Locker room conversation at the Y turned to Millennials. I know it wasn’t Trumpian locker room conversation but what can I say. We can’t all Iive up to that high standard. Actually, it wasn’t conversation at all. It was one guy speaking in a loud confident voice about Millennials as the kids who don’t want to and won’t work a full day of hard work, think they are entitled, and expect to be millionaires before they are thirty. It was one of those if you say it loud enough it must be true kind of performances. When politely challenged he backtracked slightly, admitting that there were good hardworking kids among them, but “it’s the numbers,” he said. There are so many of them, a real baby boom, so the entitled slackers are the majority.
Census data do not support his claim to a Millennial baby boom. The birth rate per 1,000 population has held steady at about 14 for the last several decades, as opposed to a birthrate of about 25 when this guy was born, so it’s really his generation that was the boom, which is why they are called the boomers, but I digress. I’m not even sure what a Millennial is, but it appears to be someone who is currently between 15 and 34, give or take, and they make up about 27% of the population, which is a good chunk. I’ve read a few things that label them as self centered, entitled, secular, avaristic, and directionless. Most of it looks to me like marketing gobbledygook, or maybe pop social psychology worked into a sensationalized magazine article. They guy in the locker room must have seen something about them somewhere. In any case, what he wanted was seasonal high school and college age labor for his farm, and it’s hard to find. He’s right. In our area there are fewer farms with smaller farm families with children who want to do farm work, except on their own farms. The stock of likely workers is less than it once was.
Times have changed in other ways too. I worked in a gas station when I was in high school and part of college. I pumped gas, checked oil and tires, cleaned windshields, and did simple mechanical jobs: oil changes, grease jobs, brake adjustments, belt changes, muffler installations, etc. Full service gas stations don’t exist anymore. Part time entry level jobs that do exist are increasingly taken by adults working two or three of them trying to make ends meet. It’s not that jobs for adolescents can’t be had, but they appear to be fewer in number.
Those who are growing out of adolescence and want to make a decent living have several options. Go away to a university, unlikely to return. Get a degree or certificate from the community college in a specialized field, and maybe find a job in the area. OK, that’s two options. I can’t think of a third. Without those one would have to work several jobs at low pay to live at a lower middle class level.
The guy in the Y locker room would scoff at all this as just a way to excuse a lazy, unfocused generation of kids who think the world owes them a living because that’s what he’s been told about them, and what he says he experienced trying to hire them for a couple weeks of work. It’s a familiar complaint because it is one heard century after century from an older generation about a younger generation. Does it do any harm? Maybe not by itself. Each generation manages to grow up, producing responsible adults in the process no matter what the older generation says about them. What it signals is a tendency to believe, without verification, whatever appeals to one’s prejudices, applying gross generalizations to entire populations and conditions of life. Asserting them with force and volume establishes barriers to conversation, indeed to anything that might look like disagreement. That is a problem. Loud voices of ignorance distort the public debate, and endanger responsible public decision making. Not, of course, that we have experienced any of that lately, but we could.