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Written by Brittany Shea
There’s been a tremendous amount of talk the past decade about polarizing politics, generations, and socioeconomics. These things are infinitely more apparent in the past three years.
How did we get here?
Millennials vs. baby boomers?
What happened to the middle class?
Why is it that elementary school children can control their tempers better than most adults, including our political leaders?
Now before you think this is just another "let's bash on Trump" post, I want to be clear that’s not what I want to talk about today (because honestly, unless you’ve been living under a rock… chances are you’ve got a pretty good idea about which side of the fence you’re standing on).
I want to talk about bridging the gap between these opposing opinions. How do we find common ground? How can we have a conversation that won’t result in years of ruined family Thanksgiving dinners and thousands of dollars in therapy?
Speaking of… last week I had a huge argument with my father. This is a white man who has a voted conservatively his whole life. He has a Master's Degree, he managed a multi-million dollar international company, and grew up in a family that provided him with every opportunity. Today I want to talk about privilege. My father, first and foremost, is privileged.
And here’s the fun thing… that’s okay! Privilege is not inherently bad. Life’s not fair; some people are born into privilege and some people are not. That’s just the way the universe works.
If you are lucky enough, fortunate enough, to be born into a life of privilege, own it! A privileged person has to do one thing and it’s easy, it’s so easy…
All you have to do is recognize that through no action of your own, you were awarded opportunities that others were not.
Did your parents go to college?
Did you ever go hungry?
Did your mom stay home with you while your dad worked?
Did you have access to health care, see a doctor regularly, go to the dentist?
A privileged person takes many of these things for granted. It is a privileged person's responsibility to recognize and acknowledge that you are lucky and you are fortunate; not everyone has access to these opportunities, things that many of us consider basic human rights.
Here’s what’s not okay... a person of privilege should never use the phrases “I’ve earned it”, “I deserve it” “I’ve paid my dues”.
IT DOESN’T MATTER.
It doesn’t matter how hard you’ve worked and it doesn’t matter for how long. Your privilege played a part in your success.
Side note: if I may stand on my soap box for one sec... if you are privileged, for the love of God, please stop saying you are “blessed” when describing your charmed life. This only implies that people who were born without the opportunities you were awarded are somehow not blessed.
“...I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” - Acts 10:34-35
This is true of most religions, not just Christianity. Everyone is blessed. Being blessed is not an excuse to dismiss one's privilege.
Rant over, moving on.
I am no exception to this rule. I am white, I was born to a relatively wealthy and affluent family. My parents are college educated. Heck, my parents even paid for my college, my cell phone bill, and my insurance until I was 26. That’s right, 26! I am one privileged mother trucker.
Now let me backtrack.
I mentioned I had a fight with my dad. I’d like to take a minute and explain what this fight was about. Like most arguments of 2019, this one started on Facebook (I know, how very cliché). My father posted an article, “Thoughts from a hipster coffee shop...” - feel free to read it for yourself.
Essentially, it’s written from a female perspective and she talks about millennials, not privileged people, and how they should “stop fighting to ‘fix’ the so-called, injustices of capitalism.” The article is written by Alyssa Ahlgren, a woman who happens to be white, works in corporate finance, and grew up in one of the wealthiest communities in Wisconsin.
I’m thinking privilege, but I don’t know her, so I’ll bite my tongue.
Here’s the thing about my dad - while I’m sure he voted for Trump, despite my best efforts to change his mind - the past three years he’s said he wants nothing to do with politics anymore. He doesn’t want to read the articles, he doesn’t want to hear the TV ads, he doesn’t want to watch the news, he doesn’t want to fact check every little thing a politician says and honestly… who can blame him? So when my dad posted this article, I was surprised.
I’ll be the first to admit I can lose my temper and man-ohh-man did I lose my temper. This article hit close to home, literally and figuratively.
I quickly posted several angry comments.
I let myself become baited and I attacked.
I called out his white man privilege, his lack of intellect, and I even brought my grandfather into the conversation.
I told him he couldn’t take a backseat and start throwing punches.
But here’s the thing... let me quote Hagrid and say “I should not have done that.” Attacking someone who has a difference of opinion is not how we bridge this ever-growing gap. As a person of privilege, it is my responsibility to speak calmly, rationally and intelligently about these hot-button topics.
Here’s what I will say to you and what I wished I would have said to my dad:
This article frustrates me because I don’t think that blanket statements are helpful or productive. If Alyssa Ahlgren were talking specifically about privileged people, I could get on board with that conversation. I might even agree with most of the things she says. However, she’s talking about millennials, which according to the US Department of Health and Services National Service Center for Health Sciences (say that 10x fast) is about 62 million people. I’m concerned her opinions are being interpreted as fact. Would it be alright if we sit down and talk about a few statistics? You, of course, are within your rights to disagree with me, but I would feel much better if you came to the same conclusions based on fact, not opinion.
The American Community Survey (ACS), in association with the US Census Bureau, states that millennials are making less money today than baby boomers and Gen Xers. For example, the Pennsylvania median household income is $38,000, which is far less than the $54,000 baby boomers which make on average (in the same state) and $53,000 made by Gen Xers. These numbers, however, do not take debt into account.
This brings me to the cost of education. GoBankingRates, a financial website, wrote that annual average education costs from 1964-2019 have "soared by about 3,819%.” For a student who entered college at the age of 18 in 1982, the average cost of an in-state, public university annually was $1,031. Today, the average cost of an in-state public university is $9,970 per year.
According to the US Department of Labor, minimum wage was $3.25/hour in 1982. So let’s just say a person were to work two months at a minimum wage job, they would make $1,040 before taxes. This would cover the entire year of tuition. Fast forward to 2019. Minimum wage has been raised to $7.25/hour. If a person were to work the same amount of hours at a minimum wage job, they would make $2,320. This covers less than 25% of a year's tuition.
Anyone who wants to attend college is left with very few resources. So maybe you’re like me (I admit that again, I am one privileged SOB) and your parents paid for, or helped pay for, your education. That makes you and I some of the lucky ones.
A lot of other people are not as fortunate, which means there’s only one other option...
Thankfully I never had to worry about student loans, but there’s a nagging sense of responsibility. Since I did not have to pay for my school, I, at the very least, can learn how others who did not have the same opportunities paid for their education. According to a study by Aon Hewitt, a provider of human capital and management consulting services, 40% of millennials have student loan debt averaging about $28,000 with interest rates ranging from 4.79-8.41%. That means almost 25 million students owe more than $25,000 before they even find a job.
Ahlgren also mentioned that millennials never had to live through the Great Depression, which is of course true, but it does not refer to the Great Recession. The Great Depression lasted roughly ten years (1929-1939) and the unemployment rate raised to about 25%. The Great Recession only lasted two years (2007-2009) and the unemployment rate doubled to 10%. Of course, the recession was not as bad as the depression, but the two are comparable.
Business Insider says that older millennials, those born between 1981-1989, took the greatest hit from the recession. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis announced that people born between 1982 and 1988 had wealth levels 34% below where they would have been if the financial crisis hadn’t occurred.
The recession also brought about the housing crisis. According to Zillow (at the time of writing), the average home value in the US is $227,700; in 1940, homes cost an average of $30,600 (adjusted for inflation). This means millennials were faced with another choice of the lesser of two evils:
1. Return home to live with their parents
So quick recap...
- Millennials make less money and have more debt
- If you’re an older millennial, you struggled to find a job after graduation due to the recession
- Houses are 40x more expensive
- You can either choose to live at home or shell out almost $1,500/month in rent
So I ask you, dad:
- Is it unreasonable to discuss a living minimum wage?
- Is it wrong to ask for affordable education and student loan forgiveness?
- Does that mean an entire population of 62 million people should just stop “complaining?”
That’s what I should have said and I hope next time someone challenges my opinions, I can maintain composure. I hope that our generation, the millennials of our country, can have thoughtful, intelligent conversations. Check your emotional responses and cite your sources. Maybe we can start to bridge some of these gaps and the extreme polarization.
Photo from freepik.com. What up, stock images?