Our broken economy is making young people miserable

Telling Generation Y to stop complaining only perpetuates inequality

Published September 21, 2013 2:00PM (EDT)

This article originally appeared on Alternet.


The media love to analyze millennials. It's almost like there's a competition to see who can rip apart Generation Y in the snarkiest fashion.

But most of this work ends up overly simplistic, ignoring the economic and social forces that shape young people's lives. They almost seem eager to silence millennials’ uneasiness about our world.
The newest addition to this trend, a blog post from Wait But Why that went viral this week, regurgitates this formula by essentially stating that millennials are unhappy because they have higher expectations for their lives than what they can realistically obtain at the moment. Therefore, instead of speaking out about their struggles, they should simply stop feeling unhappy because this is life, and this is what young people have to go through. Basically, cheer up, Lucy — life isn’t so bad.

People have quickly taken to the blogosphere to critique the piece for improperly comparing our generation to our parents’ generation. After all, the piece fails to mention that our parents had less unemployment, more access to union jobs, a lower uninsured rate for health insurance, cheaper tuition, and cheaper and more accessible home mortgages.  They also had a higher average income with a high school diploma alone and made about the same as we make today, despite the dramatic rise in costs and our productivity. Basically, life is pretty bad, and empirically worse for millennials than their parents.

Meanwhile, as The Atlantic noted in a piece titled “Every Every Every Generation Has Been the Me Me Me Generation,” it’s inaccurate to say our generation particularly has feelings of entitlement. Young people in general tend to be a bit more self-absorbed, and therefore every generation goes through that phase. The difference, however, is that our generation actually has it worse, and has in some ways felt less entitled, accepting their looming fate instead of arrogantly demanding more.

Which leads me to the biggest problem underlying the entire article: that talking about our unhappiness is only aggravating because we simply can’t handle reality. Therefore, we should shut up and suck it up.

But any time you imply to millennials, or anyone for that matter, that they should “stop complaining, you don’t have it that bad,” you ultimately work to prop up a system of inequality — which is often the root cause of unhappiness. After all, there’s not too much to be happy about when you're living in a society where your life — food, shelter, healthcare, etc. — relies on a financial system that is structured in a way that squeezes profits out of a majority of people, who are left unfulfilled, to fulfill a few people's lives and make them very wealthy.

Yet, our desire to be happy amidst our dark reality is most likely what made this piece so popular. I saw too many friends posting this piece under statuses that read: “Guess that’s why we’re not happy haha” or “We really should stop complaining so much.” These are friends whose realities are quite harsh — making around $25,000 a year while trying to afford rent and food while paying back their more than $20,000 student loans. But instead of making millennials feel united through anger, which often is a catalyst for change, the piece manipulates millennials into feeling united over their ‘unwarranted’ unhappiness, which leaves them with nothing more than a smirk and a shrug — the ultimate act of millennial complicity.

Perhaps the real way to deal with our unhappiness is to get motivated to fight to change our reality, which fortunately thousands of millennials are already doing. Certainly, fighting for change doesn’t mean your struggles will be replaced by happiness. But joining with others to express your collective unhappiness does work wonders for the mind, body and soul. After all, repressing feelings and staying silent never brought about any real change or happiness.

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @alyssa_fig.

By Alyssa Figueroa

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Alternet Economy Generation Y Society Unhappiness Young People