29-year-old journalist Charlotte Alter recently tweeted that “people our age have never experienced American prosperity in our adult lives” and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez echoed the same sentiments in Charlotte’s recent piece on her in Time Magazine.
The statements of the two young women are indicative of a subset of millennials entirely out of touch with and ungrateful for the privileges of modern American society. Millennials get a bad rap when it comes to their level of gratitude and comments like these provide justification for those that feel millennials are out of touch with reality. In the past, a disconnection from reality merited institutionalization. Now it seems that being disconnected from reality and outwardly denouncing the facts earns you a seat in Congress.
While I don’t like painting any group with a broad brush, this ingratitude and misunderstanding of American prosperity is a particularly appalling thing to hear from the millennials who feel as though they have never experienced American prosperity, when the truth is quite the opposite.
Charlotte Alter and AOC
This is not to say that some millennials haven’t experienced real poverty and hardship, that contingent has and certainly does exist and I don’t mean to diminish the real difficulties faced by those truly struggling. What I do contest is the notion that the American system is intrinsically rigged against us millennials, and that we have never been able to experience the benefits of the freest and most prosperous nation in the history of the world.
What I do contest is the notion that the American system is intrinsically rigged against us millennials, and that we have never been able to experience the benefits of the freest and most prosperous nation in the history of the world.
Using Charlotte Alter and AOC as examples of the “lack of prosperity” millennials have experienced is laughable and inaccurate, but ironically indicative of the ingratitude plaguing some millennials. Alter seems to be the exact definition of American prosperity, coming from a family of media executives that inevitably played a role in her graduating from Harvard and landing a job at Time magazine only a year later.
Ocasio-Cortez more than Alter seems to have experienced difficulty in her lifetime and I am not discrediting that; losing her father in 2008 undoubtedly affected AOC and is a situation I would not wish upon anyone, nor are the financial hardships that later befell her family. Still, to say that she is part of the American generation that “never saw American prosperity” and that she “has never seen that, or experienced it, really” is grossly inaccurate.
After living in the “prosperous Westchester County suburb of Yorktown Heights” from the time she was 5 (5!) to having the luxury of taking a several weeks long road-trip with friends to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016, AOC seems to have certainly experienced some level of prosperity during her adult life which is only now entailing “her first big full-time job.” The “young volunteers” who worked on her campaign are probably among the thousands who tune in to watch AOC use an Instant Pot on Instagram Live and are cited as having a “shared sense that they had been screwed” by an economic and political system that “is rigged.”
Alter’s article explains that this “rigged system” is causing so many young Americans to “become increasingly attracted to democratic socialism, which aims to build a stronger safety net through democratic elections.” Alter states that young people are continuously “ticking a couple points more left” as evidenced by a 2018 Harvard poll that shows that 39% of young Americans favor democratic socialism. This rise in popularity of democratic socialism, the rise of the idea that economic rights are equivalent to human rights, is entirely representative of the ingratitude and failure to understand or appreciate the prosperity that exists in America. Make no mistake, democratic socialism is nothing more than the democratic selection, the free choice of the same socialist policies that have brought about the demise of Venezuela.
This rise in popularity of democratic socialism, the rise of the idea that economic rights are equivalent to human rights, is entirely representative of the ingratitude and failure to understand or appreciate the prosperity that exists in America.
Freely choosing policies that purport to minimize economic inequality through financial control and regulation of healthcare, housing, and education are still socialist in nature, no matter how democratically they are brought about. If someone truly believes and has a factual basis for socialist policies working, great. But the fact is that time and time again, socialist policies pale in comparison to the true prosperity created by American capitalism. It is not a distrust in capitalism that is leading to the acceptance of socialism, but an unawareness and ingratitude of its benefits.
Sadly the Babylon Bee, a satirical right-wing news site hits the nail on the head with their article Sick and Tired of Prosperity, Nation to Try Socialism for a While. The witty article pokes fun at those who are “so fed up with the successes of capitalism that they want to try something else for a few decades and see how it shakes out-something radically different like a failed economic system that has killed millions.”
It is not a distrust in capitalism that is leading to the acceptance of socialism, but an unawareness and ingratitude of its benefits.
Although making light of socialist ideology, the article nails the irony of Alter and AOC’s comments because those millennials “are so steeped in prosperity that don’t even know what it means to be poor.” This is the reality of the America we live in: an America where we have so many luxuries and privileges, so much prosperity, that we have lost sight of what real poverty looks like.
Let’s play devil’s advocate for a second and see if all these claims about lack of prosperity are really credible. Are we steeped in financial crises and a terrible quality of life? Have millennials really never gotten to experience prosperity, only to be thrown into a rigged system intent on screwing them over? The facts say otherwise.
AOC is a young, Hispanic female who by her intersectional profile alone is clearly benefitting from the freedoms and opportunities offered in the United States. Girls can go on reality TV shows like the Bachelor and never work again because they make thousands of dollars per photo of themselves opening up boxes of makeup on Instagram.
People actively try to stop spending hundreds of dollars a month on gourmet coffee drinks, and we can purchase everything from the latest technology to a wine glass holder for the shower without ever leaving the couch, only to find it on our doorstep 24 hours later. These are just some of the many luxuries we take for granted, but there are plenty of advances more significant than YouTube careers that have occurred in the last forty years that prove America is flourishing.
People actively try to stop spending hundreds of dollars a month on gourmet coffee drinks, and we can purchase everything from the latest technology to a wine glass holder for the shower without ever leaving the couch, only to find it on our doorstep 24 hours later.
The time from invention to widespread prevalence has drastically decreased. The telephone took almost a century from the time it was invented to the time it was available in most households, and electricity took about 50 years. By comparison, the smartphone was invented in 2000 and only 13 years later was being used by about 50% of the public, and by 2018 was being used by 77%. The digital camera was invented in 1995, and by 2005 nearly everyone had one. The technologies being created are getting into the hands of American consumers faster than ever before.
Americans have more to spend. The rate of consumption has nearly doubled; in 1980 the consumption per capita (in 2015 dollars) was $21,594. In 2015 that number went up to $37,780. Spending on entertainment has also increased from an average of $2,130 in 1986 to $3,203 in 2017. We are spending less on bills; in 1980 36% of the average household budget was spent on essentials like shelter, utilities, food, and clothes. In 2015 that number decreased to 27%.
Americans have more to spend. The rate of consumption has nearly doubled.
Millennials are more highly educated than any previous generation, with nearly three-fourths having attended college as compared to the two-thirds of Gen Xers. Millennials have almost double the college attendance rate of the GI generation.
Overall Americans are living better than 40 years ago. The average size of a new home has gone from 1,740 square feet in 1980 to 2,657 square feet in 2014. The average life expectancy has increased by 6 years, and the average retirement age has decreased. The output per work hour has increased and work hour prices (how many hours of work it takes to buy something) has been steadily declining since 1900. The unemployment rate is the lowest it has been since 1969. More African-Americans are currently employed since the statistic started being tracked in 1972, and projections show a continuous increase in job opportunities for all minorities.
The unemployment rate is the lowest it has been since 1969.
Facts AND Morals
According to AOC, “there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.” Yes, people are and should be concerned about being factually correct, because that would root your beliefs and opinions in truth. I would argue though that two things can be true at once, and we should be concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct as well as about being morally right. Understanding truth and pursuing ideologies and policies based off of truth (facts) is moral, disregarding the truth is inherently immoral.
Understanding truth and pursuing ideologies and policies based off of truth (facts) is moral, disregarding the truth is inherently immoral.
The truth is that history shows that over time America has only increased in prosperity and opportunity for its people. It would be immoral to deny this and would be even more immoral not to take advantages of the freedoms offered in the United States. We all grow up in different situations with various struggles, talents, advantages, and disadvantages. Some of us definitely have more to overcome than others, and there are certainly some Americans experiencing true poverty and hardship.
We do however live in a country that was founded on the belief that as human beings we are endowed with the ability to freely make our own choices to pursue prosperity and happiness. America is a country in which the system was designed by and for the people, where prosperity and happiness are not simply handouts to be freely given, but opportunities to be freely pursued through hard work and good choices. As a 26-year-old teacher who owns a car and a smartphone, pays for basic living expenses, is about to earn a Master’s degree, and can afford little luxuries every now and then, I am certainly a millennial fully steeped in American prosperity. Of course I worry about paying off student loans and affording a house someday, but these are problems not because of the lack of prosperity I experience as a millennial, but because of the prosperity I experience as a millennial.
America is a country in which the system was designed by and for the people, where prosperity and happiness are not just handouts to be freely given, but opportunities to be freely pursued through hard work and good choices.
America is not an inherently awful place
While America is by no means perfect, to call it rigged is an ungrateful and inaccurate assessment of the freest and most prosperous nation in human history. The great prosperity we are actually experiencing, the real privilege we have is the American privilege. We are all riding on the coattails of those who have gone before us in establishing the freedoms of this great nation. Those who have given their lives to end slavery, those who created a public education system for all, those who have fought for a woman’s right to vote, those who ensured students with any kind of disabilities have just as many (if not more) rights than traditional students, these are the people that have appreciated and promoted American prosperity.
While America is by no means perfect, to call it rigged is an ungrateful and inaccurate assessment of the freest and most prosperous nation in human history.
To the millennials that say our generation has never experienced American prosperity, I say how dare you. How dare you disregard the literally innumerable ways in which America continues to lead the world as an example of prosperity. There will always be areas in which we can and should strive for improvement, but America is indeed the shining “city on a hill,” the example to the world that John Winthrop envisioned so long ago. If you’re sitting here in your $120 spandex disagreeing, then its time to put down the avocado toast and double iced almond milk whatever it is and wake up to the reality of the opportunities and privileges you have as an American in 2019.