It has become a common refrain in the mainstream media: The economic problems that young people face are the product of generational laziness and a sense of entitlement. People between the ages of 16 and 24 have an unemployment rate of 16.3 percent, more than twice the national average, and an alarming 36 percent of adults age 18-31 are living with their parents.
"Word that six million young people are not working or studying comes as no surprise to anyone with a millennial in the basement," writes Jennifer Graham in an op-ed titled "A Generation of Idle Trophy Kids," for the Boston Globe. Millennials' describes, loosely, the generation born between 1980 and 2000. "It's young people who don't leave the house at all, not because they're scared like agoraphobics, but because their needs are met and they're content."
To say that Graham's article is a woeful oversimplification would be to give it way too much credit. The article is an embarrassing debacle, filled with worthless platitudes to support an argument that is insulting not only to young and poor people but to anyone who values critical-thinking skills. Graham fails to provide any serious examination of the economic conditions facing young people, and the article lacks any significant data to back up her claim that millennials are a "minimally employable crop" of slackers who lack "the motivation to provide for themselves."
She also seems to make the racist and classist assumption that all young people are white, privileged members of the middle class who have the luxury of returning to suburban homes (as opposed to, say, park benches or homeless shelters) when they lack steady employment. Conveniently, she ignores things like the fact that 57 percent of young black adults are either "near" or in "deep poverty."
It is tempting to ignore such a weak and unsubstantiated argument, but this will not do, given that the Globe's article is rather consistent with a widespread, systemic media bias against not only young people but poor and working-class people in general. The implication is unambiguous: Poor people, of all ages, are that way because they are lazy, entitled or amoral - never mind the actual economic conditions they face.
In fact, as if they were intentionally attempting to demonstrate the narrow parameters of debate that exist in mainstream media circles, even an article by a Globe editorial board member (who is a millennial) that aims to refute Graham's op-ed, manages to repeat some of its most galling weaknesses, including a notable lack of evidence to back up its claims. The rebuttal, like the original op-ed, turns what should be a serious issue - poverty among young adults - and reduces it to a few witty jokes ("we'll take responsibility for Miley Cyrus") and hipster phrases (the article concludes as such: "(drops mic) I'm out"). The article also falls into the familiar trap of assuming that all young people are privileged whites whose main priority is not finding food and shelter but having "the nice things we grew up with." This presumes of course, that all young people grew up with "suburban homes," computers, digital cable and other elements of the four-car-garage lifestyle the author describes. It might interest the Globe editorial board to know that most young people in today's world did not grow up in such decadence, and many barely scraped by and have no family support. This collection of Globearticles is basically a back-and-forth between white people discussing decidedly first-world problems.
The Globe's worthless offerings on the subject notwithstanding, there can be no doubt that the issue of the economic plight of young people is worth examining. But to do so requires a serious look at the real economic conditions young adults face and the reasons these conditions exist. Graham's article, and many others like it, generally fail to consider the context in which young people are struggling to find decent jobs, including thelong-term economic impacts of deregulation and neoliberalism pushed by state managers and wealthy elites for some three decades now, which have kept wages stagnant for people of all ages, including young people; theimpact of the 2008 economic crisis (mostly caused by people born well before 1980); the college affordability crisis; and the fact that low-wage service-sector jobs tend to be where job growth is.