Here are all our posts in which millennial readers write in to explain the origins of their political beliefs.
A Letter From A Millennial Voter
A reader writes:
I was born in 1984. The first election I was able to vote in on a Presidential level was 2004, in which I voted for John Kerry, and have gone on to vote for Obama both in 2008 and 2012. To give some perspective on why the Democrats are winning voters like myself and of my generation, I can break it down.
Many people my age are more libertarian-leaning than anything. I think the emergence of gay marriage as an issue in 2004 is what started the trend of the youth vote decisively going for the Democrats. While it may have been a shrewd political move by Karl Rove in 2004 to use marriage equality as a wedge issue, in the long run, it will be seen as a strategic error for the party. In addition to marriage equality, we also don’t believe in stupid wars. It seems Bush really exposed my generation to an underbelly of the Republican Party that we don’t identify with.
Furthermore, we are a technological generation. We came of age during the rise of the Internet, and we have embraced it, and in turn we have revolutionized its use (Zuckerberg, et al). We see the Republican party as anti-science, anti-technology know-nothings. We want no part of that.
And that’s a big reason why Silicon Valley voters and donors went overwhelming for Obama, as we illustrated earlier today.
Letters From Millennial Voters
A reader writes:
I totally agree with what your Millennial reader wrote, and I want to add a few points. First, we have grown up in the most diverse America in history. My closest friends don’t look like me, don’t go to the same church, and some don’t even speak English as their first language. We have more contact with immigrants, gays, the disabled, and multicultural families than any generation before us. So when a party tries to bemoan the loss of the “white establishment,” even my white male friends – the supposed members of this establishment – are shocked and alienated. You can’t try to win a demographic and think they won’t notice that you are leaving behind their girlfriends, boyfriends, classmates and coworkers.
We are also the most educated generation yet. And while you can try to write off academia as a liberal indoctrination, what is really happening is that the anti-science, anti-evidence, anti-fact machine of the GOP can’t stand up to people who know how to ask the right questions and have the Internet to find the answers. We are not going to take kindly to a party that would pass Medicare and start two wars without paying for any of it, blame the deficit on the next president, and then try to bill itself as the fiscally responsible party. The facts are out there, whether it’s about climate change, birth control, or what you voted for on the House floor last year.
The Internet only strengthens both of those traits in our generation. O’Reilly can rant about Gangnam Style all he wants. [The above video] is perhaps the best example of how his party has lost a generation of supporters through willful ignorance.
I agree wholeheartedly with your reader on some of the big issues, but gay marriage support cannot be understated. Eighty percent of millennial voters know someone personally who is gay. Unsurprisingly, there’s a 20% difference in marriage support amongst those who know someone that is gay. These are our family members, our friends, our co-workers. We not only know them, but we see the love they have in their hearts for their partners. And it’s starting to work on our baby-boomer parents, too. My mother was a lifelong Republican voter. But since 2008, she has become close, personal friends with a gay man. She and her fiance have him and his partner over to dinner just as they would any other couple. In two weeks, they are standing up with her at her wedding. My mom voted for the President this year almost solely on that issue alone.
You have always written that marriage equality moves forward because it’s virtually normal. That it doesn’t have to be won in court cases or by demanding it. Marriage equality is being won because gays are no longer an enigma being defined by the Christian Right. We know gays and lesbians. We’re friends with gays and lesbians. We share our lunch table at work and our dinner table at home. And more troubling for Republican Party, we’re starting to have our own children. Children that are growing up in households with parents who support marriage equality, who are going to daycare with children of same-sex couples. And to them, it won’t even be virtually normal. It will just be normal.
Many more readers add to the previous ones:
I was born in 1983, sent off to college and putative adulthood in September 2001. Republicans’ retrograde social views clearly have a depressing effect on their performance among younger voters, but the issue is far simpler than that: Republicans ran the show for the first eight years of our adult lives and what happened? 9/11, Iraq, Katrina, and the financial meltdown. If this is your only experience of Republican control in Washington, you have to have serious ideological differences with the Democratic Party to convince yourself that it’s a good idea to put those people in charge again.
Here is what I learned about politics in my formative years: Under a moderate Democrat president, the economy was doing well and we had budget surpluses, while the Republicans threw fits, shut down the government, and impeached him over bullshit. A Republican won a close election after which he might have been expected to try for a bipartisan approach in the face of a weak mandate, but instead pushed a strident conservative platform that, even before two wars, erased the budget surplus. Republicans got us into a quagmire in Iraq that (no disrespect to you) was obviously a bad idea from the beginning. When another moderate Democrat won election, Republicans engaged in an epic tantrum and behaved like babies for four years, culminating in a disgraceful Presidential field in 2012.
For the record, I am not a liberal. I would describe myself as a moderate libertarian, and my political idols are Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower. What has the Republican party done since 1995 to convince me that it has any positive vision for responsible governance, or any solutions to the problems facing the country and the world? What have they done that measures up to the legacy of our country’s historical leaders? With the sheer audacity of the volte-faces they have made in the last couple decades on every issue, how can they be trusted with any power?
When people talk about the GOP as the fiscally responsible party I have to stifle a laugh. At least since I was born, Republican administrations have led the way into economic downturns and Democratic ones led the way back out. Now maybe Republicans are terrible at running the economy or maybe the Democrats are just lucky, but either way that trend is not a good sign.
Then there is the federal debt. With a little bit of research I find that since Nixon, Republican administrations have always grown the federal debt as percentage of GDP with the worst offenders being Bush II, Reagan, and Bush I. Democrats, on the other hand, seem to have done rather well with Carter and Clinton, reducing the federal debt as percentage of GDP. Obama’s first term is going to be the first time a Democrat president since Nixon has grown the federal debt as percentage of GDP. It seems that the best way to fight the federal debt is to elect a Democrat president.
An optimistic sign from libertarian-leaning Montana:
I just wanted to chime in with some thoughts, because I feel you are succumbing to a bit of a filter bubble. Many young conservatives are shying away from the social-issue touting Tea Party Republicans. Steve Daines ran a 100% economic, 100% positive campaign to win his Montana congressional seat. His campaign shied away from all social issues and instead focused on jobs. His campaign maintained minimal interaction with other Republicans candidates, and when they did they reached out to women and brought in moderates like Chris Christie.
Oh, and the campaign manager was 26-year-old Zach Lahn (who made a bit of a name for himself when he challenged the President to a debate in 2009). In fact, everyone I met managing his campaign was young (under 30) and excited. Daines’s focused, youthful strategy won where traditional Republicans with fiery rhetoric failed. His millennial-driven campaign was a recipe for success, leaving the social issues alone.
This reflects the libertarianization of the conservative youth. Another example of this shift can be seen in Colorado, where marijuana’s support outstripped both Obama’s and Romney’s. While I agree that my generation has shifted to the left on social issues, many maintain a distrust for an activist government that has presided over ballooning student loan debt and sputtering growth.
Another libertarian writes:
As a fellow 1984-born Millennial, I disagree with your reader. In the past three presidential elections I have voted for both parties and I don’t believe the GOP has totally alienated my generation – yet. I’m a big supporter of gay marriage, but until Obama’s announcement earlier this year, the recent Democratic presidents did not promote that issue. Hell, Clinton signed DOMA. McCain’s wife and daughter both openly supported gay marriage. Republicans also served on the litigation team supporting gay marriage in California. I’ve never seen this as a clear partisan issue; people on both sides of the aisle have spoken up for and against it. Jon Huntsman recently said basically the same thing as Obama: respect the states and let them decide.
There is a large contingent of the Republican party that is not ‘anti-science’ or ‘anti-technology’ or ‘anti-gay rights’, but right now the evangelical base is dominating the GOP platform. If this domination continues through the next presidential election cycle, then yes – the GOP will probably lose my generation.
As a sidenote: many Millennials are currently underemployed and unemployed and likely have not felt the full brunt of the tax system in their paycheck and tax refund. Wait until my generation starts owing taxes instead of receiving a sizable refund. That’s something that makes you rethink your political affiliation.
I was born in 1991, so I came of age politically in the twilight of the Bush years instead of in the heart of it. While I largely agree with your reader’s analysis of why people of our generation support Democrats, I have a slight quibble with his assessment of our libertarian-leaning ways.
It is true we are more “live and let live” than the generations that came before us, with our generally pro-gay and pro-pot positions being the two big examples that leap to mind. But we are comfortable with the government having a roll in our lives and the world that is not consistant with libertarianism. We are happy to have the government intervene when there is private sector discrimination, be it on racial, religious, sexuality or gender based. We want the government to have a roll in education through pell grants and student loans. We’d love some government action on climate change. Maybe we don’t want a full blown-activist government, but we are happy to see an active one.
Another backs that up with some data:
People in his generational cohort are not “more libertarian-leaning than anything.” As this Pew report (pdf) shows, Millennials are more pro-government than all of the three preceding generations.
One more reader:
Reading your blog made me realize that I might be conservative. I want to take lessons from the past as instruction for what we can work on today and take our time when we see things need to change so we can do it well. But the thought that keeps me calling myself a liberal is I have a grand vision for what humanity can be and live comfortably among one another. The grand vision will never come true, or at least it’s incredibly unlikely it ever will. It’s not a pipe dream; it’s the job of every generation to work towards the idealistic goal. Still, we have to be cautious to how we get there and our policies have to be thoughtful and measured.
The others in my generation may have similar thoughts: that the world can be a better place even if it will never be perfect. We won’t ever be able to pay for everyone’s medical care free of charge and make it quick, but at least we can give them some important medical care sooner than what we can do now. And maybe we can’t end discrimination, but we should keep opening up every opportunity for people who want to live happy lives just like us. We won’t return the Earth back a more pristine time before the Industrial Revolution, but we should keep it healthy for as long as we can fix some of it.
Voters in my age group do not embody “liberal” from its heyday. We are more analytical and will go through the data before making a decision. Obama seems to be a good vessel to carry our generation’s politics forward.
Read all of them here. Another:
I was born in 1986, and graduated from college in the winter of 2008 – right at the moment of the financial collapse. But I see, and many of my friends see, that our workforce woes were created by the policies of George W. Bush. Because that is the fact of the matter.
Facts, more than political orientations, are what I see as defining my generation. Our species has never had such unprecedented access to them. I can’t think of a time that a bar debate didn’t end with my friends pulling out their smartphones to find out the actual truth. We don’t need to fight over who directed it; IMDB is a click away. I see this as distinct from my parents generation: the ubiquitous and sophisticated hoaxes on the Internet have given us finely-tuned bullshit radars, and I’m actually much less likely to believe something I’ve read than the boomers in my life (until I’ve checked snopes).
Pundits on both ends of the political spectrum have been crowing about how much the youth loves Obama. That may be so. But I think just as many were absolutely repulsed by Romney. Most of my friends were reading the news more for the fact-checking than for the analysis, and for anyone paying attention Romney was clearly more apt to lie. We saw a man who seemed totally incapable of speaking the truth.
Confession: The first time I saw a man kiss another man was on an episode of the Real World: San Francisco. I can’t explain my reaction to it, except to say my stomach turned a little bit. I don’t know why it happened either and I’m not proud of it. But it happened and I think it was because I’d never imagined such a thing. Having been raised in Tennessee, such a thing was wrong.
Pedro Zamora was the first gay man I ever met. By the end of that season, I found myself crying over his death. Today I have a number of gay and lesbian friends – some number as some of my closest friends. So … confession number 2: Last night as I watched Glee, I got a little misty eyed when Kurt said “I love you” to Blaine. I must be a softie.
Love is love. Love is powerful. And it is increasingly winning my generation over.
Another illustrates that perfectly:
As a millennial who was able to vote in the last two elections, my vote was split between the two parties. In ’08, I was comfortable with a McCain presidency (not so much a Palin VP, but I was willing to put faith in McCain’s health keeping her from ever sitting in the oval office). But over the last four years, equal marriage rights became an increasingly important issue to me (not that it wasn’t before 2008), and my disillusionment with the Republican party came to a head. My initial support of the party was rooted in economic issues, but the debt ceiling fiasco showed me that the Republicans in office were willing to act like insufferable toddlers if it meant making Obama look bad, our nation’s credit rating be damned.
When I renewed my driver’s license after moving to a new state, the clerk also updated my voter registration and asked my political party. I had finally reached a point where I couldn’t associate with the Republican party, but the fiscal conservative in me stopped short of telling the clerk to put me down as a Democrat.
It boils down to this: I refuse to consider myself part of a political party that doesn’t support equal rights for all Americans, regardless of sexuality. This was why I supported Jon Huntsman in the primaries and Obama on Election Day. Until the Republican presidential candidate supports equal marriage rights, the party will never earn my vote. I can’t trust someone to fix the economy that doesn’t view all citizens as equal; it’s a prerequisite in my eyes.
A reader writes:
As another child of 1984 (Orwell’s children), I want to add that it’s too easy to paint all of us with the same brush. I have some good friends my age who are every bit as conservative, religious, and social-issue driven as our parents’ generation. I myself come from one parent who was a deacon in our church and has become even more religious and conservative over the years, while my mother was a Jesse Jackson supporter who protested Bush and took time off to visit DC to see the Obama Inaugural.
Like many millennials, my parents divorced. I didn’t have the “Leave it to Beaver” childhood, and more importantly, never aspired towards it. The sitcoms I watched growing up, from “Full House” to “Family Matters”, showed how people made connections based on a willingness to live with and work with each other by choice. This shift in culture – of not blindly following our sometimes bumbling parents, of embracing technology faster than the generations that came before us – has all had the cumulative effect of making people of my generation a little more willing to challenge orthodoxy than those before us (see Occupy Wall Street and the strong pro-pot movements).
As other writers have articulated, we do pride ourselves on our ability to try to get the real scoop of the story. But this pride, I fear, may be our downfall as a generation as well.
Just about every year of my life, I look back on the stances I took prior and feel a crushing sense of regret that I ever dared express such beliefs. We’re still young, and we’re living in a time where adolescence is longer than ever. Add to this the sort of smug ideological entitlement we feel on account of “getting it” more than our parents and you have a recipe for a generation that is unwilling to confront whatever blind spots become a hindrance in the future.
This may seem vague, since I couldn’t articulate right this moment where my ideologies go astray. But I’ve learned the importance of never resting on my own laurels. Yet it’s all I see my peers doing. From the prevalent Millennial presence on sites like Reddit to the people I’ve encountered in the college classroom or on Facebook, what I see among people my own age is a profound sense of confidence that the world’s problems end with us. It reminds me very much of the social phenomenon we saw with the Baby Boomers, who – despite being showcased in the media during the late ’60s and early ’70s as the hippie generation – ended up being the villains of many of today’s Millennial narratives.
I’m not saying that our generation won’t make some valuable progress. It is undoubtedly positive that we’re more level-headed when it comes to drug policy, and overall support marriage equality. Yet when it comes to the really tricky economic challenges we’ll face – unfunded mandates, entitlements for an aging population, continuing dialogues on race and the social implications of complex human sexuality, I fear that we are woefully under-prepared. The worst part is that most Millennials don’t even realize it.
Update from a reader:
All I could think when watching this video that you posted was: Would you two just go ahead and make out already?
A reader writes:
I hope it’s not too late to add to the Millennial Voters thread. I fully agree with what other writers have said so far about the differences in education, and especially life experience, between Millennials and the older generation and how it affects our voting trends. My wife and I (31 and 30 years old) are both heterosexuals who believe in full civil rights for gay people and the right for these fellow citizens to marry the person they love and not have the government tell them they are invalid. After this most recent election (wet both voted for Obama largely because he publicly endorsed gay marriage), we got to thinking about the waning role of religion in the lives of people our age and how that might affect how we vote.
My family (we have two daughters, 3 years old and 6 months) does not attend church and we don’t adhere to any religious beliefs. I was raised Catholic and attended church from birth until I went to college.
I stopped going largely because I feel the church has involved itself too much in politics as a means to control the lives of people who may not necessarily adhere to their beliefs through the passage of laws by friendly legislators. What we’ve noticed these days is not a single one of our friends in our age group attends church, talks about religious beliefs, or appears to be the least bit religious. We pride ourselves on being free thinkers and on not taking, at face value, the pronouncements of those who hold perceived authority. Compare this to many of my older relatives who still receive their voting marching orders from the pulpit.
Finally, I think people my age have grown up in a society so diverse that we reject the notion that government should protect family values. Whose family values? Mine, my neighbor’s, the deadbeat dad who abandons his family? The point is, we’ve come to realize, because we have access to and are not insulated from so many different cultures, points of view, histories and other information that there is not one set of values for the government to protect. That’s why I always chuckle when people run for office on a “family values” platform. They didn’t check with me to see what my values are, so how can they assure me those are the ones they will protect. I more get the sense they want me to live by THEIR family values, and I don’t like that.
I wanted to expand on something your reader said here. I’m another one of Orwell’s children (born in 1984). My parents also got divorced. Until that point (around 13), I had a modern “Leave it to Beaver” life. I was raised Catholic and thought everyone lived the same happy life I did in my stable, upper middle-class household. But my parent’s divorce tore away that first layer of innocence or ignorance about the real world. I no longer felt entitled to be completely happy all the time. And I could begin to feel empathy for others in similar situations.
I stayed pretty religious and conservative through 9/11 and into the Iraq war. But those two events got me interested in politics. And the aftermath of those events, particularly the failure in Iraq and the way it was sold to us, tore away at the next layer of how I perceived the world and replaced it with a cynicism and curiosity that put me on the path to where I am. From that point on I questioned everything, and the college experience was right there to help that along. I went from being an O’Reilly-watching Catholic to now being a very progressive atheist.
I’m sure earlier generations can point to similar events that shaped their lives (Vietnam, WWII). But as many readers have pointed out, we have a much easier time accessing information. So if you want to look beyond you’re own worldview it’s easy to do so. That’s another thing I think is important, greater access to life beyond your immediate home. While many of us may not experience poverty or the effects of war directly, we can get a glimpse of it through TV, the Internet, and social media. Seeing those things removes fear of the unknown and helps people empathize, which are key elements in becoming a liberal.
I was born in 1990, so I’m on the tail end of the millennial generation, young enough that I only have vague memories of the time before we had dial-up in the house, but old enough to remember gleefully tearing the feeder tabs off reams of continuous form paper. (And yes, I had to google “1990s printer paper” to figure out what it was called.)
Like the Orwellian reader you quoted, I have plenty of friends who are every bit as socially conservative as their parents, some even more so, because the Internet has given them the resources to defend their positions against the educated liberal elite that much more effectively.
Some of those friends are, admittedly, the Focus on the Family and New Life Church attending evangelicals I knew growing up in Colorado Springs. But many others I met in college – and this was Sarah Lawrence, hardly a cradle of conservatism.
The biggest difference I’ve noticed between the conservatives of my generation and those of my parents’ is that most of the people my age lean strongly libertarian. They may oppose gay marriage on ‘moral’ grounds, but they’re more likely to consider it a choice that, so long as it’s not forced on them, they don’t give a damn about. “Civil unions? If they want to go to hell, let them. Just don’t make my church do it.” I’ve even heard a few propose that government should butt out of the business of marriage entirely, which, even as a liberal, doesn’t seem like such a bad idea of me.
Access is everything for my generation. Even the most insulated of online worlds is still infinitely more full of diversity than many towns were fifty years ago, and for our adolescence and early adulthood, we’ve had no way of escaping the fact that the world is a lot bigger than the books our parents put on our shelves.
I attended my dad’s alma mater, a small private evangelical Christian college in southern California, and had almost no opportunities to meet anyone different than myself. In college, I became more strident and more singular in focus against abortion. I demonstrated outside abortion clinics, protested a Rock for Choice event, and generally considered abortion the defining issue of our time. I attended church with Lou Engle, before he was thrust into national prominence. This proved enough to make me a single-issue voter in the 2000 and 2004 elections, voting for Bush twice because of the fetuses. Other than what I was told about abortion, I was very ignorant about politics.
After graduating college in 2003, I moved back to Seattle, and more-or-less was thrust into the “real world” with the opportunity to encounter a diversity of opinion for the first time. I began attending a church whose members ran a wider range of political opinions. I was exposed to more religious diversity – I became familiar with the emerging church movement, started following progressive Christian blogs such as slacktivist and Experimental Theology, and at some point I discovered the Dish. I discovered the books of Brian McLaren, Jim Wallis, N.T. Wright, Miroslav Volf, Peter Rollins, and others, who expanded my view of Christianity beyond private moralism and world-avoidance. I began to intentionally pursue understanding of perspectives different than my own – the pro-choice position, the case for marriage equality, tolerance and understanding (rather than demonization) of other religions, modern feminism. For the first time, I became exposed, both online and in real life, to nonwhite, non-straight, non-conservative people.
I was no longer able to conceive of the GOP as having a monopoly on morality. Jim Wallis’ (Sojourners) campaign “God is not a Republican…or a Democrat” resonated with me, as did the Dish’s relentless expose on the farcical McCain/Palin campaign and the moral bankruptcy of the modern Republican party.
I don’t currently consider myself a “liberal” or a “conservative” – I still try to see the good in both “sides” of contentious issues. But increasingly, I’m brought to the realization that the Republican party currently has virtually nothing to offer – it is decidedly not the party of family values or morality, is hypocritical and in the pocket of large corporate interests.
I’d absolutely love to have at least two serious political parties to choose between. But at least on the national level, I just don’t see that as a reality. I saw, and in some ways still see, in President Obama a way forward, a rejection of polarizing us-versus-them narratives, an embrace of a multicultural, diverse America – an embrace of America at its best. I still support that vision.
I was born in 1986 and raised in a city outside of Salt Lake City that would soon become a center of Glennbeckistan. The events of 9/11 and the actions taken by the Bush administration had varying effects on me and my classmates. When it was revealed the administration was planning to invade Iraq, many of my friends – myself included – were wary. Then the leaders of the Mormon church issued a statement that as Latter-day Saints we had a duty to support the president, even if we disagreed with their actions. (The LDS church made a similar statement upon Obama’s reelection, but I believe it was mostly to save face, more than anything else.) But I just couldn’t get behind the church’s urging me to support the Iraq war. Even as a 16 year old I could tell it was a terrible idea, why didn’t the adults get that, too?
After the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, I still labeled myself a Republican. In retrospect I realized I only did this to keep up appearances with my friends; I wanted to keep my bonds strong with them as we left to serve missions for the LDS church, and if being a conservative was the way to do it, by god I was going to be a conservative.
I spent the all of 2006 and the majority of 2007 in the Philippines, blissfuly unaware of what was going on in American politics. My mom, an agnostic Democrat, emailed me that Hilary Clinton was mounting a run for the presidency and I replied to her that “I just didn’t want that woman as president.” I had no reason to say that, I was just going by what my Republican teachers in high school had said about Hilary.
I returned back to Utah in the fall of 2007 and jumped into learning about politics. It was Obama vs. Clinton, McCain vs. Huckabee vs. Romney, it was exciting to learn about, but I was still naive about politics, and I think a lot of my naiveté came from my religious faith. The LDS church was the biggest supporter of Proposition 8, and all my friends were Romney supporters, who then became McCain supporters. I cast my ballot for McCain. After Obama’s inauguration, I realized it would be the last time I ever voted for a Republican.
The rise of the Tea Party appalled me. Their rhetoric, their unhinged paranoia, their thinly-veiled racist attitudes toward Obama. If they were what the Republican party was offering, I no longer wanted a part of it. I drifted further and further to the left, while still clinging to my LDS faith. Then the healthcare debates began. Healthcare! Something Jesus probably would be on board with! I would read scriptures and sing hymns that made me think, “Oh yeah, that Jesus guy was really on to something when he said take care of the sick and afflicted,” but then my Republican friends would support things that flew in the face of the very same scriptures and hymns.
By 2009 I was no longer active in the Mormon church, partly because I’d realized that I was gay and partly because I realized that it offered nothing but a pessimistic view of the world. Religion was not for me. My time in college had made me too calculating, pragmatic, and skeptical, all of which were qualities I began to see in Obama. As I came to value critical thinking skills more than reliance on a deity, I realized that pragmatism was entirely lacking in the Republican party. I came to see the Republican party as a backwards-looking and regressive machine that does nothing to bring the United States into the 21st century; no, it was not the party for me.
I was a liberal. That dirty word. I embraced it, however. I lost friends over it. But I am proud to be a young liberal. I knew I was destined to be one from the moment the Mormon church insisted that I support Bush’s decision to invade another country, without questioning any motives or asking for any evidence. The Republican party and the conservative movement is responsible for producing the current group of young liberals like me. Similar to why they themselves are the reason they lost the 2012 presidential election: it’s just that no one wants to be a Republican anymore.
Many of my generation of similar stories to mine. I think it is safe to say that my generation is not satisfied with the status quo that the generations before us were satisfied. We are leaving our parents” dogmatic faiths behind us in favor of tangible knowledge, which will lead to breakthroughs in science and other realms of academia. We are abandoning their antiquated notions of gender, family, sexuality, and morality en masse. We have lived through the results of their belief in trickle-down economics and deregulation. We have watched in horror as the climate has changed, while they have sat content in their inaction.
We know that the road is rough, but I believe that we understand that our generation has a bright future and that we have the responsibility to clean up the messes left by so many before us.
A reader writes:
I’ve found myself getting progressively more irritated at the ongoing Millennial thread. I briefly wondered why you were getting so many comments about it until I remembered: oh right, Millennials’ favorite topic is themselves.
I’ve been holding back on writing because I was certain that someone would add some self-critical considerations to all the self-congratulation evident on this thread. Alas, either because of editorial control or because of rampant navel-gazing, no such perspective seems imminent, so in I dive.
I am a grandmother in the Millennial generation, born in 1980. Still, I hardly remember a time without computers and came of political age with Bush, so I place myself in the Millennials. And that’s fortunate, because have you heard how amazing we are? We are socially progressive. We see through the lies of pundits better than older generations. It’s not their fault though, we can do it because we really value “facts” and “analysis” and look things up online, unlike our gullible elders.
To my generational cohort, a plea: get over yourself. You are not the Chosen People of politics. Even your crowing about how you are smarter, more rational and more morally balanced than previous generations is not new. Ask your parents what they thought of themselves, back when they were pledging to be the generation to end wars, nuclear weapons and bring equal rights to all (which in their day meant black people, not gay people). Your grandparents generation killed Hitler, and brought America into an era of power and prosperity that would never end, right?
I think it’s great that my generation is so much more gay friendly than previous generation (though you may want to temper your strutting about moral superiority: 60% of young people support torture).
It is true that we have unprecedented access to information as compared to previous generations. But Dishheads are a very self-selected group of politically engaged people active on the Internet. I would encourage those in my generation to go talk to their friends, the ones watching “Honey Boo Boo”, or using the Internet mostly for playing Halo, and try to have a political conversation with them. They may find that access to tools does not guarantee their use, and it may be more worthwhile to work to make our generation the best informed in history than it is to claim that it already is.
I was born on the cusp of generations, sometimes called Gen X and sometimes called Millennial, depending on who is drawing the line. I suppose that is why I have never put much stock in generational approaches to anything, but your letters from Millennial readers are only making me less interested in the idea that generations are really so easy to define.
One of your readers says that Millennials are “a little more willing to challenge orthodoxy than those before us.” This response typifies the problem with trying to use cohorts to explain much at all. Wow, you guys Occupied Wall Street! Congrats! Your parents’ generation changed views on whether women and people of color should be treated equally in the eyes of the law. But you guys stood up to rich people! Way to challenge orthodoxy. It’s not like anyone has ever stood up to Wall Street before.
Another reader is concerned about the “profound sense of confidence that the world’s problems end with us” and then rightly compares it to Baby Boomers. If it is like the Baby Boomers, why is he all that worried? A lot of Baby Boomer hippies did grow up and recognize they needed to take responsibility for themselves and their country. Sure, some crashed the stock market and others remained hippies, but the majority settled down and got real jobs and recognized they couldn’t solve all the world’s problems at once. So will Millennials.
History repeats itself, and Millennials will follow in the footsteps of the people who came before them. I would argue that one’s approach to life is far more influenced by your age over time, socioeconomic status, and other individual factors than whether you were born in 1975 or 1985. Most 16-year-olds find the world totally unjust and have idealistic approaches to everything. Most 60-year-olds take a more pragmatic approach to accomplishing goals. That is true if the person was sixteen in 1960 or in 2006.
Yes, Millennials may have specific views on specific issues that are different from previous generations, but that’s only because previous generations have taken on other issues. (Does anyone really think that same-sex marriage would be a hot issue if we were still legally segregated by race?) So keep fighting fo those issues, but just remember, Millennials: you aren’t that special.
A reader writes:
A previous reader said, “So keep fighting for those issues, but just remember, Millennials: you aren’t that special.” Oh really? That’s not what our boomer parents told us growing up.
I am shocked at the hatred towards millennial voters that I see in this thread and everyday life. To be brief, we have quietly fought two wars, inherited the greatest national debt in history, a climate on the verge of collapse, and a federal government concerned with programs that benefit boomers but no one else. So to all the readers mad that millennials are talking about ourselves, sorry for once that we are not talking about the problems you created and so selflessly left to us.
Proud millennial here – 1983. You wanna know why millennials rule? Because while being self-congratulatory we are also incredibly self-aware as to how much we suck as a generation and how lucky we are. But you know what? I don’t see other generations calling out themselves on the stupid shit they did. The “Greatest Generation” fought for freedom abroad and then got home and quickly told Jews and black people that they didn’t want them in their new suburban town or their golf clubs. The boomers fought for free love, drug use and a peaceful world and then forgot their whole worldview as soon as the 1980s came around. I guess tax cuts and “Just Say No!” can change the world? Give me a break.
More generational antagonism after the jump:
I’m a female Millennial, born in 1984, and was a senior in highschool on 9/11. Today I’m a married professional in one of America’s most liberal cities. I’m a Democrat, a social liberal, but consider myself to be a fiscal conservative in the “don’t pay for shit you can’t afford” sense.
Assuming the Republican party becomes more libertarian in its social platform, I think there’s a chance it can recover if it gets serious about being the party of “fiscal responsibility.” You know why? Because right now the Boomers and older generations of both parties have no problem royally screwing America’s younger generations. We’re being simultaneously saddled with the irresponsible debt of our parents and grandparents (thanks Iraq/Afghanistan wars, Medicare Part D, and Bush tax cuts! – all President Bush, but had bi-partisan support) and bearing the brunt of the boomer-created financial melt-down (trying to buy your first home? Good luck affording or qualifying for a mortgage!) and cuts to social services, education, and investment in the future.
Some people might say this is a Republican problem only because, well, they caused the deficits and meltdown! But the Democrats’ reluctance to cut social programs and preserve its own interest groups also hurts Millennials. Who’s going to suggest that we get rid of Medicare D? No one. Democrats are the ones too cozy with teachers and other unions that reward tenure (and therefore benefit older workers) rather than merit, which would result in higher salaries for younger workers who deserved them.
In short, both parties seem just fine spending boat loads of money on the old at the expense of the young. Not only is it bad for my generation because, duh, government spending being a zero-sum game we’d prefer the money was spent on us. It’s also bad for the future progress of the nation if we don’t invest in the future. We are the future, we know it, and we get pissed when we see our selfish Boomer parents clinging to their mortgage-interest deduction for their vacation home while crippling our chances for future success.
I think there would be a real appetite among Millennials for substantial tax and entitlement reform. I can’t be the only one who thinks it’s grossly unfair to make my generation pay for the unpaid-for excesses our parents and grandparents. Yes, entitlement and tax reform means that some people will be worse off. But unless we do something to raise revenues and make cuts to programs my generation – and future generations – will be in an even worse position.
To your Boomers readers I say: Stop thinking about yourselves for a change. It’s about time you paid your bills and made an attempt to leave this country in at least as good of shape as you enjoyed it.
A reader writes:
There is one big thing that has been missing from the Millennial thread. I was born in 1979 so I’m sort of right in the middle between Gen X and the Millennials. The generation of Americans a little bit older than me had their formative years conditioned by the Cold War; they were as Americans was defined in large part by opposition to the USSR. Being American meant being anti-communist.
Those Americans a little bit younger than me had their formative years defined by the “war on terror.” I consider myself lucky that my most formative years were during a time of relative peace and lacked an easy enemy to tell us who we were. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and before 9-11 there was no real overarching boogeyman to define ourselves in opposition too. The Lewinsky scandal could only take root in such an interim. In a way, it was boring.
Millennials are the first post-Cold War generation and as such have not had their formative years influenced by a mixture of nationalism and anti-communism. We need to get some distance from historical communism in order to understand the objective reality of capitalism better. The Millennial generation can see much more clearly than Cold War generations the multitude of ways in which capitalism diverges from and is counter to true democracy. This is a HUGE shift between how Millennial voters see the world and the generation that watches Fox News. To even question the virtue of capitalism is a new and important event and question it we do.
(Photo: A man walks by a sleeping ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protester in the financial district of Manhattan on October 9, 2012. State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli today will release his annual report on employment and earnings in New York’ City’s financial industry, one of the worlds largest. While employment is still down thousands of positions since the economic crisis of 2008, DiNapoli has said that last year the sector employed 166,600 people in hedge funds, investment banks and securities trading firms. By Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
A reader writes:
I’m a bit shocked by something that has been missed entirely in this thread. One reader wrote, “We want the government to have a roll in education through pell grants and student loans,” and there have been a few curt mentions of student debt, but … HELLO? We want the government to have a roll in education through … saddling the next generation with debt? How far have we come!
I’m 28, an attorney who graduated with over $100k in debt after attending a top-tier public law school. (It’s a funny joke in our culture that we call these schools “public.”) I pay a mortgage that is about 50% less per month than I pay in student loan payments.
Now that’s fine; those are my choices. But when we’re speaking about generational redistribution of wealth, how can you not mention that we Millennials are starting the game with one leg cut out from under us? Previous generations enjoyed the benefits of “public” college (if you could get in) – college funded by the old guys paying taxes. We’re the generation that will finish paying for our own college in our fifties. So on top of paying for excesses in pensions and entitlements, we’re going to be footing the bill for our own schooling.
I was born in 1985. I’m the oldest of three and the only one to complete college (Class of 2008). Deciding to go to college has become one of the defining events of my life. Not because of the excellent education I received despite my learning disability (I have dyslexia), but because of the MASSIVE debt I now carry. I owe about $103,000 in student loans. I have 22 years to pay it off. Currently, my monthly payments on all of my loans is about $930/month. Do I think my college degree was worth $100,000? HELL NO.
But it has helped me in job interviews because it’s a school that is well known. I was lucky enough to get a decent job right out of college (if you consider right out of college six months after graduation). In the five years since starting as a young professional, I have changed jobs three times. Even in my current position, as a project manager for a National Institute of Health contract at a major university, 50% of my paycheck goes to my student loans. That’s on top of living expenses like rent, food, utilities, transportation costs, etc. My “extra” spending money comes to about $150 per month.
Because of my debt and monthly expenses, I probably won’t be able to buy a house in the near future. Even with my husband’s income, we can still only put away a few hundred dollars a month. I’ve read stories where the author stated that it’s MY generation’s fault that the housing market hasn’t picked up. Maybe that is true, but how the hell am I suppose to save 20% for a down payment with my income? I also have family members who are Republicans and avid in their hatred for Obama. But even they admit that it’d probably be a good idea for a portion of my generations loans be forgiven so that the economy can pick up.
A reader writes:
I’ve been reading your “almost all of them (except the one that said we tend to lean more libertarian … but that’s a long discussion for another time). It got me thinking about a story from The Atlantic called “The Cheapest Generation“, which inspired a LOT of blowback in the comments section. The thing is, we ARE a cheap generation, not necessarily because we want to be, but because we see the giant fucking mess that the Boomers got into thinking they could have anything and everything.
I graduated from grad school last year, and am currently unemployed after my latest “contract” job was terminated. I live in a house with five other people, two of whom are in their 30s. Even if I could afford a house and a car and all those things, I don’t want them. Owning a house just doesn’t have the same significance to Millennials (in my opinion). It’s a symbol of being tied down, of having to pay for something for the rest of your life, which we all have to do already with student loans. Unlike previous generations that either never had debt (our grandparents) or didn’t discover it until they were well on their way to being settled (our parents), we’ve learned from an early age that we’re screwed for the rest of our lives, and there’s nothing much we can do about it.
Am I the only Millennial Dishhead who can’t get a decent fucking job?
I was also born in 1984, I lived abroad for three years, started a nonprofit (which failed), graduated from a fairly good university with a liberal arts degree, volunteered for the Gore, Kerry, Obama campaigns, and various local campaigns (a very liberal and political family) and well … I was going to write you from my personal email, but since I’m at work, I thought- why not. Notice it’s receptionist@ – not even my name. I have tried for two years to get into anything, anything fulfilling that could possibly turn into a career.
But I have the problem that so many people in my generation have. We want to help people. We want to do something that is worthwhile and that contributes to the greater good. Perhaps we feel this because of our parents, the Internet, whatever. And the motivation to do good is good. But Jesus, it’s discouraging. So discouraging. There are people of my generation who are thriving, and then there are people of my generation that are not, who are living with parents. That are going back for a second masters, a third, a career shift into “the medical field” because that’s where jobs are.
I don’t know, man, but I feel too discouraged with putting out over 800 applications, constant networking events, informational interviews and rejection to be concerned with how great my generation is. I don’t really care that we all support gay marriage or that a stupid majority of us support torture. They’ll figure it out, or not. But, I am figuring out that the things I cared so much about (Darfur anyone?) in high school and college don’t do it for me anymore. We need healthcare. We need to get out of debt. And I can’t just believe that it will all work out.
Thanks for the space to rant. That felt good. Now I’m going to go make excel spreadsheets mauve.
(Graphic from Generation Opportunity)
Letters From Millennial Gen X Voters
A reader writes:
I just want to chime in on the (honestly fascinating) Millennial thread that you’ve been posting for the past few weeks. As a member of Generation X, born in 1971, I find myself getting irritated when I see Millennials praising themselves for being so much more progressive and iconoclastic than the generation that preceded them. We members of Generation X were and are just as gay-friendly, pot-friendly, pro-equality, information-hungry and skeptical as these kids are; possibly more so. We just had very limited political power due to our small numbers and the crushing weight of the generations above us.
There were so few of us that in the 1990s, advertisers barely targeted us, and our mainstream cultural tastes were considered “alternative” – a contradiction I still find pretty hilarious. I protested the Gulf War in 1991, voted in favor of medical marijuana in California in 1996, and wrote Bill Clinton an angry letter (which I sent via postal mail) when he signed DOMA that same year. (I have to give him credit for sending back a well-written response, also via postal mail. In retrospect, I kind of wish I’d kept it rather than crumpling it up and throwing it away in anger.)
The recent political shift that so many of us are celebrating is decidedly not a millennial thing. It’s the product of a combination of factors, including the explosive increase in availability of information to everyone, the fact that both Generation X (approx. 41 million members) and Generation Y (approx. 71 million members) are now of voting age, and the fact that those kids had us, their cool older siblings, to help shape their points of view as they were growing up.
I’m a Gen X’er, born in 1971. I graduated an Ivy League college and with scholarships, good paying summer jobs, and loans, ended up with just $20,000 in debt (though it seemed like a lot at the time). I worked for a few years and then went to a top public law school. Tuition was $7,000 a year when I started. I graduated with a combined $60,000 in debt, entered the workforce at the peak of the law firm boom, payed off my loans in a few years, bought a $400,000 house, and promptly quit my job to work for a non-profit at less than half my former salary. I haven’t had a raise in four years, but I’m not complaining.
I’m interviewing kids who have no chance at the path I took.
The same law school education I got just 10 years ago now costs $25,000 a year (in-state), plus room and board. The little house I bought would today sell for $750,000. Mortgages are harder to get. Law firms aren’t hiring and the non-profit I work for still starts lawyers at just $40,000 a year. Salaries haven’t remotely kept pace.
So, on the economic issues, the millennials have it exactly right. And I fear even more for my children – what will college cost for them? How will they function saddled with so much private and public debt? I feel like there’s very little I can do about it unless the millennials (a much bigger generation) rise up en masse. The boomers won’t retire, so there’s little upward mobility for my “sandwich generation.” And the boomer politicians won’t take even obvious steps to deal with the debt, climate change, and other issues. Gen X – the cynical generation, supposedly – may have it better, but many of us cast our voice with our younger peers. And that goes for social issues too.
Another is more cynical:
I am so sick of reading this thread: BOO HOO twenty-somethings. We’re all knee-deep in it, so suck it up and deal. I was born in 1970 and firmly in “Gen-X”, whatever the hell that is. AND I’m still paying off my student loans (I’m 42!!). I have about 8 more years to go and no, I don’t have a fancy J.D. so I can make $250k a year to pay for it. I have barely any debt except for a small house, a modest car and the student loans.
You think you’re the only ones to have it bad: 1987 crash – no jobs to speak of, fresh out of college (see, we understand that too). Then I lost 60% of my 401k, all of my negotiated stock options, and my job in 2001 when I worked for a dot-com in Seattle. Then I lost even more of my retirement fund in 2008, so I’ll be working until I’m 75 and eating Friskie’s Buffet when I’m 90 if I don’t figure out a way to make it up before my kids are in college. If I can even help pay for that, because I’m sure I’ll have to take in my parents who have no savings to speak of and have mortgaged their home three times over because yes, they’re wasteful baby boomers. And, I’m positive we’ll be the first to have no Social Security benefits.
But I don’t care, because I have two beautiful kids who are funny as hell and enough money to keep us going just fine. I’m sick of listening to the bitching and moaning about how bad it is for you, so shut it. At least you know what’s in store. Consider yourselves lucky that your grandparents still have Social Security and pensions so your parents had money to raise you, not keep their parents alive and off the street. You have plenty of time to keep saving, so do it. No one is handing life to you on a platter.
Another Gen-Xer agrees:
I get sick of younger people whining about their college debt. I graduated in 1997 with a B.S. in Computer Science. My entire student loan debt was less than $18,000 from Stafford loans. My interest rate was 7%. I worked part time and went to a local community college for my first two years and got an associate degree. While in community college I completed some of my credits via CLEP to save money. Then I transferred to an in-state public college and completed my bachelor degree. All that really matters is that you get a degree from a four-year college. It doesn’t matter where you go for the first two years.
I know the cost of college has increased since I did my time, but there’s no reason for anyone to finish school with $100,000 or more in debt. It’s simply not worth it. No employer has ever asked me where I went to college or even asked for proof that I’ve graduated. Even with my “no-frills” degree, my salary is still over $100,000 a year.
If you come away from your college experience with a mortgage-sized debt, it’s nobody’s fault but your own.