The phrase “OK Boomer” is perceived — and often intended — as a cross-generational dismissal, a way for young people to snipe: “Never listen to anyone over 50.”
But millennial journalist Jill Filipovic, author of the new book, “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind” (One Signal Publishers/Atria), out Tuesday, claims the phrase is more a form of defense than offense.
“ ‘OK Boomer’ is more than just an imperious insult,” she writes. “It’s frustrated millennial shorthand for the ways the same people who created so many of our problems now pin the blame on us.”
In the book, Filipovic takes us through numerous areas of modern life, explaining through statistics and personal stories why millennials — those born between 1980-1996, who make up the nation’s largest age group — face tougher economic challenges than their parents’ generation — the baby boomers, born between 1946-1964.
“Millennials have faced unique hardships that set our generation apart,” Filipovic writes. “We’re only now starting to grasp the degree to which we have gotten screwed. And we’re responding with desperation and sometimes anger. That’s where ‘OK Boomer’ comes from: It’s a final, frustrated dismissal from people suffering years of political and economic neglect.”
While the oldest millennial is now 40 years old, Filipovic notes that this generation remains underrepresented in our government.
“Nearly 80 percent of senators and two-thirds of the US House of Representatives are 55 or older. Just 7 percent of representatives in Congress are millennials. There is not a single millennial in the US Senate.
“Boomers, well into their sixties and seventies, retain significant control over American politics. Millennials haven’t enjoyed our fair share of political influence, which means we haven’t seen the kind of investments we need. And boomers aren’t loosening their grip anytime soon.”
Much of Filipovic’s book illustrates how wealth disparity between the generations is ever-increasing.
“Millennials make up close to a quarter of the US population, but hold just 3 percent of the wealth,” she writes. “When boomers were our age, they held 21 percent.”
One cause of this is the cost of higher education: Millennials face private education costs 300 percent higher than boomers did, and around 1 in 10 millennials carries student loan debt in the six-figure range. By comparison, she writes that “when the average boomer was a young thirty-something, their educational debts amounted to just $2,300 in today’s dollars.”
She notes that Ronald Reagan, “the first boomer-elected president,” helped cause this crisis by slashing the Higher Education Act, which had made it easier for students to qualify for and receive need-based aid.
As a result, most students became dependent on loans — and this, combined with greater tuition costs, helped spur the financial crisis they’re in today.
“Boomer households today are worth 12 times as much as millennial ones,” Filipovic writes. “The average millennial is worth just $8,000 — less than adults of any generation in three decades.”
And as millennials’ educational costs have exploded, their job opportunities have dried up, she writes.
“Boomers were the last generation to enter a job market offering living-wage blue-collar work. In Rust Belt towns, even in the mid-1960s, you could graduate high school straight into a factory job that would keep a nuclear family afloat,” Filipovic writes, citing the nationwide closures of factories and mines, the source of “America’s last well-paying blue-collar jobs,” as one cause for these job losses.
As a result, millennial earnings have plunged compared to previous generations. Adjusted to 2016 dollars, boomer households led by a male breadwinner averaged $56,100 in annual income in 1978, while comparable millennial households, at the same age, made just $49,500 in 2014. Overall, boomer households in this demographic were just $10,000 behind the national average, while millennial households in the same cohort were closer to $25,000 behind the average.
The 2008 recession further compounded the problem.
“The shock of unemployment translated into a 7 percent loss of earnings for baby boomers. Millennials lost nearly double that amount,” she writes. “And boomers saw significant recovery afterward. By 2010, their losses had already shrunk by 65 percent. Millennials didn’t see a comparable bounce back … [due to] limited employment histories, little to no savings, and a vanishing social safety net.”
On top of all this, millennials also lack the wealth-building benefits boomers came to expect, especially since companies began slashing employee perks after the 2008 recession. A Pew Research Center analysis found that “while nearly 70 percent of working boomers had access to employer-sponsored retirement plans in 2012, more than 40 percent of working millennials aren’t eligible to participate in retirement plans — because their company doesn’t offer one, because they work too few hours to qualify, or because they haven’t been employed long enough.”
At the same time, owning a home has become increasingly out of reach for most millennials.
“The cost to build homes has increased so much since the [2008 financial] crisis, it’s more difficult for millennials to find affordable homes,” Jung Hyun Choi, a research associate with the Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute, says in the book.
As builders began focusing on more expensive projects, there were “simply fewer affordable starter homes to go around, making all of them more expensive,” Filipovic writes.
When coupled with deflated incomes, fledgling millennial homeowners have paid “almost 40 percent more for their first homes than boomers did.”
Rents, too, have climbed: “In 1970, the median monthly rent in the United States was a little more than $600 a month, in 2019 dollars,” Filipovic writes. “By 2019, it had doubled, to more than $1,300 a month.”
When boomers were 34 years old, close to half of them owned homes, according to Filipovic, but for millennials at the same age, that figure is only 37 percent.
Because of all this, millennials are “less likely to own a home than any previous cohort except the Greatest Generation, who came of age at the close of the Great Depression,” she writes.
In the meantime, Filipovic argues that technology has exacerbated millennial woes. While every generation sees tech advancements over their lifetime, today’s changes are more disruptive and pernicious than unifying and hopeful.
“While boomers also grew up in an era of rapid technological advancement, the innovations of their time came with a sense of wonder and optimism: From the dawn of color television to the space race to the invention of the microwave oven, boomer childhoods were marked by advances that promised better futures, and these discoveries often delivered,” she writes.
“Millennials, on the other hand, have seen the great promises of digital technology and connection quickly turn sinister.”
Filipovic notes how the promise of a smarter, better-informed populace thanks to the Internet has “been thoroughly dashed as bad actors have exploited these tools for personal gain,” resulting in increased bullying, misinformation and “the weaponization of rhetoric that fuels bigotry, violence, slaughter and ethnic cleansing.”
‘The average millennial is worth just $8,000.’
– millennial journalist and author Jill Filipovic
And despite social media’s ability to connect us, millennials — the “heaviest adult social media users” — are a lonely generation.
“Twenty-two percent of millennials, but just 14 percent of Gen Xers and 9 percent of boomers, listed the number of friends they have as zero,” Filipovic writes.
“When [around] a quarter of millennials say they don’t have a single acquaintance beyond their family members or their partner — not even friends, acquaintances — you have to wonder what’s going on. Not even one in 10 boomers says the same.”
Possibly as a result, millennials are more likely to suffer from depression than older generations.
“Older millennials may be the most depressed thirty-somethings in American history,” Filipovic writes, noting that due to a larger incidence of drug overdoses and suicides, millennials have a mortality rate 20 percent higher than Gen Xers at the same age.
“A Blue Cross Blue Shield analysis of health data found that we are significantly more likely to suffer from a major depressive disorder than Gen Xers were in their mid-thirties.”
To compound the problem, millennials are also less likely to be insured. “One in five millennials struggling with major depression — a condition that can shave nearly a decade off one’s life — goes without treatment,” Filipovic writes. “And 85 percent of people with depression are also struggling with at least one serious additional issue, whether substance abuse or chronic hypertension or Type 2 diabetes or a range of other afflictions.”
“Older millennials report higher rates of substance abuse, high blood pressure, Crohn’s disease and colitis, and higher cholesterol than Gen Xers did at the same age. By contrast, baby boomers are the longest-living generation in American history.”
Despite all their struggles, there is one area in which millennials might enjoy an advantage over their boomer predecessors: love and marriage.
While millennials marry later on average — almost 40 percent of boomers were married by age 30, but only 20 percent of millennials were — their unions are generally more stable than boomers’.
“If anything really sets boomer marriages apart, it’s divorce — they do a lot of it,” Filipovic writes.
“Older boomers brought the nation a glut of divorce in the 1970s and a national divorce rate that peaked in 1980. While younger generations of Americans divorce less often, boomers just keep splitting up into middle and even old age,” she writes.
Filipovic claims that the rise in equal rights has helped deter divorce among millennials.
“Millennials have made marriage more egalitarian and more stable,” she writes. “We are more open-minded and more likely to seek love across racial and religious lines … Millennials are also the first generation in America to hit the average marriage age with the right to marry a person of any gender.”
Millennials are also healthier than other generations when it comes to sexual health.
“According to psychology professor Jean Twenge’s study on sexual behavior, we have fewer sexual partners (eight on average) than our Gen X predecessors (10), and fewer than our Boomer parents (11). We have far fewer unintended pregnancies, births, abortions and sexually transmitted infections than the generation before us, and as we reached adulthood, rates of unplanned pregnancies hit 30-year lows.”
In short, Filipovic argues, millennials have been unfairly stigmatized as coddled snowflakes whose participation trophies have left them unable to face reality. In fact, they’re simply misunderstood, while also facing the very same criticisms once lobbied at the boomers.
“Throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, writer after writer eviscerated baby boomers as a generation of self-absorbed navel gazers, infatuated with self-discovery and, primarily, themselves,” she writes.
“I present this not to paint the generation with a broad brush but to say that perceptions of change are remarkably cyclical. Every generation looks at the young and chafes at the idea that they are doing things differently,” she concludes. “Every generation seems to have a particular kind of amnesia and forgets that they, too, were once the kids-doing-it-wrong.”
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