The REAL reasons why Generation Y might be unhappy

Last night my boyfriend alerted me to this article which he said was being shared a lot online: Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy. Notably, it’s being shared a lot by the people it’s ostensibly talking about. It’s really nothing new, attributing a generational ennui (we’re not actually presented with any evidence of this, or shown that if it exists it’s a new thing, or even given an articulation of what it actually means) to defects in people’s attitudes. In contrast to their parents whom were raised to believe that “years of hard work” were the way to happiness and prosperity, generation Y are apparently ‘delusional’, think they’re ‘special’ and have unrealistic expectations of swift success. What dicks!

Now, I’m not one to dismiss such talk out of hand. I don’t think there’s any harm in discussing societal trends and have been a big advocate of research into the effects of social media (not just on ‘young people’ but on all of us who use it). I’ve also written a few times about the fetishising of ‘creativity’. The problem is that here we have the umpteenth piece which complains about how shit young people are in some ahistorical, apolitical self-help drivel-talk which presents next to no evidence, context or reflection beyond ‘buck up your ideas’. Even on a cursory reading there are some glaring holes in the article’s thesis (since it’s an American site I’ll use American stats):

Productivity (“the real value of output produced by a unit of labour”) is far higher now than it was in the years when our parents apparently believed in ‘hard work’;

GDP is also higher than in those halcyon days;

There is nothing particularly striking about modern unemployment rates;

What *is* noticeable (you may have noticed this in one of the first graphs) is that income and wages completely decoupled from productivity in the 1970s;

Furthermore, the benefits of productivity and GDP have increasingly gone to the wealthiest in society: inequality has soared and the bulk of the wealth of the top 1% comes from capital, not wages – in other words, they’re not ‘working hard’ to make more money than everyone else;

House prices have soared;

As has student debt and credit market debt;

Manufacturing jobs have declined massively;

Part-time employment for economic reasons (ie because of wider economic reasons and not because of actively chosen hours) has increased massively;

The cost of living has increased massively;

Poverty has increasingly hit the youngest;

Social mobility has declined massively and your future earnings are intrinsically tied to your background.

The article’s ‘Lucy’ is graduating into a world which is hugely different from the one her parents lived in: a world where she can be expected to earn less, be saddled with greater debt before even entering the job market, face greater job insecurity, struggle to buy a house, face higher costs generally and be at greater risk of falling into poverty. All of this while watching the wealthiest in society become even wealthier – Lucy won’t need ‘Facebook Image Crafting’ to see that. She’ll graduate into a world where her parents’ generation have pulled the ladder up behind them and those at the top have become hugely wealthy while wrecking the economy and displacing the debt onto everyone else. She’ll do this while facing an economy where ‘traditional’ jobs are being shipped around the world and being replaced by precarious jobs where you’re increasingly judged not on concrete outcomes but on your ’emotional labour – having the right attitude when serving at Pret A Manger or being willing to do lots of unpaid overtime at your graphic design job (because hey, trade unions have declined too!) She’ll struggle to match the living standards of her parents.

Lucy will then read pieces like this one which tell her that the problem is her own attitude, that she’s a spoiled brat who wants everything now and with minimal effort.

Is it any wonder she might feel “kind of unhappy”?

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