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Millennials aren’t entitled. They’re screwed.

It’s time to stop criticising the generation who came of age during the economic crash

I always find it perplexing when millennials are criticised for being “entitled”. It happens all the time; the phrase “millennial entitled” has more than 3 billion hits on google and has featured in most mainstream media publications. Millennials are a broad category made up of those born between 1982 and 1996. Today, they’re aged between 22 and 37. Many of them came of age just as the global economic crisis took hold. They graduated into an uncertain labour market where many were forced to take unpaid internships or emigrate. Many are renting, though they’d prefer to buy. 

Their work is less stable, thanks to the combined impact of globalisation and technological advancements. They’ve experienced under-employment and shorter, less favourable contracts. Most likely, they’ll work into their early 70s. They’re well educated and well travelled, though not always by choice. They were a generations who were assured that a college degree, a strong work ethic and a positive attitude would allow them to fulfil their modest ambitions of a stable career and a chance to establish their own home and family, in whatever form that takes.

In case it’s not obvious, I’m one of them. I graduated in September 2008. A few weeks later, the bank guarantee was rushed through the Oireachtas in the middle of the night. Within two years, Ireland’s finances were controlled by the Troika. 

It’s hard to convey what instability does to a generation’s collective psyche. Many of us don’t have the comfort of economic stability, can’t drop a domestic anchor and instead shuffle from rented apartment to rented apartment never really settling into a community. If you pay rent in a Irish major city, you’re likely to spend more than half your paycheck for a modest room without ever accruing an asset. 

We face a very different set of economic circumstances than previous generations did. Millennials will strive and sacrifice for what our predecessors took for granted. Increasingly, the narrative seems to blame the victims of the crisis (millennials who came of age when the economic time bomb went off) while obfuscating older generations culpability in it. There’s a deep and growing generational divide between younger people trying to buy a home, and older people holding onto their properties as they increase in value. The generational unfairness isn’t a secret. Inequities were explicitly written into public sector pay agreements.  Public sector workers who graduated at an inopportune moment will earn less than their colleagues who graduated just a few years before them. 

It’s easier to criticise millennials than it is to face the basic economic realities of how they have been forced to live their lives. This is where we get facile suggestions from the Taoiseach that millennials should rely on the bank of Mammy and Daddy. Leaving aside the immense privilege embedded in his argument, the comment underscores politicians’ attempts to distance themselves from the impact of their policy choices.  If you watch closely, you can see the extended attempt to normalise the erosion of basic societal supports that previous generations have taken for granted. 

There’s no ‘pull yourselves up by your bootstraps’ option here; it’s simply not economically feasible. Criticising millennials for enjoying the occasional smashed avocado smothered on good bread deflects attention from that grim economic reality. 

Earlier this year, Deloitte’s Millennial Survey report found that “younger workers are uneasy about the future, pessimistic about the prospects for political and social progress, and have growing concerns about safety, social equality, and environmental sustainability”. Compared to previous years and the results from other countries, Irish millennials economic outlook has become more pessimistic. 40% believe that they will be financially better off than their parents. Perhaps even more worryingly, just 31% expect to be happier than their parents. Those surveyed had college degrees and were in full time jobs, so it’s not a broad demographic spread. But it does provide an interesting, if unsurprisingly gloomy, snapshot. As it turns out, millennials aren’t “entitled” to very much at all. 

We’re all connected to one another in society. The economic divide between younger and older people is growing and will have a significant impact on Irish policy and politics for years to come. If we want to live in a more equitable society, bridging the ever-widening gap between those unlucky enough to fall into the millennial bracket is a worthwhile place to start. If we leave young workers behind, the knock on consequences for Irish society will be enormous.

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