Don't Call Generation Y 'Cheap': They're Conscious, Creative, But Coddled
Twenty-somethings are getting a bad rap
Generation Y can't catch a break. First, they were declared entirely non-existent, but instead a made-up cohort created by market researchers. Then, by those who acknowledged their early 1980s births, the Millennials were deemed the most likely to be stuck in the lowest-paying jobs available (more specifically as retail associates—a gig that can rake in an average of less than $20,000 a year). Subsequently, and not surprisingly, the Atlantic named them the "cheapest" generation.
Granted, the economic crisis has had a hand in their fruitless job searches and selective spending habits, but other demographic factors are allowing Millennials to live their lives the way their parents, well, didn't.
"I wouldn't call them the 'cheapest generation,'" said Tina Wells, author of "Chasing Youth Culture And Getting It Right," "but more so, the most 'cost conscious.' Regardless of the current economic climate, online shopping has allowed Gen Y to search for products, accessories, etc. at a reduced price. In the same regard, because of the economy, they are, more than ever, looking for these bargain deals. There's also the reoccurring trend of 'DIY'—or 'do it yourself'—fashion that's big with this generation this season. Why buy, when you can make it and wear it yourself?"
Additionally, as Atlantic writers Derek Thompson and Jordan Weissman reported, there are companies that promote and participate in the growing trend of a "sharing economy" like Zipcar, as well as Airbnb, an online service that matches travelers looking for short-term accommodations with private parties, and thredUp, a site where parents can buy and sell kids’ used clothing.
And as smartphones begin to best cars as young people’s big purchases, Sheryl Connelly, head of global consumer trends at Ford, admitted, “You no longer need to feel connected to your friends with a car when you have this technology that’s so ubiquitous, it transcends time and space."
"They aren't buying cars," said Dan Schawbel, Generation Y workplace and career expert. "Many have moved back in with their parents. They have been delaying major life milestones like getting married and buying a home."
Ironically, it's their parents—and other elders who have already met those milestones—that are becoming a source of conflict in the success of Generation Y. In 2008, the "workplace generation wars" made headlines; three years later, it got more personal between "Gen Y vs. Baby Boomers." And earlier this year, TIME asked "Who would you rather hire?," written by Schawbel, himself.
"Gen Y has completed their education, but the older generation of Baby Boomers have not left [their jobs] yet due to their inability to retire," said Sherri Elliott-Yeary, author of "Ties to Tattoos: Turning Generational Differences into a Competitive Advantage." "They no longer have a 401K, they have a 201K plan and medical care has gotten so costly, so we have a backlog of educated Millennials with college degrees—and some with large student loans—that are still living at home, especially when they earn on average $9 an hour in retail or waitressing."
However, when they're not battling it out at a place of business, it's the parents' constant coddling that becomes the conflict. In March, US News reported that at least 1 in 4 twenty-somethings feel comfortable moving back home after college graduation because of "'helicopter parenting' and continued closeness with their parents." The article called it a "benefit."
But Elliott-Yeary sees only an adverse effect in parents' reactive rescuing. "Many Millennials grew up thinking they were good at everything because helicopter parents never let them try something and fail," she said, "which is how we learn what we are good at and what we aren’t as we develop our career goals. So, many Millennials obtained degrees in a field that they are not really passionate about or interested in and it's [become] easier [for them] to work a lower level job without the stress of choice of what to do when they grow up."
There's little denial that Generation Y was hit hardest by the economic crisis. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate among Millennials stands at 9 percent—that's 0.8 percent higher than the national average of 8.2. Still, Schawbel shows little mercy.
"Gen Y has to be accountable for their own career and lives," he said. "They can't rely on anything or anyone to be successful. They need to create their own jobs, possibly start companies and never give up. It doesn't look like the economy is going to turn around anytime soon, so Gen Y has to stop being entitled and take their future in their own hands."
To their advantage, however, is their creative nature and computer knowledge. Wells is keeping the faith.
"Millennials are tech savvy and conscious of the necessary steps to live life on their own terms," she said. "So, the retail associate today could end up being the next fashion mogul."