Some stock photo models at a temp gig pretending to have a stable, rewarding job. Photo via Getty
Trend pieces about millennials treat the generation like they rode out of the woods one day on hoverboards, snapchatting and baffling their elders with emoji. A recent New York Times article that was mostly about the news website Mic and a dude who lied about a dead friend in order to go build a treehouse summed up the demographic's stereotypes like so: "a sense of entitlement, a tendency to overshare on social media, and frankness verging on insubordination." But we've heard all that sort of thing before, about our idealism and the self-centeredness, the unearned confidence, the cluelessness that we millennials wrap ourselves in like a snuggie.
In every generation-spanning story like this—and there are a few—millennials are something that is happening to the world, rather than the other way around. We appear before actual adults and stumble around, demanding participation trophies and social justice buzzwords before failing due to our own incompetence. We're quirky neighbors in the sitcom of life, walking cautionary tales barely old enough to drink.
I suppose it's "entitled" or whatever to look around and point out the awfulness of the economy millennials have inherited, but it's hard to ignore all the giant flashing red signs indicating that our work lives are on average a good bit worse than those of our predecessors. Case in point: a survey released this week about jobs and work that shows just how grim things are out there.
It was commissioned by the recruiting website Jobvite, so it's inevitably bubbly and optimistic, but the findings show that actual benefits are scarce, people are unhappy in their work, and non-job "gig" jobs from companies like Uber and Airbnb are becoming more common.
The bleakest stat was highlighted by Quartz: Just 29 percent of workers under 30 get health care, while 35 percent get "free meals/snacks," which is not an actual benefit unless debt collection agencies start accepting bags of chips as student loan payments. Meanwhile, 56 percent of all workers with kids have never taken parental leave—a rather more important "perk" than the occasional Luna Bar—and of those who have, 87 percent took less than 12 weeks off.
More fun news, courtesy of a Wednesday press release about the survey:"Gig-type jobs through companies like Uber or Airbnb are part of the new normal: Nearly one fifth of all job seekers polled have held a job in the gig economy, and of those, 56 percent report that this has been their main source of income." Those "jobs," of course, aren't actual jobs according to Uber and other companies that create them; that sort of work is also notoriously underpaid, doesn't provide benefits, and is occasionally illegal.
But onwards and upwards! "People are searching for jobs anytime, anywhere!" the press release chirps. "52 percent of mobile job seekers have looked for new opportunities while in bed, and 37 percent have searched while at the office at their current job." If you have ever looked at a job website on your phone while lying in bed you probably wouldn't use an exclamation mark to describe that experience—it generally involves waking up extremely late, ignoring a few gently distressed texts from your parents, waiting until you hear your roommates leave for their jobs, then slouching your way into the living room and wondering whether you should Grubhub yourself a lunch special, since your credit card tab is insurmountable enough already, so what's the price of one more chicken korma?
The Jobvite survey doesn't try to tackle income numbers, but it's worth noting that we've known for a while that today's young people are poorer than previous generations, and that they are often saddled with the debts and stresses that come from decades of stagnant wages and a global financial crisis that crested right when they were due to become adults. And if we're keeping score, remember that this is the same batch of humans who saw the World Trade Center collapse as children, then spent their formative years watching the adults wage costly and pointless wars in the Middle East, wipe out a budget surplus with a tax cut, and realize several years too late that the economy was built out of pieces of paper with lies written on them.
You're not going to find an accurate snapshot of this in a poll commissioned by a recruiting website, but there are hints of it in the Jobvite report when the political leanings of respondents are discussed. Bernie Sanders supporters were more likely to be millennial women, and they were also more likely to be hopping from job to job and dissatisfied with their work—in other words, they were more likely to be young people who naturally gravitate toward the presidential candidate whose done the best job explaining what they already know: that things are fairly fucked up and will take a monumental effort to fix.
Sanders, of course, is still a fairly hopeless long shot in the 2016 campaign, and economists aren't predicting that the world will get fairer anytime soon. When faced with that sort of reality, running off and building a treehouse is probably not the worst idea.