Aside from escalating political tensions, recently furloughed paychecks for 800,000 government workers highlighted that too many Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck without an adequate savings account.
A recent podcast from NPR’s Austin branch on the government shutdown highlighted that “[a]lmost 60 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings, meaning an emergency expense would put many people in debt.”
On Jan. 24, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, 80, said in a live interview with CNBC that he didn’t “really quite understand why” unpaid federal employees were relying on food banks and restaurant deals to feed their families.
More than meals, the missed paydays have left thousands of workers scrambling to cover bills, selling personal items or seeking temporary or permanent work outside of their government posts, per CNBC staff reporter Jacob Pramuk, who also reports that some U.S. employees fear that long-term repercussions of this lengthy shutdown will drive talented people away from government service.
Unlike most presidents and politicians, the average American didn’t grow up vacationing in summer cottages at Martha’s Vineyard or has a father who could afford to provide “a small loan of a million dollars.”
The longest partial government shutdown in American history started Dec. 22, 2018, lasting 35 days until President Donald Trump, 72, made a deal on Jan. 25 to temporarily reopen the government for three weeks to continue funding negotiations for securing the nation’s southwestern border. However, although normal hours of operation for several federal agencies are restored, back-pay for federal workers won’t arrive immediately and it’s unclear what will happen after the February deadline.
Blue-collar and technical government jobs of chemists, mechanical engineers, and computer network administrators have been historically favorable for their “job stability” and “satisfaction” from “knowing that they are helping and serving people in their roles as public employees,” per Dennis Vilorio of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But the brutally honest truth of the marketplace is that we are all disposable, like in “Catch-22,” a war novel by Joseph Heller, which starts with a bandage-wrapped soldier lying in a hospital bed, faceless and nameless. Months after the man dies, he is replaced by another identical soldier, although other patients assume is the same person.
Earlier this month, The Dallas Morning News laid off 43 staffers amidst a “restructuring” period due to revenue declines. Last fall, TIME Magazine showcased the harsh financial realities of serving as an underpaid public educator. And I know the argument could be made that humanities professions like journalism or teaching don’t earn inticing salaries or worthwhile benefits to begin with, but neither one does it for the money, and both are just as vital to sustaining a community as our federal employees and military personnel.
Bills don’t stop when a person is temporarily out of a job, in an unexpected health crisis or family situation that prevents them from working. The weight of debt is a concept that plutocrats in Washington can’t fathom and age is a crucial part of the conversation.
There are different forms of debt. A majority of Americans are a surprise medical bill away from financial ruin, considering that surviving a heart attack could cost you $108,951. The average American household with credit card debt owes a record-high $16,883 as of 2017. Unknown to most, student debt can affect multiple generations, as parents and grandparents are choosing to alleviate the financial burden placed upon their scholar.
Ageism is discriminating on the basis of age, and generational term guidelines differ a bit from various sources. Admittingly in this blog, the age range I use for the Millenial cutoff extends a little younger than most charts because my brother, who was born in 1999, refuses to be categorized as a Post-Millennial.
Baby Boomers (approximately aged in the mid-50s to early-70s) often rant about Millennials (very late teens/early 20s to mid/late-30s), just as Millennials often blame Boomers. In between is the often forgotten Generation X (late-30s to early-50s) that has complaints about both of the aforementioned age groups. And the up and coming Generation Z (born in the 2000s) is in a league of its own.
Here are a few strong or semi-exaggerated social media posts to distinguish the generational term difference:
For background, I am a recent college graduate owing just more than $21,000 in student loans, which is less than the average grad’s debt sentence of $37,172, according to Forbes in 2016. Academic scholarships, as well as merit-based state and federal grants, helped cover a significant amount of my tuition to a private liberal arts university in Austin.
The remaining tuition amount was paid in a series of smaller payments by my hardworking (young Boomer/old Gen-X) parents — a privilege I recognize. I didn’t have to work a demanding job during college to survive, which allowed me to focus on my studies and complete seven career-boosting internships, four of which were unpaid, ranging from student teaching to PR/communications to state politics.
My way of contributing financially during my four years at St. Edward’s University was serving as a student journalist for the school newspaper. My income was an average $580-$640 a month (20 hours a week x $7.25-$8.00 rate depending on academic year classification) during the fall and spring semesters. All or most of this money went towards my apartment rent, but I knew I could rely on my parents sending me what I needed to cover the rest, buy groceries and other necessities, and even enjoy the occasional treat-yourself movie ticket or leisure event.
Last summer, my unpaid internship transitioned into a part-time job as I finished my last undergraduate courses. I then landed an unrelated salary job in September as soon as I graduated, sparing me from wallowing in the abyss of post-graduation unemployment, which I realize doesn’t quite fit the all-too-real Millennial narrative of misfortune.
Nonetheless, the struggles of my generation are there. My friends and I burn ourselves out by prioritizing professional aspirations over our mental health or relationships. I don’t plan on buying a house anytime soon and feel like I wouldn’t be able to afford one even if I wanted to, much less in Austin.
“Just 36 percent of household heads between 24 and 32 years old owned homes in 2014, down from 45 percent in 2005. At the same time, average student debt per capita rose to an inflation-adjusted $10,000 from $5,000 in 2005,” according to Bloomberg economics reporter Jeanna Smialek.
Per the Federal Reserve, Millennials spend less of their lower incomes on themselves compared to previous generations, spurging on experiences over stuff. Striving to be even more frugal is Gen Z, which explains younger people’s long kill list of diamonds, motorcycles and casual dining chains. However, as earlier jokes mentioned, we are willing to pay extra for Instagramable food like avocado toast or delivery fees.
Two weeks ago, I was visiting my hometown in the Rio Grande Valley, which is part of the South Texas region at the heart of Trump’s wall debate. On the way to our house from visiting my grandparents, my mom dragged me along for a spontaneous late night run to her favorite department store Ross, adding a half-serious, “No, you can’t stay in the car” as she parked.
When she asked if I wanted to pick out any discounted decorations for my bedroom, I refused, adding a whiney statement, “No, I don’t need more things. Nothing in my room brings me joy,” referencing Marie Kondo’s trending decluttering book about only keeping items that spark joy. I knew I was being a bit mopey, but I find no pleasure in shopping.
The next day, this op-ed by government affairs freelance writer Charles F. McElwee III popped up on my Twitter feed, which I read aloud to my parents:
What does the future hold for Millennials? They are a lost generation without the booze and jazz. They are renters and borrowers, not owners. They live in rooms, not homes. They incur debt for financial survival. They consider appreciation a sentiment, not a term for monetary value. They are a group lacking the accoutrements of Baby Boomer affluence. They entered an economy ravaged by their parents’ generation, and now they must regroup, persist, and somehow prevail…
Millennials are voyagers in an economy whose future is unknown. Financial stability is their elusive goal, authenticity their wistful desire, fulfillment their constant endeavor. Insurmountable debt, a digital existence, and a disruptive labor market obstruct their idealistic path…
But for now, Millennials must continue their fruitless march. This is not the economy that they expected. There are no car seats for young children, backyards for family dogs, or 401(k)s for retirement. Millennials are broke and disillusioned. They are foreclosing on their own future. We ignore their generational plight at our own peril.”
My dad was “really sad” this article resonated with me and my mom’s response was, “No wonder nothing in your room bring you joy.” My intention wasn’t to make them feel guilty, but it did lead to a conversation about their generational upbringings and the impacts of sibling birth order. (Both of my parents are the youngest of their respective families, and I am the oldest of three.)
I think part of the reason why my brothers and I identify better with Millennials instead of Gen-Z is that we grew up alongside older cousins playing outside, using our imagination to create silly games. We watched Saturday morning cartoons together at my grandma’s house followed by eating her homemade fideo for lunch. We colored, read books and were introduced to technology with strict educational usage purposes and screen-time limits.
My maternal grandparents are even older than Boomers, falling into the Silent Generation (aged mid-70s to late 80s). In 1962, they were young Mexicans who immigrated legally to the United States, working long, hard hours to provide better opportunities for my mom, a first-generation Masters graduate in library science, and her late brother, who was voted “Most Talented” in high-school for his artwork and became a welder like his father. Prior to relocating to the U.S., my selfless grandmother lived on a little ranch in the outskirts of town, where at the age of 12, she started teaching young children in a small classroom at a humble primary school. Here’s more about my grandmother’s life in Linares in an op-ed I wrote in college.
On my dad’s side, there’s an age gap of about a decade between him and his oldest brother, which lands my paternal grandparents in the GI/Greatest Generation (aged from the early 90s to 110). Both were born in the U.S. and are the youngest child of their respective families. My grandfather served in World War II and afterward started a local mechanic shop in Pharr, Texas. Later in the 1960s, my trailblazer of a grandmother left her husband and young sons three summers in a row to attend Texas Women’s Univesity to earn her Masters in Library Science. I recognize now how unconventionally progressive my grandmother’s educational feat was and for my grandfather to be so encouraging of it. Together, they raised a doctor, a dentist and a businessman. Here’s a college op-ed I wrote about my grandfather’s wartime reflections as they relate to contemporary social justice issues.
As a student journalist, it was literally my job to listen to others and accurately present their ideas. If we reach across generational lines, put our phones down to actually listen to each other, and legitimately try to understand each other a little better, instead of bashing each other on social media or in person, we would all be better for it.
Obviously, there are flaws and mistakes from each generation’s actions or inactions that can’t be ignored or reversed. A generation’s priorities are inherently present through public policies and social-constructed norms. However, most generational arguments on social media stem from sharing either hyperpolitical content or ignorant deducements made in the name of “honesty.”
A new study on Gen Z from the Pew Research Center found where the next generation falls on key political and social issues based off online surveys with 920 youths aged 13 to 17 and nearly 11,000 adults 18 or older.
An article about the report from The New York Times, written by American youth reporter Dan Levin, said, “Democrats of all ages tend to align fairly closely on major social and political issues, but the report highlights a sharp generational divide among Republicans. For example, more than half of the youngest Republicans surveyed said that racial and ethnic diversity was good for American society, a view shared by fewer than 40 percent of their Millennial counterparts, 34 percent of Generation Xers and just three in 10 baby boomers. Young Republicans are also more likely to approve of same-sex marriage and accept transgender people.”
Regardless of your political ideology or belief in government’s responsibility, older generations have some wisdom, memories, and crafts that can’t be forgotten; just as younger generations can express modern ideas’ intricacies, Google the answer to a long-pondered question and explain how to use FaceTime.
In “Catch-22,” the protagonist soldier Yossarian wants to fly his required number of missions then retire because he fears he will die at war. Each time he’s close to reaching the discharge flight number, it’s increased, first from 45 to 50, then again due to military bureaucracy.
Similarly, retirement age requirements have historically increased for the American public while retirement benefits have decreased or haven’t kept up with inflation.
Nearly 50 percent of Boomers are not on track to be able to afford basic expenses in retirement, just as nearly 20 percent of Millennials expect to die in debt. We all have more doom and gloom in common than we think, although “the circle of life” means that younger generations will be directly impacted by more long-term consequences of systemic inefficiencies.
NowThis Elections reported that before the 2018 midterm elections, a Congressional representative’s average age was 58. Now it’s 49, which makes our representation in DC nearly a decade younger.
Demographics reporter Alexa Ura and data visuals editor Darla Cameron of The Texas Tribune compiled demographics for the ongoing Texas Legislature, shown below:
Just 42 of 181 seats in the Texas House and Senate are currently held by women. Another statistic from The Tribune worth mentioning is that only 168 women have ever been elected to the Texas Legislature, which still isn’t enough to fill all of the chambers’ seats.
And while the typical American might not have enough saved up for a “rainy day,” the State of Texas sure does. Texas’ “Rainy Day” Fund, formally known as the Economic Stabilization Fund, contains $12.5 billion and is the largest state savings account in the nation, according to the Fiscal Notes newsletter from the Office of Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar.
The Texas Legislature has rarely ever tapped into it, not for alleviating Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts and not for restoring the $5.3 billion cut from public schools in 2011. Unlike last session’s focus of bathroom regulation and school privatization, the 86th Texas Legislature is prioritizing property taxes and school finance reform thanks to a loud wake-up call from voters in November of 2018.
The newer faces are not just businessmen or lawyers, but rather working mothers and former teachers. A core motto for the younger generations is to leave the world better than we found it. A prime example is fellow Millennial and the youngest member of the Texas House of Representatives, James Talarico (D-Round Rock), who is 29 years old.
And there’s plenty of other young people like Talarico, eager for the opportunity to make a difference. We seek logical solutions, not the illogical dilemmas of “Catch-22,” where Major Major sees people in his office only when he is elsewhere, and Doc Daneeka, who won’t ground Yossarian for insanity because Yossarian’s desire to be grounded means that he must be sane.
Maybe a long life does have to be filled with many unpleasant conditions if it’s to seem long. But in that event, who wants one?”
Death is inevitable, but the trappings of misrepresented realities (or “alternative facts”) should not prevent us from living.
Disclaimer: I haven’t finished listening to the book in its entirety, so SparkNotes helped shape this conclusion. Thank you to JL, AG, another AG and LG for helping me sort through my thoughts.
A Song I Listened to While Writing: “22” by Taylor Swift (because duh)