Millennials prove themselves not worst generation

By Opinions Editor

Everyone has heard the cliche: Millennials are lazy, entitled, dependent and obsessed with social media. Though every generation may gripe about the uselessness of the next, these false stereotypes of millennials could be damaging office policies and perspectives.

Instead of generalizing millennials as irresponsible, older generations should examine the issues of the social climate we grew up in before casting judgment for how well or poorly we adapted to it. Millennials—those born between 1980 and 2000—have suffered worse economic conditions, taken on more college debt and had to adapt to workplace technology trends more quickly than any previous generations.

As we enter the workforce, employers are hosting and attending seminars called “How to Manage Millennials and Keep Them Engaged” and “The Millennials Are Here” to deal with the “problems” of the careless younger generation. The seminars patronizingly assume young workers will be bouncing off the wall and poorly organized and difficult to rein into the workforce. Other surveys such as MTV’s March 2012 “No-Collar Worker” survey found that millennials are more idealistic and seek jobs that will make meaningful change and fall in line with their personal goals, unlike previous generations who were willing to work their way to the top despite starting out with boring, seemingly dead-end jobs.

Although every generation has its entitled youngsters, the millennial generation as a whole is financially aware and adaptive, making us a workforce full of potential.

Not all millennials are lazy, as evidenced by the extending workday and number of young people working their way through college—72 percent of college students worked at least part-time in 2011 and 20 percent worked full time, according to the 2012 American Community Survey. Most colleges recommend students work no more than 15 hours per week, but to cope with rising college-related expenses, millennials have adapted to making their schedules flexible to work additional hours as needed, according to the ACS.

Critics also claim millennials are self-centered. Studies have shown millennials spend more income on personal expenses rather than houses, cars, health insurance or other long-term investments, likely the result of businesses  hiring millennials part time without benefits or as unpaid interns. The likelihood of receiving employee health coverage fell from 64.4 percent in 1997 to 56.5 percent in 2010, according to a February 2013 Census Bureau report. This is far from shocking considering millennials lived through the Great Recession when banks folded, credit was impossible to get and the job market shrank rapidly. The resulting unemployment rate and lack of financial security has taught millennials to be cautious about investing in large purchases, not self-centered. Millennials still need health insurance and are likely to look for jobs with better benefits in coming years. 

In fact, millennials evaluate costs more thoroughly than parent generations, according to the 2013 Wells Fargo Millennial Study. The lack of long-term financial investments does not translate to job hunting, and approximately 75 percent of millennials want long-term careers instead of short-term jobs, according to the study.

Many young people have shouldered excessive amounts of student debt for degrees that may not result in long-term careers. The average amount of student debt is $29,400 per borrower, according to the Institute for College Access & Success. As the country pulls itself out of the economic recession, millennials and our children need to be aware of cost-benefit analysis when deciding whether college is worth the crippling loans. Sometimes, if parents still have a spare room, living at home is more appealing than taking on debt. 

The federal government is aware of the problem and is slowly addressing it through legislation such as the Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act, which was introduced to Congress Jan. 9. Employers also need to be aware of this concern when hiring millennials. If we live with parents, it is only because we are trying to balance loan payments with bills, especially considering the escalating rent rate in Chicago and constantly growing taxes. Living at home for a little while is not always irresponsible. Sometimes, it is the most responsible thing to do. 

On top of that, many millennials had to take on responsibilities at a younger age because of the high divorce rate. The average length of a marriage in the U.S. is 14 1/2 years, according to an August 2011 Census Bureau report, meaning the average child does not reach 18 before his or her parents separate. To help cope with expenses, the number of high school students employed at least part-time in 2013 hovered around 27.8 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and when combined with the 74.2 percent of high school graduates looking for work, most millennials work at least part time throughout their schooling, preparing them for a full-time workplace environment. Because working in environments such as fast food kitchens is hardly appealing, many millennials may be instilled with a drive to pursue loftier goals.

Millennials are hard workers, financially aware and will assume higher positions in the workplace during the next decade. If employers want the best young minds, they need to treat their young employees as adults and not as irresponsible children.