Should we bemoan the fate of the millennial generation? Should we feel badly for those who belong to what Derek Thompson calls “the unluckiest generation?”
Anyone who was born after 1982 counts as part of this group for having come of age during the first years of the new millennium.
It was, Thompson says, their misfortune to have entered the workforce at a time of relative economic stagnation. As a result their chances for future success seem to be limited. Thompson cites research that suggests that if you don’t get off to a running start with your career you will probably never make up the gap.
Thompson limits himself to post-World War II generations, but still, the example of the Greatest Generation might provide some hope. It’s better than blaming it on bad luck.
Does the “unluckiest generation” have it any worse than those who had the misfortune to come of working age during the Great Depression? Or is it just more apt to complain?
Thompson tries to soothe our anguished souls by explaining that millennials will still be able to participate in most of aspects of the consumer culture.
In his words:
But in some ways, millennials are also the luckiest.
For one thing, they're living in an age of affordable abundance. Food has never been cheaper as a share of the typical American family budget. The price of apparel is also falling relative to wages. The Internet, while no substitute for gainful employment, has made many things cheaper that used to take extra income to buy--communication, notably, including private information-sharing and professional collaboration. It has made casual retail cheaper (and more convenient). It has also made mass entertainment cheaper, especially music and amateur videos. These commodities have grown cheaper, in part, by replacing and lowering the cost of human work.
That we live in a golden era of cheap essentials and entertainment might register as cold statistical comfort for the millions of unemployed millennials who watch their dreams fade with every passing year.
If this is true, the millennials are an entitled generation. They live at a time when prices are coming down. Thus, they can enjoy their favorite consumer goods on the salaries they are earning at Starbucks.
But, Thompson adds, this entitled generation will have more difficulty buying homes and bringing up families on subsistence level wages.
(Thompson does not mention it, but lower prices are deflationary. When the nation is drowning in debt deflation is not your friend. In fact, the Federal Reserve’s money printing is designed, above all else, to keep deflation at bay. If it succeeds, it will produce inflation. At that point, the entitled generation will discover austerity.)
But, should we really believe that it’s all just bad luck?
The current jobless crisis must have something to do with policies enacted by an administration that most millennials voted for. These young people did not vote for individual initiative; they voted for an entitlement state. They should not blame bad luck for getting what they voted for.
While it is true, as Thompson says, that millennials are the most educated generation in American history, how much of their education fits the job market.
If they all majored in literary criticism and the jobs are in the energy or health care, then there is a mismatch between education and the job market. If they are not interested in doing apprentice programs to learn in-demand technical skills they the problem does not lie in their bad luck.
As it happens millennials are happy to see their poor career prospects as a function of luck. Otherwise, they would have to deal with the fact that their self-esteem has been artificially inflated since childhood and that they have never been taught a work ethic.
Whatever happened to the notion that you can make your own luck?
USA Today reports that hiring managers are discouraged by the conduct of the millennials they are interviewing. It has nothing to do with luck. Young people who are looking for jobs act as though the job market should adapt to them and not vice versa:
Newly minted college graduates soon entering the job market could be facing another hurdle besides high unemployment and a sluggish economy. Hiring managers say many perform poorly—sometimes even bizarrely—in job interviews.
Human resource professionals say they've seen recent college grads text or take calls in interviews, dress inappropriately, use slang or overly casual language, and exhibit other oddball behavior.
… such quirks have become more commonplace the past three years or so, and are displayed by about one in five recent grads. They're prompting recruiters to rule out otherwise qualified candidates for entry-level positions and delay hiring decisions.
HR executive Jaime Fall explains that millennial hires have a poor work ethic:
… Millennials also have been coddled by parents. "It's (a mindset of) 'You're perfect just the way are,' " he says. " 'Do whatever you're comfortable doing.' "
About half of HR executives say most recent grads are not professional their first year on the job, up from 40 percent of executives who had that view in 2012, according to a recent survey by the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania.
It wasn’t just their parents who taught them that they were better than they were and that they should follow their bliss.
Some examples of bad behavior are worth quoting in detail. If you are not of this generation you would never imagine them:
• Taking calls and texting. A male graduate student seeking a managerial position in Avery Dennison's research and development unit took a call on his smartphone about 15 minutes into the interview. The call, which lasted about a minute and wasn't an emergency, ruined his near-certain chance for a job offer, Singel says.
"If he thought that was OK, what else does he think is appropriate?" he says.
• Helicoptering parents. A man in his late 20s brought his father into a 45-minute interview for a material-handling job on an assembly line, says Teri Nichols, owner of a Spherion staffing-agency in Brooksville, Fla. At Cigna, a health insurance provider, the father of a recent grad who received an offer for a sales job, called to negotiate a higher salary, says Paula Welch, a Cigna HR consultant.
• Pets in tow. A college senior brought her cat into an interview for a buyer's position at clothing retailer American Eagle. She set the crate-housed cat on the interviewer's desk and periodically played with it. "It hit me like—why would you think that's OK?" says Mark Dillon, the chain's former recruiting director. "She cut herself off before she had a chance."