Celine is a 27-year-old Torontonian femme, writer, and feminist.
A Quick Disclaimer
I wrote this piece out of a desire to communicate the difficulties my generation faces. However, the tone of this piece is angry and is essentially a rant, because these are issues most of my friends and I deal with every day. I've tried to strike a balance between expressing my (valid) frustration and keeping this constructive, but I may not have succeeded.
Please don't be put off by the tone of this piece; all of it is still true. Also, if you're an older adult who sympathizes with what millennials have to deal with, want us to be paid properly, and aren't rude to people in service jobs, this isn't aimed at you.
Here we go...
What Life Is Really Like for Millennials
First off, what are these millennials griping about, you may ask? To answer that, here's a bullet-point list of what life is like as a millennial in Toronto (based off of my experience as a white, cisgender, able-bodied woman from a lower-middle class family):
- The housing market is so artificially inflated that it now costs more than half a month's wages (even working full-time) to live anywhere that's not a bug-infested hovel, or all the way out in North York, Etobicoke, or Scarborough.
- Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) monthly pass (a.k.a. Metropass) prices are astronomical and keep increasing. Many people, myself included, require a pass every month in order to get to work, and even though the TTC is often an unreliable mode of transportation, we have no other options. The current price of an Adult Metropass, as of September 2017, is $146.25, which is set to increase. There is no reduced monthly pass for low-income people (which is mostly millennials), but there is a reduced pass for seniors.
- Minimum wage has barely increased in 20 years; meanwhile, the cost of living has skyrocketed with inflation.
- Many of us can't afford to move out of our parents' place (as desperately as we may want to) because of the insane rental prices in the city.
- If we can scrape together enough money to move out, renting even a shitty little apartment requires paystubs, a bank statement, credit cheques, references, and sometimes even guarantors. Many young people, even if they can afford the apartment, are rejected due to their age or having bad or little credit.
- Most of us can't afford to live on our own, to the point where people rent out windowless dens in their apartments or condos for $700/month or more just to make rent. I know people who rent out a room in their apartment on Airbnb just to offset the exorbitant cost of rent.
- If we live at home, chances are good that our parents live in the suburbs, but most of us work downtown. Even if we're living at home for free, we still have to pay for a Metropass and commute on average an hour or more one way, back and forth, for less than a living wage (living wage is currently set at $15/hour. That is the MINIMUM you need to get by in Toronto).
- Post-secondary tuition has increased every year since the 1970s and 80s, yet minimum wage (as I've mentioned) has barely increased, meaning that to get a bachelor's degree requires tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. In Ontario alone, tuition has tripled since 1993 (Metro, Sept 11-13/15).
- It's nearly impossible to get stable, decently paid, full-time work without at least a bachelor's degree.
- The job market is abysmal, as most available positions are part-time and contract (meaning no medical, dental, or vision benefits, nor any paid sick days) and barely above minimum wage, so even if you're working full time, there's little to no money left over to save.
- Most available jobs, besides being precarious and underpaid, are in the service sector, primarily: sales, marketing, retail, customer service, or hospitality (a.k.a. often boring, tiring, monotonous, grossly underpaid, and soul-sucking, PLUS people with more money than you often tell you off on a regular basis).
- Extensive emotional labour is required to work any service job. No one realizes how truly exhausting and demoralizing it is to have to smile and laugh constantly for hours a day, only to be paid minimum wage. Even when customers are belligerent, we still have to be polite or risk losing our jobs. Service sector folks should all be canonized by this point, since they have more patience than most saints.
- Despite most of us taking home tiny paycheques, federal tax, pension, and EI fees are still deducted, reducing our net pay by a good $20-$30 (at least) each payday, which is money we desperately need. Old age pensions are becoming increasingly tenuous for our generation, so who knows how much of that money we'll actually receive come retirement.
- There are tens of thousands of unpaid or hardly paid internships compared to only thousands of jobs.
- WE LITERALLY GREW UP IN, AND CURRENTLY STILL LIVE IN, AN ECONOMIC DEPRESSION. You know how hard your parents worked in the 1930s and 40s? WE'RE DOING THAT EVERYDAY, WITH NO END IN SIGHT.
- Can't afford to travel.
- What is a vacation?
- Literally cannot afford to become ill or injured (most of us are one paycheque away from homelessness).
- DEFINITELY cannot afford to have a disability of any kind.
- Can't afford to buy a car.
- Can barely afford a driver's license in the first place
- If we're under 25, car rental companies either will not rent to us or they'll charge us phenomenally high prices (so how are we supposed to get around, exactly?)
- On top of it all, global warming is worsening by the year, causing catastrophic environmental damage which will only accelerate as we age.
Yep. This is our reality.
Maybe Millennials Aren't the Spoiled Ones
Every system, institution, and law is failing us, yet so many of our elders have the nerve to label us as spoiled, entitled, and vain. You know what would be spoiled? Growing up in a stable economy, with low tuition rates and a low cost of living that could be covered by working a minimum wage job (say, like in the 1950s/60s/70s). Being spoiled would be having the ability to buy a house and a car in my 20s. Being spoiled would be having the ability to buy a house and a car in my 30s. Being spoiled would be having the ability to buy a house and a car AT ALL, EVER. Being spoiled would be having the ability to get a dependable, full-time job with benefits right out of high school, and then being able to work that job until retirement if I wanted to. Having a job with good pay, insurance, and benefits is a utopia for me, but was a reality for you.
So kindly stop going on about how horrible millennials are. We work harder for less money, work multiple jobs, work while pursuing full-time or part-time university degrees (and still get into debt), work an hour and a half away from where we live, one way (I personally have done this, while only being paid $13.50/hour to work a very demanding job), and we work thankless jobs doing thankless, repetitive work where we get harassed, mostly by people in your age bracket. Who here is spoiled?
A Reality Check for Older Generations
Past generations have decimated the economy (multiple times), created and then burst housing bubbles (multiple times), and created more and more rules restricting what young people can do and earn. Your generations created a demand for service-based industries (restaurants, retail stores, etc.) staffed almost entirely by underpaid youth acting as your servants: your baristas, retail workers, receptionists, bartenders, waitresses, etc. are nearly ALL millennials. All of your convenient services, tech and customer support, all of your food and drink, your clothes, your electronics, EVERYTHING is handled, packaged, delivered, and sold by us.
Frankly speaking, what would you do without us?. We could easily do without having to work for you. We could easily do without your temper tantrums or your entitlement to convenience, customer service, and "respect" (read: blindly and unquestioningly approving of anything and everything you do). Many of you are under the impression that you deserve our unconditional obedience, which you absolutely do not considering how massively you have failed us.
You've destroyed the environment, the economy, world relations, and basic employee benefits (I could go on), all in the name of greed and acquiring capital. Your generations were and still are largely selfish, emotionally stunted, and sometimes plain heartless. Your generations continue to fight wars and perpetuate social illnesses such as racism, misogyny, transphobia and homophobia that a large portion of millennials work to call out and fight against. Your generations perpetuate stigma against people with tattoos, body modifications, and coloured hair in the workplace, limiting our creative expression for no real reason. I could go on and on. You have designed the world to control our lives in so many ways, and as a result of restricting how many hours we work, how much we get paid, and how few benefits we receive, we are (unwillingly) financially dependent on you, our parents and grandparents.
Through all this, you still ridicule us openly for posting selfies, watching youtube videos, not being able to do mental math (that is literally what calculators are for), or spending time online (ironically, most of the older people who criticize us can barely work a computer). Do you know why we spend so much of our lives online? Because the "real world" is terrible. We can't afford to go out, so we have no choice but to stay in and make the most out of the wifi we pay for (another expense you didn't have). And why is the "real world" terrible? Take a glance in the mirror. We are living our lives in the social, political, economic, and environmental climate you created for us, and it's horrible. We are doing our best to simply survive. What about that makes us vain, entitled, spoiled, or stupid? What cause do you have to fling mud when we prove time and time again that we are resourceful, creative, ambitious, and extremely hard-working? We could not survive in this economy if we weren't.
Sadly, the absence of meaningful communication between millennials and baby boomers/older generations is not due to a lack of effort on our part; we are largely articulate when it comes to our experience. There are so many anti-oppression, community-building, anti-poverty, and life-affirming programs and campaigns spearheaded by youth, both online and face-to-face, yet no attention is paid to them by you, just as no attention is paid to the millions of hard-working, ambitious, and positive millennials among us. Honestly, the lack of communication persists because you are unwilling to listen. You see what you want to see, and you have an invested interest in painting us as slothful, egotistical hedonists to justify the complete lack of support your generations have provided us when it comes to any of the wonderful causes millennials are working towards.
Some Simple Suggestions on How to Narrow the Divide
- Listen to us, for once, instead of talking at us. Believe the hardships we are telling you about, instead of assuming you know what it's like to be young in this economy or that we're just whining.
- Take an interest in issues that affect your children and grandchildren, and therefore the future of this earth. No one is stopping you from voicing your support, calling out a family member or friend's ignorance, or donating your time and/or money, and yet you don't. It's frustrating, because your active support would change things around for us a lot faster. It's really the least we could expect, considering that we were born into a system that sets us up for failure, and which, like it or not, you have probably been complicit in (i.e. voting for Stephen Harper, or any Conservative party member, or if you're American, voting Republican). *NOTE: you may consider yourself officially exempt from this accusation and the larger points of this piece if you are now and have always been poor, unemployed/houseless, a refugee, etc. I am not addressing you here: you are as much a victim of this economy and the current state of the world as we are.
But if you're privileged, and you can't (or won't) take a minute to listen seriously to even one of us, I understand. You're probably too busy ordering food at a restaurant or buying a product in a store that millennials will prepare, check, package, sell, and deliver to you. It's alright; if older generations can be counted upon to do anything, it's to be complacent.
Camille Harris from SF Bay Area on September 20, 2017:
This is fantastic. I hesitate to call myself a millennial (mostly due to the stigma), but it's technically accurate. These experiences certainly ring true for me and friends of mine here in California; thank you for so eloquently describing them. Looks like we millennials have found our spokesperson :)