the end Hobbes lays out some of the policy changes we can make as a society that can fix this.  There is hope! We CAN fix this!  It’ll take an investment in the political process by the people that are affected by all of this to bring to power public servants that would enact the 21st century ideas we all need for a fairer, more equitable, sustainable economy.


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