I read – and laughed – at Maclean’s latest in a series of Gen Y bashing pieces. This time it was Lianne George, with the bat, in the employment office, in her piece “Dude Where’s My Job?”
The piece said a lot more about Lianne George than it did about Gen Yers (or the Net Gen or, if you prefer, anyone under 30) tinged, as it was, with the bitter happiness of someone celebrating another’s (perceived) comeuppance. If only the analysis had been as edgy, or as fun, the piece’s tone.
The saddest element of the article was its reduction of Gen Yers to a coddled, materialistic and self-aggrandizing cohort who are finally about to taste a dose of reality. This despite the fact that – according to George – 44% of Yers still live at home (many, would likely prefer to live independently) and have large student debts (an average of $5,631 per year in according to her). Hardly the stats of an entitled generation.
She laughs that: “This is a generation, after all, in which seven out of 10 rank themselves “above average” in academic ability.” The intent is to show Gen Yers are delusional self-aggrandizers. However, Gen Yers ARE above average in academic ability when compared to the population as a whole. The number of people attending university and college has been steadily (and aggressively) increasing. Even compared to 18 years ago, a growing % of the labour force has post-secondary education. This is to say nothing of the huge increase in the number of graduate students. For many Gen Yers maybe one parent, and almost none of their grandparents went to college or university. As such Gen Yers are more academically inclined compared to the labour force. Does this give them confidence? Maybe. But I wouldn’t confuse it with a belief they are inherently smarter or better than everyone else.
It is also problematic to talk about generations. I could easily sit here and psychoanalyze how Lianne George is almost certainly a Gen Xer who graduated at a time when there were no jobs and had to claw herself into a career she enjoyed. As such her article is just an expression of the frustration she (and by extension of course, all Gen Xers) feel towards Gen Y who (after making millions in silicon valley) they hope are finally getting their due and will have to behave more like her generation: forced by a declining economy to abandon their dreams and hopes and become the prototypical slackers of Reality Bites, mocking life as they resign themselves to dead end job after dead end job. What a wonderful thing to wish on a generation.
The problem is – I don’t think most Gen Xers think that way. Moreover, this type of generational thinking blinds us to bigger and more important problems. Gen Xers were never all slackers and Gen Y is not a single cohort. I forsee something much more problematic and unstable emerging than a bunch of Gen Yers feeling let down by the universe. Recently I read that there has been no decline in the number of job recruiters at UBC this year. I fear that we are seeing the wedging of our economy – a separation between an growing wealthy and opportunity rich creative class, a struggling white collar class and a destitute blue collar class. While already true, I fear the main determinant of who’s asking “Dude, where’s my job” won’t be age, but class. Worse, those who end up asking the question risk becoming part of a structural unemployment problem: insufficiently skilled to enter the workforce, and lacking the capital to change their circumstances. This is the analysis we need from Maclean’s, not cheap snipping at a whole generation.
But then, maybe the cheap shots sell more magazines.