Profiles of the Jobless: Baby Boomers Strike Back at 'Mad as Hell' Millennials

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In the past several weeks, the Atlantic has published five anthologies of readers seeking, finding and not finding work: The Unemployed Speak, Advice from Employers, Longer Voices of the JoblessWhat It's Like to Be Jobless in Your 20s, and The 'Mad as Hell' Millennial Generation

In the last article, frustrated young job searchers reserved harsh words for their parents' generation. They accused Baby Boomers of maxing out their entitlements as they ignored the environment, poisoned the financial and housing sectors, and ultimately doomed the economy just as Millennials were graduating from college with heavy debt burdens.

In the comment section, and in our personal email account, Boomers returned fire. Here's a taste of what 20-somethings said about their parents' legacy, followed by some of the most indignant and measured responses from the Boomers.

As always, keep writing. Our email is aboutmyjob1@gmail.com.

"I want to blame the universities and grown-ups who should have known better. Instead, like my me-first generation, I blame myself."

Subject line: MAD AS HELL

I'm only 23 and it's been barely over a year since I graduated from university.  Yet already the work environment and the consequences of the "real world" have warped and degraded me. All I have are feelings of disillusionment and betrayal ...

Much of my rage is reserved for a predatory system of higher education and the failures of a generation that came before. I'm angry that a "state" university costs as much as it does. That many, if not most of the students who attend, treat the experience like a 4-year version of MTV's Spring Break. Massive grade inflation means one less standard deviation between myself and those who don't try. Lax entrance standards means that even in smaller classes, half of the students do as little as possible, have nothing to contribute, and see learning as a necessary evil, if even that. These "state" universities are more interested in funding nice football stadiums than maintaining up-to-date libraries or modern classrooms. They are more interested in your tuition than your education. And will continue to hound you for Alumni contributions long after graduation. 
 
Then there's the baby boomer generation. Guardians of the state, they have left it dysfunctional. Watchdogs of the economy, they have let it burn. Stewards of the earth, they have done little to curb its exploitation or prepare for a more sustainable future.  From Reagan on the country has lived "above it's means."  More tax cuts and higher spending. And every time the house of cards threatens to fall down, consumer spending  receives another stimulating injection in the hope of averting the dismal reality on the other side of of the bubble.  But this time there's apparently nothing left to do. This time the debt is just too big. This time, the baby boomers say from the comfort of lower unemployment and a stable mortgage, there's no escaping the pain. They are more concerned with keeping inflation low then the employment of their children. They are more interested in protecting their 401K and Social Security benefits than investing in tomorrow.  They spent our future and now need us to pay the costs.
 
But most of my anger is reserved for myself. I pursued a "Liberal Arts Degree" in communications rather than a B.S. in engineering or computer science. I spent all four years at a state university rather than the first two at a community college. I worked in the summer instead of getting an internship. I worked harder at my classes than making contacts and networking with professionals. Not everyone is suffering in this economy, and if I were going to college for the first time this fall I'd know how to prepare. But I didn't at the time and now I'm left to face the consequences. I want to blame the universities and "grown-ups" who I feel should have known better. They were the ones, after all, peddling the mantra of "go to college, study hard, get a job."  
 
Instead, egotistical like the rest of my me-first, entitlement ridden generation, I blame myself.

"The Baby Boomers' entire lives have been all take and no give."

Nothing infuriates me more as a Millennial than the self-righteousness of the Baby Boomers. Their entire lives have been all take and no give. Their parents lived through a Great Depression and World War II and stood up to grinding poverty, unfettered capitalism, authoritarian communism, fascism and the prospect of nuclear war. And what did my parents and their generational cohort do? 

1. They spent their teens and twenties having lots of casual sex and getting really high on lots of stuff. If they went to college, they probably treated the drafted soldiers who had to go to Vietnam with contempt and scorn when they came back. If they didn't go to college or into the military, that was okay too because you could have a stable, middle-class job with a twelfth-grade education back then. And even if they got stuck working a crappy McJob, the minimum wage was more than 50% more in real terms back then than it is today, and they paid less for things like healthcare and college tuition. 

2. They spent their thirties living like the characters on Cheers, promoting their careers and wearing suits with improbably big shoulder pads. Stagflation made defined-benefit pension plans increasingly difficult to manage, so unlike their parents, they were supposed to start putting money in things called 401(k)s and IRAs. Did they do that? Of course not! Reaganomics is going to expand the economy so much that we don't need to save for a rainy day! It's Morning in America damnit! And with all our tax cuts, we'll retain more of our lifetime earnings anyway. 

3. They spent their forties and fifties treating their children like porcelain dolls to which nothing bad should ever happen and no remotely negative thoughts or words should ever enter their precious little minds. Play at the park? There could be pedophiles. Little League? Everybody should get a trophy. That way nobody ever has to feel sad ever. PlayStation for Christmas? I'll just put it on the credit card. Remodel the kitchen so it's capable of gourmet meals we'll never actually cook? That's what home equity loans are for. 

4. In their sixties, they wondered why the paltry amounts they'd put in their retirement accounts weren't adding up to much. Didn't save for the kids' college either. Oh well, that's what loans are for. They'll get a good job when they graduate and pay it all back. Cut Social Security? What are you? A socialist? Ask me to pay more taxes to fix this massive deficit? What are you? A socialist? Maybe I can get one of those reverse-mortgage thingies to retire...Why can't my kids find jobs? Kids these days, so lazy and entitled. In my day, things weren't this easy...
THE BOOMERS RESPOND

"Waah! Those horrible Boomers!"

Shorter version of Millennial rant: "Waah! Those horrible Boomers! I really want to live an entitled life like they had, and I deserve, but they messed everything up.  Instead, I actually have to start at the bottom like every other generation. How unfair!"

"Communications? What is that? Get a PRACTICAL DEGREE."

Kids, bashing boomers, seriously? The ones who run businesses, who own businesses? Did they spoil their kids rotten, yes, but only because we had a series of recessions like this we had to work through doing any work we could find. It was not days of wine and roses. The people who did well financially hardly had a chance to come up for air. 

The worst thing you can say is that we left the youngsters on their own too much, because we worked, worked, worked. All I remember of my life is working, no benefits for most of it, no vacations for most of it. I saved my own retirement. 

Did we buy things to make up for time lost with the young people in our lives? Guilty. But if the young people are too buck-headed to follow our example on work, whose fault is that? This article doesn't mention how much more likely the "millennial" generation is to be unmarried with a kid. Don't be naive - that is going to make your hiring prospects much more diminished. It shouldn't, but it does. Single-parents take off a lot more work, and many work sites don't want to deal with it, and don't have to deal with it. 

I see a lot of millennials spend a king's ransom to get completely impractical degrees because they think these should be real degrees. Communications? What is that? Who has a job in "Communication?" You have a better chance with a English degree, which is tougher. But be aware the only people who get job offers with an English degree are the top of the pile, the "A" students. So it is now, so it has always been. 

Get a PRACTICAL DEGREE. Practical degrees are tough. Science. Computers. Engineering. Health care track. All of these are the toughest most competitive degrees. Stop being in denial and telling the Booomers how things are. Listen to the boomers who are trying to help you. Should the government stop giving loans in certain subjects -- absolutely. Then maybe young people will stop pretending they are the Little Mermaid and can just wish their lives to be formed for them as they are guided by a singing lobster. 

Real work is not Disney. It's "Clerks." If you have a job at a 7-11 right now, you are doing great. It's a Depression. Yes. I said it.

"There are 79 million boomers. We were all druggies in bell bottoms and mini skirts who went all yuppie on y'all."

There are 79 million boomers. We were all druggies in bell bottoms and mini skirts who went all yuppie on y'all. Viet Nam was our fault. The Federal Reserve is our fault. The entitlement society is our fault. And you graduated and can't get a job. That's our fault, too. But that is what parents do. Absorb the shocks from their grown up babies and keep on loving them while they figure out the world does not rotate around their ass.

"Most of us are just people who tried to raise our children and do our jobs just like every other generation."

Painting all baby boomers with the same wide brush is childish. Most of us are just people who tried to raise our children and do our jobs just like every other generation. It's true that we failed to pay enough attention to the environment. On the other hand, we were the ones who invented environmentalism on a mass scale. So all of us were having casual sex and taking drugs when we were young. Yeah, except those of us who were working in Vista and the Peace Corp or volunteering to work for the rights of migrant workers or fighting in Viet Nam.. I spent my whole working life working against discrimination and homelessness and I never made more than $26,000 a year. I'm not complaining. I made my choices and I live with them. I had a choice.

I am very worried about this: my children's generation seems to have lost their choices. I'm afraid that they will not be able to reach their dreams. Listen: Get mad at the ones who are in charge. Get mad at the political system that the ordinary people can't change. Get mad that Congress is controlled by the powerful  interests of the very wealthy. Get mad that all the politicians care about is their own power. Don't get mad at other generations. Some of us have been fighting this battle for a long, long time.

Oh, by the way. My husband and I got kicked to the curb two years ago and have not been able to find jobs that pay more than minimum wage. We are in our 60's and know that we will never be able to work in jobs that use our skills and education again. We work in retail stores.

INTERLUDE: U.S. PRODUCTIVITY CRISIS
"The problem with US workers in general, is they cost too much."

The problem with US workers in general, is they cost too much, and they have a sense of entitlement. It's not our fault that we cost so much, but the cost of living in North America combined with 8% federal employer taxes and the fact that employers pay for benefits like health care helps price US workers out of the market. The fact that I can hire senior software engineers in eastern europe for 1/3 the cost of North America means that the North Americans will either have to deflate their economy to match their costs to the market price, or figure out a way to deliver more value to justify their higher price.

"In one generation, some are hard working. Others are lazy. Some are intelligent. Others are dumb as rocks."

These emails are interesting, but too many of them seem to be trying to speak for their  generation.

I own a small construction company. I generally have 10-14 people employed at a time. I have some turnover since i sadly have to occasionally fire people. But more often it's because I often have over qualified people that move onto better jobs. I have hired whites blacks, latinos, high school dropouts [I myself am one], high school graduates, college students, and college graduates. I have one lady working for me as a laborer who is trying to get her Masters in Victorian English. Another young woman worked for me while getting her Masters and is still working for me until she can find a job in her feild.

My point is that one thing that working with all of these different types of people has taught me is that very few are "representative" of their generation. Some are hard working. Others are lazy. Some are intelligent. Others are dumb as rocks.

I'm not saying that generational differences don't exist. I'm simply saying we tend to exaggerate them somewhat. When the media talk about a "generation" they almost always are talking about white college-educated kids. They aren't talking about 20 year-old factory workers in Ohio or warehouse workers in Wisconsin.  The members of the media are talking about thier own children . 

There is nothing wrong with talking about college-educated kids. But we shouldnt assume that they represent a whole generation. Nor should we assume that even among themselves, they are typical. Some are idealistic. Others are cynical. But I dont see the 20-30-year olds today as a monolithic generation that can be described as "cynical", "idealistic", "angry,"hopeful", etc.

"Welcome to my world, say the boomers. Nice to see you here finally wanting to join us."

I've been a house painter (loved it), a packer for moving company, which is hot, exhausting work that some people are happy to do their whole lives. I've waited tables. I've worked as a temp receptionist, secretary, and per diem clerk. I worked as a per diem nurse, where you're on call, you get called in, usually when the weather is terrible or the floor is overcrowded. I've worked as a med tech, which is the toughest job in health care. I'm not going in chronological order here, but the point is no one owes you anything, I've found.

An employer wants to know can you do you the work and will you be a benefit to them. That's it. No one cares about your intensely personal inner monologue.

If you are lucky you will end the day covered in paint drips, feces bits that you can smell and not see, MRSA exposures, grease, after having work place conflicts that stress you. If you're lucky.

That is the wonderful world of work. Welcome to my world, say the boomers. Nice to see you here finally wanting to join us.

Every single time I graduated from college, there was a recession. There's been a boom all the youngsters' lives. But that is not reality. This is. If you want to find a job, better ask a Mexican how to do it. That's reality.

INTERLUDE: GENERATIONAL BIAS
"What we call a generation is a model used to describe an impossibly complex reality."

Almost all those who have written comments treat a "generation" as if  it actually exists. What we call a generation is a model used to describe an impossibly complex reality.  Academics aggregate and simplify data to describe a phenomenon. They create a model and use it to illuminate the phenomenon. The model is not reality.

There is no such thing as a generation. It  is an intellectual abstraction that illustrates but does not inform. It is intellectual laziness. What is called a generation is just people. Sometimes people have common experiences that may generally define them as a group but they are not that group. They are people individually trying to live their lives in the time they are given.

Labeling people as a generation demeans and objectifies their individuality making them easier to ignore. That may be the entire point.

"Too many people believe they will be protected, comforted, and provided for by the state that made them promises."

To me, the attitude that brings these notes together is "I trusted the system, and it failed me".

Politicians of both parties have pushed this idea way too much over the last few decades. We can provide you a career, trust us. We can keep you healthy by banning things that make you unhealthy, trust us. We can write laws that eliminate anything bad, trust us. The state can provide all of your needs.

But that's not really true, it never was. Unfortunately too many people believe they will be protected, comforted, and provided for by the state that made them promises. That has bred a kind of extended adolescence, lasting in some cases for a lifetime. Fortunately, a lot of people are belatedly realizing this.

So, you're all sentenced to that frozen gulag of a reeducation camp, otherwise known as real life. The term of the sentence varies. Some will only be imprisoned a few days; some for the rest of your natural life. You'll term ends when the marvels of state control of your life choices loses its appeal. Then you will be free.

"As a matter of fact, about 75 million of us were NOT at Woodstock."

I get the anger, which is entirely justified, but I would just humbly ask those who are so angry to please try to be a bit more discerning and discriminating about the targeting of that anger.

1) As Marilyn Quayle famously said of our generation, "Not everyone demonstrated, dropped out, took drugs, joined in the sexual revolution or dodged the draft." As a matter of fact, about 75 million of us were NOT at Woodstock.

2) Yes, not every Boomer socked away retirement savings in those early years. Some of us did, though, including me. For those of us who began working in the 70s and early 80s, though, the economy was every bit as bad as it was now. I remember those times as being very difficult to get a job, the pay being low, and the cost of everything climbing sky high. Imagine everything you are going through now, plus long lines at the gas station, plus mandatory 55mph speed limits and low thermostat settings, plus double digit inflation and mortgage interest rates. It really was pretty bad then. 

3) My impression is that the main reason why Boomers did not let their kids free range like they themselves had been allowed to do is the same reason why the hitchhiking that was common in the 60s suddenly became rare. A number of things in our society changed, and we all realized that there were now a lot of very scary and dangerous people out there that weren't when we were kids. Or so it seemed, at least.

4) I would also just like to point out that the Boomer generation was ravaged by inflation to an unprecedented extent. When I was just old enough to start writing thank you notes, I can remember putting a three cent stamp on the envelope, and a nickel could buy a candy bar at the corner store. I would also like to point out that all the way through the Greenspan years, the Fed was under the control of people who were born before the Baby Boom years, so that inflation wasn't actually our creation, just our problem. Boomers tried to cope, maybe most didn't do very well, or at least as well as we could have. I do know for a fact that there are quite a few Boomers that have never been able to live high on the hog at all, but instead have been struggling and scrimping and making do pretty much their entire lives.
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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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