Generation Y: Over-criticized and Undervalued

Nov 9, 2014 by



1. The belief that one’s own generation is superior to older or younger generations
2. The tendency to judge other generations from the perspective of one’s own generation




          Recently, an article was shared with me about Stephen Poloz, Bank of Canada Governor, who has taken it upon himself to enlighten Canadian youth on how to address high unemployment and high underemployment rates: work for free. My blood pressure rose with each sentence I read. By the end, I was shaking with anger. It was one of those moments that I was so frustrated with society for producing such a judgmental, narrow-minded man that my chest was constricting. Working for free perpetuates the problem. Student debt is too high and paid employment after graduation is too low. Consequently, young people are struggling to afford basic living costs. Working for free does not fix this. Free labour cleverly framed as “unpaid internships” may build experience, but experience does not buy food. Worse, if youth work without pay, it teaches employers that they are entitled to free labour because young people aren’t worth financial investment, which is a reflection on the value of their knowledge, skills, and contributions relative to older candidates. It is ageist, and refusing youth the right to be paid by leveraging work experience is corporate rape.

          Graduates worked at a deficit to earn the degrees that employers require of them, and now employers don’t want to pay them for it. How the basic right to be fairly paid for one’s work and the expectation to be employed in correlation to one’s education or skillset got labeled a generational entitlement issue is beyond me. Don’t tell kids that a university degree equals a well-paying job, and then complain that they’re “entitled” when they expect one upon graduation, especially after they’ve worked tirelessly to put themselves through school and – because they weren’t earning enough money to cover the exorbitant cost of tuition – indebted themselves to fulfill your job requirements. After all that, Poloz expects youth to bend to corporate will without compensation? That does not enable young people to support themselves. That does not motivate more employers to pay youth and to pay them fairly. Why would employers pay for labour that’s attainable for free?

          Unfortunately, Poloz’s stance represents a broader societal and historical issue: generationism. With comments like “I bet almost everyone in this room knows at least one family with adult children living in the basement,” Generation Y as a whole is being depicted as lazy. Firstly, where does Poloz expect young adults to live while working for free? Secondly, why doesn’t he credit the post-secondary graduates accepting underpaying, unfulfilling positions they could have worked out of high school just to make rent? Deduction 101: Conclusions about an entire generation cannot be drawn from anecdotal cases and select portions of its membership.

          Furthermore, members of a generation should not be blamed for problems that have been inflicted upon them and reside outside of their control. Does Poloz really think most unemployed youth want to be without jobs? I acknowledge that I am currently unemployed by choice, but I am not the majority. I worked at my last job specifically to save money to quit it and travel. For most youth, unemployment is not a preference; it’s a struggle. Gen Y faces employers’ increased demand for degrees and reduced willingness to hire new grads. By suggesting that Millennials are being “snobby” for expecting paid work, Poloz is holding them responsible for a national economic issue – a national economic issue that he does not personally feel the repercussions of. I challenge him to give up his income of $436,100 to $513,000 per year to work for free and also manage rent, bills, and overwhelming debt. His inability to empathize with unemployed youth demonstrates the very foundation of generationism: judging members of another generation based on the experiences of one’s own generation. That is unfair. Each generation grows up in a different environment, resulting in a different set of struggles.

          It is because of people like Poloz that Generation Y has a poor reputation amongst some Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. As a member of Generation Y, I have a problem with this. It seems that the common factor of negative assessments of my generation is youth. Supposedly, it is Millennials’ “youthfulness” that keeps them from obtaining and holding jobs. It is because of their “youthfulness” that they are criticized for, amongst other things, being “uncommitted.” Rarely is justice done to them by mention of the environment in which they are becoming adults, the one in which companies dangle the threat of unemployment over their heads and withhold benefits by way of contracted work. How can employers expect commitment of the people they won’t commit to? Moreover, members of Generation Y are being judged based on values that are not their own. Gen Y may not have the same appreciation for commitment as older generations, but it is important that each new generation’s values differ from the ones before it. Otherwise, there would be no social evolution. Commitment may not be Gen Y’s strong suit, but personal fulfillment is. For that, I am proud to be a part of it.

          In fact, I am grateful to be a part of Generation Y. Members of Gen Y are educated – not because we went to school, but because we’re fortunate to have instant access to current information at our fingertips. We are critical thinkers – not because we’ve been told to be, but because we have learned from experience that such vast information requires filtering. Most importantly, we are more open to alternative lifestyle choices, and therefore happiness, than any generation before us – not because we are superior to them, but because we are the product of them. It is inevitable that each new generation is more progressive than the last. Past generations’ fights for personal freedom and expression are the stepping stones for future generations to break more boundaries. That is a beautiful thing. Gen Y’s priorities of self-fulfillment, work-life balance, and personal choice are the results of social movements initiated before us and make way for future generations to further happiness. I know not all Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are Gen Y critics. I don’t intend to paint that picture. It is unfair to characterize entire generations by the actions of a few. But to those few who are, Gen Y is not some theoretical cohort of nuisances that you’re frowning upon. We are your children. We get our sense of revolution from you. You should be proud.

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