It's Not Just A Phase, Mom
Millennials, according to every think piece of the past decade, are extremely successful killers.
We have killed everything from department stores to chain restaurants to shopping malls to movie theaters to the mere concept of a guest bedroom, which is funny because I had thought we already killed home buying; I had assumed guest bedrooms went along with that. I am a young millennial. I turned 30 in December and I’m a straight white male living in New York City. I share these details because it's important context for the constant bad faith arguments I have had to combat in talks with my fiscally conservative, socially liberal friends and family in my hometown surroundings of Central New Jersey.
The idea that one naturally becomes more conservative as one ages is based in the belief that the kids – the pesky millennial generation that’s mostly in their mid-to-late thirties and often have kids of their own – don’t understand what they are asking for and what it will take to get there. We’re told that we don’t get it and our needs are just wishful thinking. Our desire to improve society somewhat, we're told, is nonsense.
“How are you going to pay for that?”
“That’s just not how it works.”
“Good luck with that.”
All the idiotic “gotcha” arguments from Baby Boomers fall apart when we respond with the simple fact that, yes, we know it will cost money to get what we want and we have a plan to get there.
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Millennials are the first generation to be worse off than their parents. The costs of college, rent, healthcare and home ownership have vastly outpaced the increase in salaries in our lifetimes. The older generations took what they needed and pulled the ladder up behind them. There is no argument more infuriating for our generation than “I did it, why can’t you?” That argument was funny when it was centered around your grandparent jokingly saying they walked to school uphill both ways in the snow but now it’s become a reality. “You did it why can’t I?” Hmm, gestures wildly.
There is a vast disparity in the millennial generation and everyone’s situation is unique. Some are crushed under mountains of student debt while others have been able to build savings for the future. Some are gig economy workers given no healthcare or retirement benefits, living on the edge of poverty, while others have steady jobs; even though those jobs can go away in an instant, as seen during the COVID pandemic and recent layoff surge.
Yes, left-wing proposals to improve life in the US will cost me money. Yes, I may not directly benefit from all these proposals. But I do have close family and friends who will benefit. I do not know what my future holds, and I am OK that although I may not benefit, hopefully my future children will. It boils down to the infamous line: I do not know how to convince you that you should care about other people, but I will continue to try.
Life for millennials is markedly worse for two primary reasons: The crushing weight of student debt and healthcare costs. Democrats way back in the early Obama years were one Joe Lieberman away from a public healthcare option in the Affordable Care Act negotiations. A public option is the bare minimum to improve health outcomes. Your healthcare should not be tied to your job, full stop, and millennials were the first generation of Americans to rally around the concept of healthcare as a basic human right.
Losing your job is devastating enough, losing your healthcare coverage should not be included in that. The Kafkaesque Obamacare marketplaces have filled the basic need of providing some sort of safety net, but your employment status should not dictate the coverage you can attain.
“You know you’ll pay more in taxes to support that, right? Maybe even more than any premium you have now.” Yes, I do, and I am totally OK with that.
Universal healthcare is a staple of every other rich nation on the planet. Many Americans have no idea how far the US is behind other developed countries. Or maybe they do. Hatred of our deeply unequal and ineffective healthcare system served as the engine of Bernie Sanders' presidential runs in 2016 and 2020. It's why he emerged from obscurity to challenge the hollowed-out Democratic establishment, and why the nation's healthcare discourse now includes socialized medicine.
“It wouldn’t work here.”
“I like my plan.”
I’m sorry but no you don’t. Nobody does. Pretending you love your healthcare plan is the ultimate in bad faith. We have been conditioned to accept what private, for-profit healthcare will offer us. If my last two years working in telemedicine has taught me anything, it’s that the system is far more broken than anyone outside the industry truly realizes, and that the only way to fix it is to take away the incentive for profiting off patients. And funny enough, once old enough to qualify, people jump at the opportunity to get on Medicare, or in other words, a public option.
Separating healthcare and employment would free up people to take the job that gives them personal fulfillment. It would give them the opportunity to “build something themselves,” a concept that boomers hold in such high regard, without needing to sacrifice healthcare coverage to do it. It would make life better for millions of Americans young and old. This belief is not a phase we will grow out of when we make more in salary and pay more taxes. It’s a core belief.
Student debt is our generation's biggest burden and its not going away. The average student debt in the US is $37,000, with 42 million Americans borrowing money to pay for college. I am fortunate enough to not be in this position, and yet I wholeheartedly support any and all student debt forgiveness even though I would see absolutely no direct benefit.
“That’s not fair to the people who paid for college.”
The best argument in this situation is to focus on the future. What if we could change the system to prevent your future children from the crushing debt you experience now? What if we could accelerate the economy by giving millions of Americans more money for essential life expenses and discretionary spending? It’s all possible if we agree that the current process is unsustainable and the only way to fix it is to start new, and even though it wouldn’t personally benefit everyone, it’s for the greater good.
All of these proposals would cost money, and it’s important to acknowledge that our generation understands that. I live in NYC so I have a pretty high tax rate already, and personally I’d rather pay more and get more than pay what I do now and get what I am getting. If an increase on my taxes means my healthcare doesn’t change every year when my company decides to change providers or I decide to change jobs then sign me up. Now, we could also have a whole conversation about how we could tax corporations and billionaires to cover most of the cost but I want to focus on this point: yes this costs money, yes we acknowledge that, and this is not the gotcha argument you think it is.
It's not a coincidence that each generation is more liberal than the next. These last mid-terms saw crazy high engagement from young voters in a way that substantially impacted the outcome in many races. Writing off young liberals as uninformed and wishful thinkers is a mistake. I will fully admit that pre-2016 I was not very engaged in politics. I thought I didn’t need to be. There was a Democrat in office that seemed to be doing fine and I was in college surrounded by people that had no political interest.
Our country offers people two options when voting: Democrat or Republican. Republicans perform more strongly with older voters while Democrats are more popular with younger and minorities. This is the basis for the whole argument of “you’ll shift to the right when you get older.” But what exactly am I being asked to vote for? Social policies are not just ideas but real-life impacts. Yes, I am a cis white male so Roe v Wade does not impact my body directly, but I don’t need to claim that I know a women in order to care. I might be straight and cisgender but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about queer and transgender rights. The older generation misses the key point that millennials care about people who are unlike themselves, and that will not change as we grow older.
“So what are you going to do about it?”
Well, straw-man Boomer, first I am going to rant about it here because even though writing is one my of least favorite activities, ranting poetically about politics to boomers is a hobby of mine as of late. Second, I am going to support people who are doing the good work. I may have given up on civil engineering in college for a career in supply chain, but my sibling is in graduate school for urban planning to try and make our hellscape better for the future. Most importantly, I am not going to sit quietly and ignore politics because its uncomfortable or the people in power don’t agree with me. I’m going to continue to have these conversations with people in as productive way as I can and vote for those with whom I agree when the opportunities are there and vote for the better of two options when that’s the choice I’m given.
The world around me has changed as the years creep by. Or maybe I just started to see the way it always has been. I have family and friends impacted by the right's attack on basic human rights, rising rent prices, and escalating hatred in America. I’ve considered how hard moving to Europe would be (answer: too hard). So as I get older, my mentality doesn’t shift to hoarding what is mine telling younger folks good luck. It shifts to building a better future for everyone, even those who don’t agree with my politics, because the only hope for improving the future is to make sure the kids are alright.
Follow Corey Dubin on Twitter at @SkolTerps.