It seems like at least once a month, some finance site puts out an article circled Millennials.
A lot of these use avocado toast and “they’re killing [insert business/industry]” to drive website clicks but ultimately to play into the myth that Millennials are to blame for the hardships they face and to remove blame from the generations before them.
Now, when the articles refer to Millennials, they’re referring to those who were born between the years 1981 and 1996. That means that the oldest Millennial is 37-years old, and the youngest is now 22-years old.
When it comes to these articles, they treat millennials as existing in a bubble, living in a world untouched by ramifications for the mistakes of the past generations. When articles are posted saying that millennials aren’t buying houses because of avocado toast, killing a restaurant or industry, can’t work hard, aren’t thinking for the future by not investing in a 401(k), or are they often ignore the reasons behind these choices. In this piece, we’re going to lay a few of the myths and explain from our perspective, the context behind these choices.
Millennial Stereotypes and Myths
Millennials Aren’t Buying Houses Because of Avocado Toast
This one has been debunked for a while now, but the gist of the argument is that millennials spend too much money on things that don’t matter beyond immediate gratification. But the lower number of millennials buying homes has less to do with excessive spending and all to do with the fact that the median home sale price has increased by 258% where the median income in the US has only increased by 149%.
This means that, in quite a few cities, the housing prices have outpaced our income and with millennials entering the home buying phases of their life, maintaining the recommended sweet spot of only spending no more than 30% of their gross income on housing is just not viable, especially in cities like Washington D.C. and San Francisco where the median salaries are well below the housing costs.
Add in massive amounts of student debt – which we will discuss later – and of course, you don’t have millennials flocking to realtors, especially coming out of recession, and we saw the housing bubble burst. Seriously, why would we want a house quickly?
Ultimately, millennials have not “killed” starter homes but have opted for renting longer and buying forever homes, those in the more expensive bracket. So even though we’re buying houses slower, we’re taking the time to buy right. All of this is tied to the fact that we’re also delaying our marriages and family planning and seeking out education first and spending more time in the academic system.
In about three months, we will be deciding on where to buy and how much to spend on a home. After years of moving throughout my city and renting, I’m ready to buy, but only if I won’t be moving again. This is tied to both job security and location. However, this is a much longer talking point for another article.
Millennials are Responsible for Killing Businesses
There is a long list of businesses that millennials are killing: casual dining chains, like Applebee’s and Buffalo Wild Wings, department stores, and banks, to name a few. When it comes down to it, the lower engagement of these businesses with millennials can be looked at in multiple ways.
When it comes to chain restaurants, the CEO of Buffalo Wild Wings said, “Millennial consumers are more attracted than their elders to cooking at home, ordering delivery from restaurants, and eating quickly, in fast-casual or quick-serve restaurants.”
Personally, with such a fast-paced work style and maintaining a side hustle as a podcaster and streamer on the side, there is minimal time to go out. It’s easier to do things quickly, do them at home, or if we do go out, it’s an event. We go to a nicer restaurant and put time into it.
For the deaths of department stores, the advent of Amazon and online ordering has vastly reduced our dependence on brick and mortar stores. Not only is online shopping more convenient, but on average, 65% of the time item prices are cheaper online instead of in the store – except sale items. Having an item not only delivered to you to avoid the wait but also the ability to price hunt makes it less about millennials killing department stores and more about those stores not adjusting to new ways of purchasing.
This is especially true for larger items, like a gaming PC. In a store, a pre-built gaming PC is thousands of dollars. That isn’t to say building a computer can be done dirt cheap, but if you hunt around, it can be sensible. This sensibility, however, isn’t even featured on the shelves of the department or big-box retailers but is instead buried on their sites.
When we built our rigs, we were able to get a PC with NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card (~$300) and a Processor Intel Core i7-7700 (~$300) with other bells and whistles for a little under $800 — which included both a gaming mouse, LED mechanical keyboard, and all the different parts of a tower to make it run, game, and stream.
Finally, when it comes to banks, millennials remember the 2008 financial crisis. We recognize the names of banks who received bailouts, and we’ve probably all seen our parent's struggles. The distrust of banks and the shift to online culture is making physical banks die out. With 40% of millennials not visiting physical banks at all, big banks are closing and consolidating their locations to transition to meet the online demand.
We won’t ever kill banks since they’ve proven themselves both necessary and shady. We need banks in daily life, but the distrust for them and the invention of apps for ease of online access makes sense for millennials.
Millennials Don’t Value Security
While it is true that 66% of millennials between the ages of 21 and 32 have not started saving for retirement at the pace that financial advisors suggest, this isn’t to say that they aren’t looking to the future just that our priorities are different. At 26, I opened my personal Roth IRA last year. A lot of this was because I recently completed my Master’s degree and had no extra income to invest in the future when I was living on $1,300 a month in one of the nation’s most expensive cities.
Once I left school, the important thing in life was to make sure that my crippling student loan debt didn’t outrun me. Even though I opened my IRA last year, I didn’t cap it, and although it’s on my list to do this year, if I want to get into a house, saving for that is going to come before saving for 2055.
When it comes to security, the lower rate of 401k’s for millennials is often used to justify it. That being said, millennials are more often than not freelance. This means that many of the booming industries, specifically tech, are opting for contract work over full-time employees. So what does this mean? It means that depending on your contracting company. You may not even have the option for 401k or other benefits. Which, in my opinion, puts that saving very low on my radar.
Millennials are Lazy and Entitled
This is by far the worst stereotype of the lot. So let’s break this down and say that Millennials are not lazy. To start, millennials are the most educated generation. In 2013 it was reported that 47% of us had received postsecondary degrees, and an additional 18% have completed some postsecondary education. This rise in education has changed the landscape of the job market. In the 1970s, only 30% of jobs require a degree, and now 65% require degrees.
The effect is called “degree inflation” by economists and has caused multiple issues with our relationship to colleges and universities. For most millennials, a degree is a necessity even for jobs that did not require them previously. But our need for postsecondary education has caused tuition rates to rise. For our parents in the 80s, a year of tuition at a public four-year institution averaged a cost of $3,190, and for the 2017-2018 school year, the average tuition has risen to $9,970. That's a whopping 213% tuition increase.
With the rise of tuition, cost of living (see housing prices above), and the necessity to obtain a degree, millennials are being saddled with crippling amounts of student loan debt, which disproportionately are affecting completion rates among communities of color. As a whole, Americans owe $1.5 trillion in student loans.
This means that student loan debt now exceeds auto loan debt, which is sitting at $977 billion. For the average millennial graduate, they’ll leave university owing $28,400 – I currently own ~$67,800, and my husband owes ~$90,000. Out of those who go to college, 42% of people who attended college took out debt, and 20% of borrowers are behind on their payments. Although education was considered for the elite, a sign of status, and optional for our parents, for Millennials, it is necessary, common-place, and more times than not, a requirement.
As a generation, we have worked hard in school to leave with debt and then enter a job market that is not only different than our parents’ in the degree requirements but also in the amount of competition for them. We aren’t lazy. We’re just screwed.
The moment we finish our education, we’re crushed by debt. We expect to use our degrees, which means that we settle less for crappy jobs and aim for the jobs our degrees are tailored for, but so are all the other graduates, which make the competition fierce. With everyone educated, more employers are valuing experience, which means an entry-level job out of school will already require years of work experience just because we have a harder time being employed.
Now, when we do find employment, we work harder than our parents. In fact, as a whole, millennials feel worse about taking vacations from work and have a higher tendency to over-work over other generations. The overwork is because we work around 45-hour workweeks, and 21% of millennials reported that they’ve taken up a second job to make ends meet.
Although not all may be taking on second jobs, online content creation has added another avenue for income. From streamers, podcasters, YouTubers, and “influencers,” the channels for content creation and the creation of things like ko.fi or Patreon have helped people turn to their social media presence and to rely on their skills to entertain to supplement income.
Although I am a content creator, I don’t do it for the money or to supplement my income. That being said, we are Twitch Affiliates, where people can subscribe to us for $4.99 a month (half of which we receive), and we also run a Patreon with different tiers ($3, $5, $10 and $25). Just because I don't use this as income doesn’t mean others don’t. And in this era of co-creation with our consumption, we’re willing to help those out there with a side hustle.
When it comes to buying fandom items — clothing or items from geek culture — I focus on buying from creators in the community over big box stores. This is due in large part to the fact that a lot of fandom gear is marketed to and made for men. Often the selection of clothing for women is cheaply made, ill-fitting, or geared towards what focus groups determined to geared for women.
Etsy – an e-commerce website focused on handmade or vintage items and supplies, as well as unique factory-manufactured items – helps me not only support creators but it also helps me find high-quality items and custom-made geek clothing.
When it comes down to it, millennials like any generation live in a world created by the old-guard and are adapting to a changing landscape that seems to be moving beneath them. To throw out blanket statements without taking into consideration the factors in their cause does more to demonize a young generation and doesn’t fix the problems that are being complained about. So next time you engage in millennials are “X” discussion, make sure you try to understand our positionality.
Bloggers, journalists, and business leaders are going to need to learn how to understand Millennials and their needs, or they run the risk of getting left behind.