Whether you have any sympathy for Occupy Wall Street or not (and I certainly do not agree with the majority of the goals — such as free college education and working for the end of economic inequality — that I’ve heard expressed by Occupy supporters), it’s impossible to deny that this long economic recession, with still no end in sight, has been tough on a lot of people. In my USA Today piece out today, I look at what productive efforts Millennials (my crowd!) could make:
There are five stages of grief, so goes our cultural understanding. Perhaps Occupy Wall Street (and Occupy Los Angeles, Occupy Chicago and so on) is the Millennial anger stage in a generational mourning over how the future isn’t what it used to be.
But permanently transforming every park in America into a tent commune will not solve our economic struggles. … Instead, Millennials have their own struggle: to discover how to rejuvenate this ailing nation of ours. Could a different payment system slow the upward curve of health care costs? What kind of reforms could make college more affordable? What is the right mix of cuts and system reform that will make Social Security and Medicare financially sustainable for the future? What is necessary to make America more competitive on the global stage again so that jobs flow into the country? Studying these issues, and then choosing politicians based on their positions, could transform Washington.
Part of the struggle involves reconsidering our lifestyles. Even as marriage rates ebb lower and lower, studies consistently tie marriage with increased economic prosperity.
I’m sure you could say that Millennials are spoiled, and there’d be a lot of truth to it. But it’s also true that few anticipated a downturn of this size, and for twenty-somethings who entered college with the nation in one kind of economic state and graduated from college (with loans) into a dramatically different economic situation, it’s been challenging to adjust.
So far, unfortunately, those challenges don’t appear to have lead many Millennials to much intellectual searching and openness to explore solutions beyond the liberal status quo. An April Gallup poll showed that only 30 percent of 18 to 29 year olds backed Paul Ryan’s proposed entitlement reforms — 15 percentage points lower than the age group next lowest in support. It would be nice to see the frustration that is galvanizing twenty-somethings to sleep in parks, even as the night weather gets colder and colder, lead to a willingness to embrace (or at least consider) genuine systematic reform.