It’s tough being a Millennial. Those of us born in the 1980s and 90s have been derided as lazy, entitled and narcissistic. We’ve also been accused of being politically apathetic. Apparently, if it’s not on Vine or Snapchat, and if it doesn’t feature Kylie Jenner, we don’t care about it.
First up, there’s nothing wrong with Vine and Snapchat. They’re fun tools that help us communicate and tell stories. There’s also nothing wrong with liking Kylie Jenner, or Kim Kardashian, or Kanye West, or Taylor Swift, or any other contemporary pop culture icons.
Our methods of communication make way more sense than our parent’s generations’ (Chain letters? Seriously?), and are ABBA and Barbra Streisand really more admirable as role models than someone like Taylor Swift?
It’s not just our impeccable taste in pop culture and prolific social media use we need to stand up for.
But it’s not just our impeccable taste in pop culture and prolific social media use we need to stand up for. It’s the idea that we’re somehow lazy, self-interested and completely politically disengaged. Despite a lack of evidence for many of these claims, they seem to have taken root, making it harder for us to find secure work and be taken seriously by older, professional colleagues.
Here are some facts to help set the record straight.
We’re the generation with the highest rate of tertiary education compared to any other time in Australian history. And those degrees we worked so hard for weren’t handed to us on a silver platter - we paid for them. When university fees were introduced in 1989, a law degree would have set you back around $8,000. If you graduate this year with a law degree, you’ll be saddled with a debt of $40,000 or more. No other generation in Australian history has entered the workforce this financially burdened.
And what happens when we do try and enter the workforce?
Well with graduate unemployment at its highest level ever on record, it’s actually pretty hard to get a job. More than 30 per cent of graduates can’t find full-time work after four months of job hunting. This means more of us are working part-time or in casual or contract positions, regularly juggling multiple jobs at a time.
According to the Australia Bureau of Statistics, not only are more young adults working now than in the 1970s, a higher proportion are working more than 40 hours a week. The idea that we’re lazy and entitled is just rubbish. There’s no evidence to back it up. If anything, the data suggests we’re actually the hardest working generation in at least the last half century.
What about our alleged political apathy? Is that harder to disprove? There is a decent chunk of evidence that suggests young people are generally disinterested in elections. One study found that 24 per cent of young people didn’t identify with any particular political party, compared to 7 per cent of older voters.
But I don’t think research showing young people are disengaged from the formal political process, and feel alienated from political parties, automatically means they don’t care about key political issues. Polls regularly show that young people support progressive political change on key issues like marriage equality by a much higher margin than older Australians. The same pattern exists when looking at issues like action on climate change and our treatment of refugees. The biggest political advocacy organisation in the country, GetUp! is full of young, passionate campaigners striving to make a difference. Young people care about issues that affect them, like housing and education, as well as social justice issues that are about making the country a fairer place to live.
We’re building new ways of campaigning and engaging with politics that bypass the old structures.
But that engagement on specific issues doesn’t necessarily translate into support for political parties and the current political system. A survey in 2014 found that only 42 per cent of 18 to 29 year olds believed “democracy is preferable to any other kind of government”. It’s hard to read this result as anything other than an indictment on our politicians for repeatedly letting down younger generations.
Why should older Australians expect the support and endorsement of a generation they have locked out of affordable housing and economic stability? Millennials aren’t stupid. When we look at the mess that is politics we see a group of overwhelmingly older, white dudes fighting about policies that are about protecting their interests, not ours. Why do we owe them our support?
Why aren’t we better represented? It might have to do with the fact that we spend most of our time working trying to make ends meet, or that as a proportion of the population, young adults are on the decline. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t look like it’s going to change soon. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
We’re a smart, hard-working and compassionate cohort. We’re fighting for social change, whether it’s on the streets, or online. We’re creating the ideas and businesses that are going to create the economy and society of the future. We’re building new ways of campaigning and engaging with politics that bypass the old structures. And we’re doing all of this despite being under more financial pressure than the generation before us.
The kids are more than all right. They’re doing great.
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Image by KasiQ KMJW (Flickr).