Generation Y: The Worst One, Apparently
On a slow night at the restaurant where I work, a very nice table of two engaged me in conversation for most of the evening—a pleasant way to spend an otherwise boring shift. Our conversation touched on everything from politics to education to psychology. At one point, while discussing how our age affects our worldview, the subject of generations came up. “What generation are you?” they asked. I told them that I was born in 1988, so that would make me Generation Y.
“Oh,” the guy at the table said jovially. “Did you know you guys are The Worst Generation?”
This was news to me, but when I got home and looked it up, it turns out that’s what today’s twenty-somethings are known as. In fact, the theory was corroborated by a recent study at San Diego University, entitled Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled, and More Miserable Than Ever Before. People seem to think that since someone decided there is a “Greatest Generation,” there must also be a “Worst” one. Every group from baby boomers to millennials has been accused of being the worst, but popular opinion seems to have settled on Generation Y—my generation—as truly the worst generation ever.
Why is my generation so terrible? Apparently, we’re more narcissistic than anyone else, according to studies such as the aforementioned one. This narcissism leads us to have unrealistic expectations and an inability to take criticism, not to mention a lack of work ethic. Ultimately, we end up chronically disappointed; ceaseless nuisances to our bosses who don’t understand why we aren’t happy making venti salted caramel mocha frappuccinos for harried Generation X businesspeople; explaining the concept of expired coupons to pissed-off moms who left their holiday shopping for the last minute; or serving Coors Light to misogynistic polo-shirt-clad bros and cleaning up the broken glass when they inevitably knock one over in a fit of televised-sports–fueled excitement.
I’m a college-educated Generation Y-er, and I’ve done all of the above to make a living in the last couple years. I currently have five jobs, because I’m trying to advance my career while paying my bills—though there’s still months when I don’t have enough to pay rent on time. Yet if I say that this situation sucks, I’m labeled a whiny narcissist who was told “You’re special!” a few too many times growing up. “A college education guarantees you a job, but no one ever said it would be a good job,” people say.
Call me an unrealistic slacker, but it sounds to me like the older generations—the “job creators,” managers, and business owners—have found an easy way to blame someone besides themselves for everything that’s wrong in America today. They readily forget that they had it easy, because they graduated from college and searched for jobs in happier economic times. Instead of recognizing the reasons why people my age are dissatisfied, they believe it must just be that my generation isn’t willing to work hard enough.
Older people are quick to point out that my grandparents’ generation not only worked long hours at difficult jobs at our age, but they did it all while raising a family. Well, actually, only the men worked those long hours, because women were still expected to be housewives. Nevermind that my generation takes issue with the stressful 50- or 60-hour workweeks that our elders bragged about, especially now that both parents are expected to work if they’re going to raise a family. It doesn’t matter, apparently, that my generation is still fighting for women’s equality in the workplace against a large faction of conservative elders who don’t see what’s wrong with a little tacit misogyny. Nope, we’re still the worst.
How about the fact that we are working towards actualizing gay rights with unprecedented success and a minimum of violent protest? My generation is the first to truly be unfazed by openly gay people in the military and in the wedding chapel, yet the latent homophobia in many members of older generations prevents them from seeing this as progress. We voted the first black president into office as well, with record-breaking numbers of young voters in 2008. Not only that, but we did it again this year, proving that we weren’t just swept up in a wave of Obama idealism the first time. It’s evident that my generation really does care about democracy, yet that fact is never mentioned when we’re labeled The Worst Generation.
Positive, peaceful protests against the status quo, like Occupy Wall Street, are used as evidence that we’re lazy whiners. Those people on Wall Street with the power and the money would really like it if we would just shut up about our crappy situation. Instead, we obnoxiously made ourselves heard, without any rioting or violence. Occupy Wall Street was recently in the news again for organizing relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy. I suppose my generation’s critics believe that’s the kind of thing narcissists with no work ethic like to do.
I actually think that calling anyone “The Greatest Generation” is stupid, but if they were so great because they rose to meet their difficult circumstances and improve their country, then my generation is being held to a double standard. The opposite of lazy whiners, we are organizing, protesting, and voting in greater numbers than most generations before us in order to change our situation and our country. The fact is, lots of older people don’t like things like gay marriage and black presidents, but you can’t call us The Worst Generation just because we believe in equality. Nor can you accuse us of lacking a work ethic or feeling entitled when we are coming to adulthood in the worst economic period since The Great Depression.
Life is hard for us right now, and we’re not keeping quiet about it. However, we’re not just talking—we’re acting, and that scares people who don’t want to lose their grip on power. If they want to call us The Worst Generation, that’s fine. I think my generation is above name-calling, and our actions will be sufficient to prove them wrong.
Elyse Hauser is a writer and editor from Washington State who is currently based in Philadelphia. In addition to the written word, she loves social justice, radical feminism, fashion, philosophy, and travel. Check out more of her work at elysehauser.com.