Busting the myths about millennials

|    Stephanie Mehta     |

MALCOM Harris is the thinking person’s Berniecrat. His book, ‘Kids These Days,’ offers a comprehensive, data- and research-driven look at the trends and anxieties that led so many young people to zealously support Sen Bernie Sanders’ quixotic bid for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States.

Millennials are better educated and more skilled than previous generations, yet they are saddled with more debt and fewer stable job prospects than their predecessors. To hear Harris, a millennial himself, tell it, they’re overworked, undersexed and stressed out.

No wonder so many of them embraced an anti-establishment candidate who campaigned for free college education and railed against corporate greed. “Were someone to push the American oligarchy off its ledge, the shove seems likely to come from this side of the generation gap,” Harris writes.

Harris sets out to dispel much of the conventional wisdom about his peers – that they’re entitled, tech-addicted and in need of constant validation – using a novel approach.

He analyses millennials through the lens of “human capital,” an economic concept that refers to the investments that go into making a resource (in this case, people) more productive.

Students cheer during a 2015 speech by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at George Mason University in Virginia

By this measure, young adults born between 1980 and 2000, with their competitive schools, unpaid internships, organised sports and music lessons, indeed should be very valuable. But they find themselves thrown into a job market that, thanks to globalisation, increased productivity and the “gig economy,” doesn’t reward them for their inputs.

If you don’t count people in finance careers, college-educated young adults have seen their real wages drop 8.5 per cent between 2000 and 2012, and unemployment rates for recent graduates have nearly doubled since 2007.

Far from being entitled, millennials are disadvantaged.

And the always-on devices they supposedly love so much? Technological advances are part of what’s killing their professional prospects.

It’s a stark and compelling picture, but in Harris’ book, it’s fairly bloodless.

The few real-life examples of struggling millennials offered by the author are gleaned from the research papers, books and articles he cites to support his arguments.

To disprove the myth that most undergrads are rich kids coasting through school while their parents write tuition checks – only about 19 per cent of full-time students finish four-year programmes on time, Harris reports – Text and photo by The Washington Post