My grandfather died suddenly in the depths of the Great Depression when his son — my father — was 5 years old.
It was the second time my grandmother had been widowed. Later, in the eighth grade, my father quit school to go to work to help support her. At 17, he joined the army and eventually earned a GED.
My mother’s father also died in the Great Depression, when she was 4. She completed high school while her mother — my other grandmother — worked in a gun factory.
My parents eventually worked their way into the middle class and helped their four children earn nine college degrees.
My father was, and my mother is, extraordinary by our standards, but they were not unusual for their generation. They survived the Great Depression, saved the world from the Nazis and won the Cold War. They raised large families and still produced the greatest prosperity in history. In their spare time, they put a man on the moon.
They were rightly dubbed the “greatest generation.” Their hard childhoods made them rugged adults. They were grown-ups, sometimes even before they grew up.
My own generation — the “baby boomers” — were the beginning of the end. We did produce the best popular music, before or since, but not much else. We did manage one first: we were the first Americans (unless you count the Confederacy) to lose a war.
But if my generation was the beginning of the end, the current generation — the “millennials” — are the end of the end. Here are some depressing facts (these facts are necessarily generalizations; there are, of course, exceptions):
One recent study shows that millennial men are less strong physically than their fathers were at the same age. My personal observation would go further: Millennial men are less strong than their fathers are at their fathers’ current age.
The work ethic of millennials is legendary, and I don’t mean that in a good way. Their unemployment rate runs double the national average.
Those who do work seek “balance” between their work and what they call their “life.” Taught from a young age that they are special and raised in relative luxury, they don’t expect to work hard for their money. Bosses who think otherwise are quickly deemed “demanding” or “unreasonable.” Soon, such bosses are “former.”
This so-called “life” against which millennials carefully balance their shrunken “work” doesn’t involve activities like raising a family. In fact, they don’t even get married. The average age of millennial marriages is now pushing 30, and an unprecedented 25 percent will never marry. This absence of a spouse makes them less happy, less financially secure, less productive and less reproductive.
Millennials are slow to even establish their own homes. A recent Pew Research study shows that the most common living arrangement for 18 to 34-year-olds is to live with their parents. Life in mom’s basement is even more common for young men than for young women.
If this sacrosanct “life” that millennials favor over work is not spent in raising a family, then how exactly is it spent?
Turns out, “life” is their word for amusement. They spend a lot of time playing video games. Forty-seven years after the “greatest generation” put a man on the moon, the millennials go there only in video games.
And they buy things for themselves. Their unwillingness to postpone gratification until they’ve earned it has saddled them with heavy debts. After graduating from safe-space colleges with six-figure student loans incurred for easy but unmarketable degrees, they run up large credit card balances at high interest rates.
Their easy childhoods makes them eternal children. Think of “pajama boy” from the Obama 2012 re-election campaign, marveling at the wonders of something-for-nothing health care in the form of Obamacare (before it went bust) in his plaid onesie pajamas as he sips hot chocolate. I’m guessing his onesie had a flap in the back.
The bottom line is that millennials are not exactly the greatest. They’re cute and cuddly, but they’re high-maintenance and fragile. They’re like mongrel kittens — too burdensome to care for and too cute to drown. And you can’t even give them away.
This generation that was taught to value personal happiness over personal achievement has failed at both. Maybe someday they’ll recognize that the way to the former goes through the latter.
I hope that recognition comes soon, for their sake and ours.
(Published Oct. 16, 2016 in the Aspen Times at http://www.aspentimes.com/opinion/millenials-are-wimps/)