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Generation X, We’re Calling You Out!

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In 2000, Millennials were an upbeat, engaged generation of talented young people who would lead the country into a leaner, greener, better future one instant message at a time. By 2009 we’d somehow morphed into, “a generation of hot-house flowers puffed with a disproportionate sense of self-worth“.  Must’ve been something we tweeted. In less than a decade, Millennials went from bright hopes to great disappointments as Zuckerberg, Wales, and Page left us entitled, needy, and “without the resiliency skills they need when Mommy and Daddy can’t fix something”. With books like, Generation Me or The Narcissism Epidemic, odiously expounding our, “sense of entitlement” adding to the criticism, almost no one really asks: are Millennials really that self-absorbed?

Sure, advances in computing and the internet birthed a myriad of technological luxuries, but it’s taken the world out of the buggy and into the bullet train, leaving behind anyone who can’t keep pace. Millennials live in a world with the Internet giving corporate grade software away for free, a labor force flush with advanced degrees and where the wrong status update can leave you unemployed. On the other hand, Generation X not only lived through the greatest period of economic growth and prosperity, but was also the first beneficiary of civil rights reforms won by its Baby Boomer parents. So it’s time to set the record straight, and find out whose generation really is entitled. 

Knowledge….Is Expensive

It’s a well-known fact that having some form of postsecondary education is vital for one’s future job prospects and financial security. Historically, degree holders get better jobs, and receive higher salaries than those that don’t. Data from the Integrated Postsecondary Eduation Data System (IPEDS) shows that this fact isn’t lost on Millennials; 129,950,543 were enrolled in a degree-granting institution between 2002 and 2009, about 18,564,363 people a year. However, the fact that the cost of attendance at public and private institutions rises with each entering class is no small matter and these costs make completing 2 or 4 years of coursework no easy task. 

Numbers from the National Center For Education Statistics (NCES) show that since 1980 (the beginning of the millennial period) attendance costs for 4-year programs at degree-granting institutions increased 631.38 percent, while costs for 2-year programs rose 399.51 percent. If that’s not enough the same database also provided specifics on current annual costs for 2 and 4 year programs at public and private institutions.

  • For public insitutions: $8,085.00 (2yr) / $15,918.00 (4yr)
  • For private institutions:  $23,871.00 (2yr) / $32,617.00 (4yr)

How do these figures compare to their 1980 levels? In current dollars costs at public institutions are 398.87 percent and 624.24 percent higher for 2 and 4 year programs respectively. In private institutions, including both non-profit and for profit schools, costs went up 554.75 percent for 2 year programs and 583.07 percent for 4 year programs. 

Sometimes More is Less

Higher education may be less affordable for millennials, but it’s certainly not less available. NCES data shows a 139.12 percent increase in the number of public and private institutions since 1980, growing from 3,231 schools to 4,495 institutions nationwide. But why would this be a problem, since more school means more chances for Millennials to grab that all access pass to prosperity? Well, consider the following.

We know from earlier that from 2002-2009 nearly 130 million people applied, were accepted, and enrolled in public or private institutions, which is about 18.5 million per year. Over that same period, 19,971,685 degrees were conferred to qualifying candidates, which comes to a little over 2.8 million Associates, Bachelors, Masters, and Doctoral degrees per year. So if you applied to college between 2002 and 2009, your field of competiton had eighteen and half million other people in it. If you were among the ones who eventually graduated, your field of competition ranges from a little over 503,000 (for doctoral degrees) to over 10 million (for bachelors degrees).

Having more colleges and universities is a double-edged sword. As it increases the number of opportunities to attend, the pool of potential applicants and eventual students deepens alongside it. Graduating doesn’t alleviate this problem considering that as the NCES data showed yearly increases in enrolled students, it also showed a year over year increase in the number of degrees awarded. So Millennials not only have lots of competition going in, they’ve got qualified competition coming out.

Corporate America, Will You Hire Me? 

With nearly 3 million degree holders coming onto the scene each year America’s job market is bursting at the seams with potentially qualified candidates. As resumes crowd corporate recruiting desks, firms shy away from the idea that a degree alone makes a worthy candidate looking to experience in the field in lieu of who’s holding more advanced degree. The supply saturated labor market sits Corporate America atop a mountain of inelastic demand as firms with billions in government loans fire more, hire less, and lower wages offered to new hires. 

Hiring Rates:

From 2002-2007, the section of the employed work force that came from new hires was about 4 percent per month on average. After 2007 this rate fell to 3 percent (about 1,398,690 fewer people monthly) and has yet to return to pre-recession levels.

Job Openings:

Over that same period, the number of job openings in the private sector averaged about 46,333,000 per year, but fell just 36,619,000 between 2008 and 2011. Current openings rates, as of 2011 data, have yet to return to pre-recession levels. 

Labor Turnover:

Further complicating matters for job-seeking Millennials is a slowdown in the quits rate (the measure of people who voluntarily leave their jobs). From 2002-2008 this rate held steady around 2 percent each month, but has since floated from 1.3 to 1.5 percent suggesting that more people are remaining in their current positions. 


Lastly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics Mass Layoff Statistics Survey shows two distinct periods where layoffs occurred at an accelerated pace. 2002-2003 saw 39,832 mass layoff events (MLE) averaging 1660 events a month, and 2008-2011 showed 86,799 MLE’s at an average of 1808 events per month. 

So Easy A Caveman Could Google It

Often, the widespread adoption of digital technologies in everyday living is the weapon of choice for critics trumpeting the entitled laziness of Millennials. To their credit, millennials as a generation have indeed grown up with increasing levels of computer technology in nearly every aspect of their lives from how they enjoy music on the go, how they keep up with current events, and even how they learn in the classroom. It’s also true that the expansion of the Internet has opened the “floodgates” by making access to information no harder than typing a few words into a search engine and learning to parse through the results. But there’s another side to this story, for what the internet giveth, it giveth away for free. 

Thanks to the internet, anyone can learn skills you used to have to pay top dollar for free of charge. Why pay Harvard Business School $87,200/yr to fashion you into a securities broker when you can visit Investopedia.com and study for the Series 7, 63, or any one of 12 FINRA exams? Want to become a Certified Ethical Hacker? Here’s a link to the official CEH-Certification Guide available in PDF form for easy download. Want to build websites but can’t code? Check out Codeacademy.com who’ll get you up to snuff in Javascript, Python, Ruby, HTML, and CSS in just weeks. Youtube can get you MIT lectures on subjects from copyright law to single variable calculus and the team at Lynda.com can elevate your photography chops to new heights. 

The Internet and efficient file sharing have raised the bar for millennials by making professional skills available via Google for next to nothing. Why take on thousands in debt for a degree when all you need is a computer and a nearby Starbucks? If anything, Millennials have to learn at a pace that far exceeds their generational elders because the internet makes finding and owning information on nearly any topic of interest an incredibly simple process. This need to keep pace necessitates the use of smartphones, laptops, tablets etc. in nearly every field because of how fast information is acquired, exchanged, and used. 

The Verdict

Let’s recap:

  1. Since 1980, the cost of attending a public of private institution of higher learning has increased significantly on an annual basis, about 19.73% for 4 year programs and 7.25% for 2 year programs. 
  2. The number of applicants becoming enrolled students has increased an average of 3.68% each year since 2002, expanding the field by roughly 677,726 people every entering class. 
  3. The pool of degree holders has trended higher since 2002 showing an average 3.96% uptick year over year, about 110,875 people. 
  4. Conditions in the job market remain problematic with lagging hiring rates, heightened layoff rates, fewer new openings and less people vacating current positions

Not only are Millennials trying to afford a more than six-fold price hike for that degree, but they’ve got to compete with eight figures worth of applicants, and seven figures worth of graduates. Continued infighting between Congressional lawmakers and financiers in New York creates a caustic jobs market where Millennials float about with several million other similarly qualified candidates despite all the balance sheets awash with billions government cash. To further complicate matters, the Internet has revolutionized the ease at which people from any market can acquire professional level skill sets at a much lower financial expense.  

Rebuffing The Old Guard

Generation Xers are by and large the most open critics of Millennials particularly on issues like social activism. Now it’d be wholly self-centered, narcissistic even, to omit our parents grievance list so let’s compare.

In economics, Generation Xers were born into a period of considerably better conditions:

  1. Historical data on U.S. GDP growth provided by the USDA shows that the economy grew 2.93% from 1970-1980, the last ten years of the Gen X period. By comparison, the last ten years of Millennials have only seen the economy grow 2.41%
  2. From that same data set, GDP Per Capita grew for Gen Xers by 1.81% from 1970 to 1980 compared to 1.34% for Millennials 1990-1999. 
  3. Data tables from the U.S. Census Bureau tell us that the Average Annual Gross Income Per Capita (in 2011 dollars) from 1967-1980 was $18,067 compared to $24,943 for Millennials1986-1999. However when you calculate the percentage increase in AGI per capita, Gen Xers saw a 139% increase compared to 125% for Millennials. 
  4. According to the CPI-Inflation Calculator, the U.S. Dollar had higher purchasing power at its lowest point (1980) than during the entire Millennial birth period. 

On social issues, Generation X would have been the first generation born into several major civil reforms.:

  • Creation of Medicaid and Medicare by the Social Security Act – 1965
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • The Voting Rights Act of 1965
  • Establishment of Affirmative Action by President Kennedy- 1961
  • Expansion of Affirmation Action under Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and Carter 1965-1979
  • End of Conscription in the U.S. – 1972
  • Passage of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the Constitution – 1971
  • Record high for purchasing power of the Minimum Wage at $9.86/hr (2011 dollars) -1968

Generation X How Do You Plead?

Generation Xers were born into a period of higher economic growth, characterized by increases in GDP and Gross income that are demonstrably higher than the Millennial period and a considerably stronger dollar. This generation was also the first generation born after sweeping reforms combating discrimination in primary, secondary, and post secondary education,reforms that established Medicaid and Medicare, and expanded equality in the workplace with Affirmative action. No one can doubt the struggle of Generation X to actually make use of these achievements, but there is no question that they were born into these changes. They were children, too young to have voted for or against any one of these measures and because of that, many of their critiques of Millennials are glaringly hypocritical.

Granted, Millennials are also born in an environment shaped by these laws, but the economic, social, and educational landscapes have changed significantly since the turbulent 60’s and 70’s. The internet catalyzed rapid changes in how Millennials operate in the 21st century, and, as it sent the world into hyper-drive, Millennials find themselves needing to keep pace. From its lens, Generation X may not consider smartphones and social networks important or necessary, but for Millennials these aren’t toys, they’re tools. Today’s jobs require proficiency with the lastest technologies and Millennials are not entitled for wanting what’s necesary to do the jobs we aspire to have. 

Claims that we’re spoiled or entitled implies an ignorance of what’s required to compete of function in the 21st century. Gen X and Baby Boomer’s should keep in mind that the next time they need their Google Calendar synced to their iPhone, or an updated benner on their website it’ll be their Millenial son or granddaugther doing it. So to all our “haters” out there, here’s the chair, feel free to have a seat. 

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About Alexander J Smith III

  • Lori

    ” Gen X and Baby Boomer’s should keep in mind that the next time they need their Google Calendar synced to their iPhone, or an updated benner on their website it’ll be their Millenial son or granddaugther doing it. So to all our “haters” out there, here’s the chair, feel free to have a seat. ”

    I’m pretty sure we can do these two things since we invented the code and practically built the internet ourselves. We don’t hate you. I understand social networking is your life , since it is the way to stay informed and in touch. We wish all of our peers were like you, so our world could rocket along next to you. Sadly our elders never take the bull by the horn and embrace all the changes, so your generation invents the ways to use the technology.

  • Matt

    What a shockingly poorly written piece. From an extremely narrow focus on post colligiate education to Cherry picking data sets to back up the economic positions, this is a weak argument. Example: there were 0 gen x people working in 1967, yet that’s when your data set begins. Likewise for millenials; not too many in the work force in 1990 if their generation starts in 1980. Why not start your data from when the respective generation would begin to enter the work force? 1978 and 1998 respectively. It’s because your argument would then be completely baseless. Leading edge gen x started working in the face of a recession. Millenials did not.
    Millenials have endured massive increases in secondary education, and the bulk of the generation has graduated into a truly bad job market. But keep in mind that no generation has endured more recessions than gen X, they’re the 1st generation to make less money than the one before (compare incomes 1970 vs.. 2010)no generation lost more wealth in the last recession (59% 2004-2010)than any generation before. Social security begins to run out of money 2035, exactly when gen X begins to retire en mass. I won’t bother with the upheaval in benefits like pensions and health care that gen x was the first to have to face as well. Millenials have a tough road ahead, no doubt. But to suggest that Gen X had it better is laughable.

  • Igor

    I was born in 1937 and my 5 kids scattered between 1960 and 1973. I always worked hard and had a modest lifestyle. But at least I was always able to eat and live and I had a Land Grant college to attend to get skills.

    For several years I’ve worried about how recent generations could possibly survive and have even middleclass lives. At least in the old days a manual worker had the protection of a union, but now that seems to be gone. What did we get in exchange for giving up unions? Even richer CEOs?

    We seem to have ‘privatised’ the Universities. We made profit centers out of them. And what have we gained for that sacrifice of public assets? Even richer CEOs?

  • Gen X

    “Creation of Medicaid and Medicare by the Social Security Act – 1965
    The Civil Rights Act of 1964
    The Voting Rights Act of 1965
    Establishment of Affirmative Action by President Kennedy- 1961
    Expansion of Affirmation Action under Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and Carter 1965-1979
    End of Conscription in the U.S. – 1972
    Passage of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the Constitution – 1971
    Record high for purchasing power of the Minimum Wage at $9.86/hr (2011 dollars) -1968”

    LOL. Generation Xers were still wearing diapers or weren’t even born yet when the events above occurred. Are you ill or something?

  • Alexander J Smith III

    When i was researching the piece, most of the consensus on the Generational periods broke down like this:

    Baby Boomers: post WWII ~ 1960 or 1961
    Generation X: 1960/61 ~ 1980
    Millennial: 1980 ~ 1999

    The bulk of the research conducted around Millennials deals with individuals who would be in higher education or early – mid career which covers most folks from 1980 to about 1994 or so. The points about Generation X are about the economic conditions they were born into, and would have existed by the time the oldest of them were young professionals as older Millennials are now.

  • karl f

    I think you are thinking about the boomers. I am a gen x’er and started my career in 2004 (After college and grass school). I essentially got three good years. I guess you can hold that against me if you want, but it’s not like I had any money to invest when the market was good.

    I REALLY hate it when you all group gen x w/boomers. We were latch-key kids only to see our parents laid off. I have over $100,000 OK n student loans. It was the boomers who had it all and once they no longer needed things like highest education and labor unions, they threw them under the bus.

  • I would dispute that Xers were raised during an era of economic prosperity. The late 1970s introduced 30 years of massive layoffs and downsizing in corporate America. The divorce rate was skyrocketing during their Xer youth and cable television arrived – bringing with it access to news 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Xers were the first generation to have never known job security and most Xers were raised in single-parent households or households where both parents were working. They are self-sufficient since they practically raised themselves and skeptical of hierarchy and authority after being raised amidst divorce, layoffs, and heavy television media which showed the nation’s leaders failing to deliver on their promises. Plus, Xers are a small generation (48 million compared to 78 million Boomers) and have been stuck in middle-management, hitting their heads on the ‘gray ceiling’ and waiting for Boomers to retire for the past two decades. Plus, most Xers carry heavy financial burdens, caring for aging relatives at the same time they are raising children under the age of 18. Yes, we need Xers to sustain our companies and our economy. But Xers are more independent, withdrawn, and cautious for a reason – and to suggest this generation is entitled is way, way off base.

  • ken

    This article is full of half truths and some facts are not correct. I am a Gen-Xer and I did not grow up in a time when I had money. I had to get that on my own. It is true however, Gen-M is a very needy generation and on top of that they thank the Govt should do everything for them. So, I have studied and work with Gen-M and they think the Govt. should give them everything – it is a generation of Me. Case Closed no seat needed.