Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Beaten Generation

I had a friend in Charlottesville who served in Iraq. He wasn't much older than me and was already in the Army by the time Jooner took over, so he was part of the invasion. He had some funny, fucked up stories - like guys playing tag at night by throwing these heavy Army glowsticks called chemlights at each other. Or the time they camped out in a building with the plumbing shut off and kept filling up the toilets until it was time to move and their lieutenant had them go back and collect everything. Or the time his squad leader beat the shit out of an old guy for carrying a bucket of water.

This friend wasn't a draftee. He volunteered and afterwards came home to be a carpenter and occasional indie film actor. Which for the Millennial generation is more the norm than not. For every one of us that works two jobs and an internship on top of grad school, there's a dozen guys like my friend who only have a high school diploma or an associate's degree, trying to make it in an economy that makes it abundantly clear we are not welcome.

Let's back up for a moment and examine something larger - how does one become wealthy? The obvious answer is be born into it, like Donald Trump and Jamie Dimon. A less obvious, though more practical answer would be investing. That's how white-collar 401(k)s and IRAs work. In the shorter term there's CDs and Money Market Funds, but all of these pay shit interest compared to just a couple years ago. For any real wealth generation, you have to dive into the broader finance culture which has so embraced the gambler's fallacy of "Big risks! Big rewards!" that you might as well go to a casino.

Now for Millennials like myself, my vet friend, and probably most of you, this stacks the deck against us. Except for the particularly lucky, those of us with the college education to be employable in the middle-class office world are lugging around a record breaking one trillion dollars of student debt. That makes for a constant drain on our income, especially since not even bankruptcy can lift this debt. For even those who forgo a four year degree, like my vet friend and another friend of mine in the National Guard right now, they don't have much in the way of initial capital. A conservative investment - as in a fixed rate or stable stock - requires something in the neighborhood of 10,000 up front to see any returns worth mentioning. Where is a carpenter or a Guardsman or a temp supposed to get that?

We sure ain't getting it from work - if we can even find work. Official unemployment among Millennials is pushing 12% - four points over the national average - and with the way those numbers are usually cooked to look better, you can bet it's closer to 30%.

Even when we get jobs, they're shit. Miserable, dead-end wage slavery of either the temp or "service" variety. Assistants, sales associates, and the ever popular internship - popular with companies that is, like indentured servitude back in the day, only without any real guarantee it will pay off.

And what is the advice we get from those in power? "Grow up!" "Tighten your belts!" "Stop spending so much on iPhones!" "You can't have Social Security or Medicare because socialism is evil!"

In other words, a whole lot of bullshit. Austerity is the favored policy of both parties, but only for the young. It's all anyone talks about in legitimate publications since they're dominated by the same dolts who've been lecturing us on the evils of welfare since Reagen - but still expect Millennials to pay for their retirement. And the few Millennial voices that manage to break out into the wider culture are either children of the same privileged class demanding the rest of us tighten our belts or they're bitter nerds who've latched on to the most nihilistic threads of libertarianism to make up for never getting their dicks wet.

There is no happy ending to all this. It's just going to get uglier until Millennials either organize to seriously challenge those in power... or until we snap en masse. And remember how many of us are combat vets...

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