The financial hardships of millennials might be the most played-out joke of the decade. Constantly depicted by the media as fiscally incompetent, it isn’t uncommon to see articles pointing out that millennials aren’t buying diamonds, or sports cars, or new homes. These articles tend to put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the millennial generation without ever actually delving into why they may not be able to afford these items.
Are millennials riding bicycles and taking public transportation to work out of necessity or out of a need to buck the perceived norms of previous generations? Are the baby boomers justified in their fears of a socialist uprising from the largest voting population in U.S. history? A quick trip to Instagram should put those fears to bed, as there is no shortage of millennials “flexing” — or purposefully displaying wealth — for all the world to see. So, if wealth is still important to this generation, why are they not using that wealth to purchase homes?
Set Up for Failure
Millennials were consistently fed the line that if they went to college right out of high school a well paying job was nearly guaranteed. They were shown figures depicting the earning potential of those who attend university compared to those who chose trade school, or heaven forbid, neither option. There was a clear winner in college and university graduates, and the idea of attending trade school was brushed to the side as a poor decision.
What millennials weren’t told, however, was that their parents could attend a good college, pay their rent, and put food on their plates every night working jobs that only required unskilled labor. They weren’t shown the dramatically rising costs of tuition, even at in-state colleges, or taught about the predatory practices of lenders when obtaining student loans. The American Dream was promised to millennials, as long as they followed the prescribed path laid out by their parents and society as a whole.
Once millennials graduated and began to enter the workforce en masse, they were shocked to learn that they had been bamboozled. The jobs simply weren’t there, not even for those who made the smart decision to go into the STEM fields. Instead, they entered a workforce that required a bachelor’s degree and three years of experience, all for the privilege to work for just above minimum wage. Because of this, millennials buckled down and tried to make the best of the situation, often working two or more jobs, glorifying the “side-hustle,” and taking on as many roommates as possible, all to simply live life at a base-level of comfort. For these actions, millennials were labeled lazy, entitled, and incompetent by the generation that led them to this poisoned well.
Housing Costs are Insane
Millennials inherited a deep level of worry about the housing market, and for good reason. In their teens and early 20s, millennials witnessed the Great Recession and watched as their parents’ generation were displaced and lost their homes and jobs. The baby boomers don’t seem to understand that they created the mess themselves, instead blaming it on the invisible hand of the economy instead of their short-sighted economic policies.
After the housing bubble burst, millennials became incredibly wary of purchasing homes. As housing costs continue to rise in the Trump era, general anxiety over purchasing a home has been overtaken once more by the financial inability to purchase one. By cutting deductions for home ownership and taking a hardline stance on immigration, Trump has not only made home ownership less appealing, but has done serious damage to America’s ability to construct new homes. Millennials aren’t buying homes, not because they are making some sort of statement, but because they are paying for the sins of our fathers, who created and then abused the friendliest housing market in history.
Because of this, twenty-somethings tend to be a bit nomadic, packing up and moving to cities that are more amenable to their financial situations. The best places for millennials to live have a balance between economic opportunity, and cultural potential, where millennials can thrive among their peers and hopefully earn enough to pay off their insane student loans. Millennials aren’t flocking to Des Moines, Iowa, because it is the hip new city with the best avocado toast, but because they are making sound financial decisions by moving to a new city that actually has the potential to help them succeed.
Millennials Really Are Trying
What might sting most for millennials is the fact that they are so consistently told by their parent’s generation to pull themselves up by their bootstraps when the reality is that they are doing everything they can to make it happen. Despite being poor, millennials are obsessed with working in order to keep their heads above water, and any time millennials do take any time for themselves or spend their hard-earned money on something they enjoy, they are targeted as lazy, or that their priorities are misaligned. Millennials were handed the most difficult economic situation in the last 60 years, and are ridiculed for trying to make it work for them.
Suburban poverty is a growing issue in the US for every demographic, but it seems to hit millennials especially hard. Gentrification is pushing millennials out of city centers and into the suburbs, where federal programs to assist them are harder to access. While there are more jobs available in the suburbs, the pay hasn’t risen with the cost of living, so many millennials are forced to make a costly commute into the cities they were driven out of in order to pay their rent.
Since homeownership is an increasingly unlikely outcome for many millennials, renting is becoming the new norm. It is important for millennials to look out for themselves when renting, acquiring renter’s insurance, vetting their property management company or landlord for above board business practices, and saving as much money on utilities as possible to hopefully save up enough to move on to greener pastures.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear, defined path out of this quagmire millennials have found themselves in. While they can hope for raises, promotions, or better paying jobs to come their way, the only real option for millennials is to either pack up and head to a city that is more friendly to their needs, or to stick it out where they are currently living.