June 7, 2023
June 7, 2023

Millennials—people born between 1981 and 1996 — have surpassed the Baby Boomers as the largest generation group in the U.S. Now, the oldest Millennials are reaching their forties and feel they don’t have the financial and emotional standing their parents did and have instead been left behind. Those who agree say Millennials are America’s most educated — but broke — generation and pay more for basic items, leading them unable to afford to buy a home or have children. Those who disagree say that not buying a house or having kids are their choices, not based on economic hardship; and really, they will soon be doing well financially because they strive for higher education and better jobs and they are close to reaching their peak earning years, which will help them earn more than the generations before them.

With this context, we ask the question: Will Millennials be Left Behind?

This debate was produced in front of a live audience, at the Comedy Cellar’s The Village Underground, on June 7, 2023.

  • 00:00:07

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:00:39

    All right. Welcome to Open to Debate. I’m Nick Gillespie, editor-at-large for Reason Magazine, and I’m guest moderating this debate here at the Comedy Cellar in New York City. We’re here to debate the question, will millennials be left behind? Every day, we read headlines about how people born between 1981 and 1996 are likely to be the first generation in America to have less money and sway than their parents. Does that ring true or is there more to the story?

  • 00:01:30

    First, we’re going to ask your opinion in the audience on this question before we get into the debate itself. And later, we’re going to ask you your views again to see if you might have shifted your position. To do that, I’m gonna have you applaud to show your opinion as it stands right now, yes, no, undecided. So clap right now if you think, “Yes, millennials will be left behind.” And now, clap if you think, “No, millennials will not be left behind.” And finally clap if you’re undecided. Okay. And I suppose there’s a fourth option, which is should Millennials be left behind. (laughing) But we’re not talking about that.

  • 00:02:17

    Okay. So to my ear, and I’m kind of judging this, it sounded pretty much e- pretty evenly split between yes and no. Okay. Now, let’s meet our debaters. Arguing that, yes, millennials will be left behind, journalist, lawyer, and author of OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind, Jill Filipovic. And arguing, no, millennials will not be left behind, senior fellow and director of the Center on Opportunity and Social Mobility at the American Enterprise Institute, Scott Winship.

  • 00:02:25

    All right, before we start, I wanna get a sense of why you care about this. Jill, why did you take this topic on? What are the stakes for you in this argument?

    Jill Filipovic:

  • 00:02:48

    Well, in case you couldn’t tell by my millennial side part, I am a millennial (laughing), uh, an elder millennial born in 1983. And I wrote the OK Boomer book with now it’s kind of dated meme title, um, because I looked at how different my life looked, felt, and materially was compared to the lives of my parents.

  • 00:03:09

    In some ways, my life has been much more dynamic and adventurous. But in most ways, it’s also been much less stable. And I was interested in exploring the question why. Um, and so, I’m invested in this topic because I do feel like my generation is getting left behind, and has frankly gotten cut out of a fair future.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:03:14

    Okay, thanks. Scott, same question to you. Why did you wanna take this topic on? What are the stakes for you?

    Scott Winship:

  • 00:03:45

    Well, for me, this may surprise some of you. I’m, uh, mostly concerned about, uh, low-income Americans, uh, uh, especially kids who start in the bottom. I feel like the middle class and the upper middle class, a lot of their problems get overstated, um, and that is important because it directs attention away from a group that needs our help more. Um, and so, I spend more time than I would like sort of pushing back against arguments about, uh, how the middle class is doing, and that will probably be my evening tonight as well.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:04:00

    Okay, thank you. (laughing) Uh, let’s get to it. We want each of you, Jill and Scott, to take a few minutes to explain your position. Jill, you’re up first. Your answer, yes, millennials will be left behind. You’ve got four minutes, tell us why.

    Jill Filipovic:

  • 00:04:33

    So millennials are already being left behind. The foundation of the American dream is that each generation will do better than the one before it. And millennials are shaping up to be the first American generation for th- which this is not true. And that’s despite the fact that millennials have more or less done everything right. We’ve gone to college (laughs) in record numbers. Despite stereotypes about avocado toast and lattes, we’re actually pretty good savers. We’ve waited to have children until we’re more financially and personally stable.

  • 00:05:00

    And still, we’re far behind where our parents were at our age. We’re less wealthy. We have less upward mobility. We’re less happy, and we enjoy less political representation. And I’m glad that Scott brought up inequality, because millennials like me, who are white and college-educated, are generally doing pretty okay. And Black and Hispanic millennials in particular are really not doing okay.

  • 00:05:28

    I was born in 1983, and I took what a lot of millennials in this room might recognize as the path. I went to college on the promise that a college degree would pay off. After college, I continued on to law school, which I paid for by taking on significant (laughs) student loan debt. Uh, my father, a boomer and the child of immigrants, uh, he took a similar path, except that he was able to pay for college and law school by working at the steel mills in Chicago.

  • 00:05:55

    I worked summer jobs, too, and I worked during the school year. But somehow, I wasn’t able to find a job that would cover the nearly quarter of a million dollars in student loan debt that I eventually took out. Two weeks into my freshman year of college, I watched out of my dorm room window as a second airplane hit the World Trade Center. Seven years later, in my first day as a junior associate at a Manhattan law firm, Lehman Brothers collapsed, and the global economy swiftly followed.

  • 00:06:32

    The Great Recession, which came just as the older half of the millennial generation restarting were our professional lives, set us back from the start. We were often the last hired, and so the first fired. We accepted jobs with suboptimal wages, and suboptimal benefits. A decade later, by January 2020, and largely thanks to millennial women, women outpaced men in the workforce for the first time in American history. Just as millennials were hittering our prime reproductive years, the COVID pandemic again upended the global economy. And millennials, again, were the worst impacted generation.

  • 00:07:08

    When the pandemic hit and school shuttered, 5.1 million American mothers left the workforce. Most of those women were millennials. By mid-2021, 1.3 million still hadn’t returned, and the percentage of women in the workforce was the lowest it had been since the 1980s. This is the story of millennials. Major political and economic crises, punctuating pivotal moments of our young adult lives. The good news is that millennials are slowly recovering, but it’s hard for millennials to make up for these many, many setbacks.

  • 00:07:58

    So a few numbers. According to 2023 estimates from the St. Louis Fed, millennials and Gen Z’ers have 75 cents of wealth for every one dollar that Gen X’ers had at the same age. Gen X’ers and older millennials have 85 cents for every dollar that baby boomers had. We’re the most racially diverse and best-educated adult generation in American history, but the typical white millennial family has about $88,000 in wealth, while the typical Black millennial family has about $5,000. That means white millennial families are about 5% behind white families of previous generations, while Black millennials are 52% behind Black families of previous generations. We’re doing better than we were a few years ago, but that’s an awfully low bar to clear.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:08:07

    Okay. Thank you very much. Scott Winship, millennials won’t be left behind. What’s your opening statement?

    Scott Winship:

  • 00:08:50

    Let me try to unify the generations by shifting the focus from boomers to doomers. Um, doomerism is the belief that life under quote, “late capitalism” is worse than it really is. Millennial doomerism specifically has its roots in the financial crisis that inaugurated the Great Recession. Uh, it’s no surprise, millennials began adulthood with a sense of pessimism and resignation, but millennial doomerism also draws strength from problematic accounts of the facts. Many of these accounts rely on statistics from the Great Recession that were, to be sure, quite worrisome, but those stats reflected temporary conditions. It was never reasonable to assume that the worst economy seen in, well, a generation would persist forever.

  • 00:09:12

    And indeed, for the last 10 years or so, American workers and families have seen economic gains that rival any experience since the 1960s. Starting out in an unusually bad time means that things will likely get better. They have for millennials, just as they did for Gen X’ers after 1994, but popular perception has remained stuck in the past. Things have been improving so much the last few years.

  • 00:09:39

    Uh, the most recent data we have for the millennial cohort indicates that it’s doing better today than Gen X’ers and boomers did at the same ages. This is true of men’s and women’s hourly wages, men’s and women’s, uh, annual earnings, and family income. Millennials have higher net worth than boomers did at the same ages. After excluding student loans, which I’ll argue is the right thing to do, uh, for these questions, they have higher net worth than Gen X’ers, too.

  • 00:10:08

    Millennial doomerism also sometimes compares younger adults to older adults, when we should be comparing younger adults today to younger adults in the past. Wealth levels are much higher among older adults because they’ve had decades to save and invest and to pay down their, their debt. That will also be true for millennials when they are older. Young adults tend to forego health coverage because it’s expensive and the risk of a costly episode, um, uh, is relatively rare, uh, for… at lower ages.

  • 00:10:44

    So finding that the young are more likely to be uninsured than the old is not that relevant for assessing whether millennials will be left behind. Compared to their predecessors, today’s millennials are as likely to have health insurance coverage boomers at the same age, and they’re more likely to have it than Gen X’ers were. Doomerism also tends to focus on rising costs in key areas, such as healthcare, housing and higher education, but doomers tend to overstate them. For instance, to the extent that homeowners pay fixed mortgage rates and have home equity, they experience rising housing prices as greater wealth rather than as a higher cost of living.

  • 00:11:10

    And the average cost of attendance at a four-year public college is 30% lower after institutional and government aid, uh, government grants, than the published costs. Doomerist accounts also ignore costs that have risen more slowly, uh, than incomes or have even fallen for goods and services such as clothing, household furnishings, household utilities and fuels, communication, financial services and recreation.

  • 00:11:48

    Finally, millennial doomerism sometimes neglects the role of trade-offs in producing some economic trends. The decline of marriage, for instance, has put downward pressure on the income and wealth of young adults. One is struck, reading Jill’s book, at the extent to which the millennials she interviews assert the centrality of values they hold that reduce their economic standing, uh, working at a job that has meaning, living in a fun, dynamic city, even as they lament the circumstances that their choices have produced. None of this is to say that life is better in every way for millennials than for previous generations. Indeed, self-reported unhappiness seems to be rising for young adults.

  • 00:12:05

    But that deterioration likely has more to do with deterioration in the social aspects of American life of which the decline in marriage is just one than the economic aspects. Here, perhaps, is room for agreement about the trajectory of the nation. I look forward to a stimulating conversation. Thank you.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:13:11

    All right. Thank you both, Jill and Scott. We know where you stand and why. We’re going to dive into our discussion now on the question, will millennials be left behind after this. Welcome back to Open to Debate. I’m guest moderator, Nick Gillespie. We’re at the Comedy Cellar in New York City debating the question, will millennials be left behind? We just heard opening statements from Jill Filipovic and Scott Winship. Now, let’s move into our discussion. And before we do that, I just wanna do a quick summary. Jill was talking about how the millennial generation just got hit by a series of historic shocks from 9/11 to the Great Recession, to the… to COVID that have left them kind of on their heels. They’re doing better, but they’re still far behind and unlikely to catch up to boomers in particular, but also just getting ahead.

  • 00:13:48

    Scott has said that Jill is mostly using outdated data, uh, and that the real distinction we should be talking about is not between boomers and millennials, but doomers, people who always look at the worst elements of things and that, in fact, a lot of catchup has happened So we’re going to, uh, uh, start talking about this. But first, I wanna ask a question and, and to you, Jill, first because, um, you, you mentioned this in passing. The millennial generation, uh, as adults is the most diverse generation around. Who is the typical millennial, or how do we grasp when we talk about millennials? Who are we talking about?

    Jill Filipovic:

  • 00:14:16

    Yeah, I mean because millennials are so diverse, um, and because we, we weren’t raised in the kind of monoculture that boomers were, I think it’s a lot harder to identify a typical millennial. Um, we are much more likely than people of any generation to have gone to college. We’re much more racially diverse than any previous generation. Um, We have many more immigrant members of our generation, but it’s hard to say this, you know, this is the average millennial given the fact that we are, yeah, such a heterogeneous generation.

    Scott Winship:

  • 00:14:58

    I think all generations are pretty diverse, um, and I, and I think we do need to be careful. Uh, those, those of us who are quite online, very online, um, sometimes, I think, tend to equate, uh, the generations with sort of the, the folks who are there online, who are sort of, uh, upper middle class professionals living in big cities, um, paying too much for rent, uh, and, and that’s just about everybody in the room probably. Um, but we do have to remember that, uh, in every generation, you know, there are a lot of people whose worlds we just have no idea what those are like. I grew up in rural Maine, quite (laughs) different than New York. Um, so… And so, I think it’s important to, to keep the diversity in mind for all the generations.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:15:42

    Um, let’s, uh, talk about economics, Jill, uh, ’cause that, that really does seem to be kind of the central focus. You ticked off a series of kind of average wealth or median wealth of millennials and things like that. Scott has said and, uh, Jean Twenge, uh, uh, who’s a social psychologist, who’s also a kind of historian or demographer of, of, of generations, uh, recently wrote in the Atlantic that millennials looked worse off a decade ago. But as they’ve caught up, as things have changed, even with COVID, millennials are actually making more money. They own more houses in ways that are comparable to previous generations. Are you buying that or is there something that’s missing there?

    Jill Filipovic:

  • 00:15:50

    I think there’s something missing. So I read that Atlantic article, very interesting. Jean is great. A lot of the numbers in the article came from her own calculations.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:15:50

    Mm-hmm.

    Jill Filipovic:

  • 00:16:30

    And so, they’re a little bit hard. (laughs) It was a little tough for me then to, to recheck them. I- in 2023, the St. Louis Fed did revise, uh, the numbers that it had given for millennial wealth that, a few years back, had been incredibly dire. And now, those numbers are only kind of dire. And, you know, in, in Jean’s article that was presented as, well, look, everything’s fine. And yes, things are looking better for millennials as you would expect, given a generation of highly educated (laughs) young people in a boom time economy. I do think it’s still concerning that the oldest millennials are hitting our mid-40s, and we still aren’t seeing the kind of wealth that we would be expected to have at this age.

  • 00:16:50

    And frankly, even comparing millennials to boomers, when you look at educational rates, for example, you would expect us to be surpassing boomers in wealth and income, and that isn’t what’s happening. Instead, what’s happening is boomers are gifting millennials significant portions of their wealth. That’s also another driving factor of millennial inequality.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:17:03

    Um, can I ask, uh, given that more millennials have gone to college, does it make sense that they would… and, and actually grad school as well, does it make sense that they’re starting their careers later? Is part of this that there’s a delay effect?

    Jill Filipovic:

  • 00:17:23

    Possibly, but we also know that real wages have been decreasing, right, since the, the late 1970s. So, uh, yes, of course. When you’re starting your work a few years later, you would expect to amass less wealth. But at the same time, more millennials are going into a workforce that is a white-collar labor force. So you would expect higher, higher pay.

  • 00:17:38

    And instead, what millennials have seen, until relatively recently, has been lower pay and, connected to that, a real stripping out of benefits, right? So less access to health insurance, um, certainly, less access to things like a pension, (laughs) which is like a pipe dream for millennials.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:17:47

    Scott, uh, what is the centrality of economics to a generational experience, particularly with millennials? And have they caught up?

    Scott Winship:

  • 00:18:01

    You know, I’m, I’m… I was heartened tof- that Jean Twenge did sort of reinforce, uh, some of the findings that I have. The numbers that I’ve got are based on government, uh, databases for the most part, or, or widely respected nationally representative surveys.

  • 00:18:32

    And, uh, you know, they, they, they do just show better outcomes than I think, uh, we’re hearing from Jill. You know, on, on net worth, the, uh, millennials were 23 to 38 in- uh, years old in 2019. Their median was 3% higher in 2019 than was the case for 23 to 38 year olds in 1989. So looking at people that are basically the same age group, uh, 1989 and 2019 are both peaks of the business cycle. So these are the, the sort of things you have to be very careful about when you’re comparing numbers.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:18:38

    Now, in that, you, uh, said earlier in your opening remarks that you strip out student loan debt from that.

    Scott Winship:

  • 00:18:40

    So from that number, no.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:18:40

    Okay.

    Scott Winship:

  • 00:18:42

    That’s, that’s the number, uh, that includes student loan debt.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:18:42

    Okay.

    Scott Winship:

  • 00:18:53

    Uh, if you strip out student loan debt, uh, the median increased 70, 7-0, uh, over, uh, from 1989 to 2019 for people of the same age as in both years.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:18:58

    So, uh, and why would you… Uh, what’s the argument about stripping out student loan debt?

    Scott Winship:

  • 00:19:25

    Uh, the reason is that… Uh, so our measures of wealth, net worth, are essentially assets minus debt. So for most things like a car, you value the car as an asset, and you value if you took out a car loan, uh, to buy it as debt. Um, and you do that for all your assets and all your debts, and you get wealth. Well, we do this, this thing with student loans, uh, mostly because it’s hard to measure, otherwise, where we include the student loan debt on the debt side. But we don’t include anything on the asset side.

  • 00:19:57

    But people don’t take out big student loans for no reason, right? They’re doing it because they’re actually increasing the value of their skills and their knowledge. They’re gonna increase their lifetime earnings. Uh, there’s an estimate from Preston Cooper of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, uh, who finds that, uh, the, the, the, the value in today’s dollars, um, after you take into account, uh, the lost earnings that you… when you were in school, uh, the four-year college degree, is worth $130,000. Uh, that’s after discounting all of the earnings from, from, from later on.

  • 00:20:28

    Um, so $130,000 versus, you know, what’s the typical student debt load, you know, the average, uh, from millennials who are 23 to 38 in 2019 was $39,600. Uh, but that’s affected by a small number of people who have huge student loan debt. The median, the one that’s right in the middle, is $7,800, so much less. So, you know, if we’re gonna count, uh, the debt, we need to count the asset that’s financing. Absent being able to do that, then, we should just drop the, the debt from the calculation.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:20:28

    Yeah.

    Jill Filipovic:

  • 00:20:57

    But, unfortunately, a lot of people who take on student loan debt don’t get degrees. I think there is this baked-in assumption that student loan debt means a bachelor’s degree or it means an advanced degree. And the truth is that a lot of millennials who take on debt, and disproportionately, these are millennials of color and first-generation college students, don’t actually end up completing a degree. And so, they’re essentially in the worst (laughs) financial position, ’cause they have the debt, and they don’t have the degree that’s then going to benefit them in the workplace.

    Scott Winship:

  • 00:20:57

    Could I just clarify that-

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:20:58

    Sure.

    Scott Winship:

  • 00:21:19

    … the Preston Cooper numbers, uh, took into account the risk of, of not finishing in, in his estimates. Um, and he found that, uh, 72% of students, uh, that are going to four-year colleges will have a positive, uh, net return on investment. That is, it’ll be worth it in the end, taking into account the risk, uh, that, that folks might not finish college.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:21:41

    Jill, in, in OK Boomer, Let’s Talk, one of the things that was interesting, and I think Scott talked about this a little bit, is that millennials seem to be exercising choice in the types of jobs they take and, and the work situations. Is it possible that millennials are choosing lower paying jobs because they are more interested in expressing their commitments?

    Jill Filipovic:

  • 00:22:01

    It’s an interesting question. Um, a lot of millennials do say that their personal ideologies and, you know, their, their goals and their dreams shape the kind of jobs that they take, f- for sure. But I think a lot of millennials also looked at the job market that we were coming into in the midst of the (laughs) Great Recession and didn’t really have a lot of room to be choosy, quite frankly.

  • 00:22:26

    And so, I do think part of the calculus for a lot of us in our generation was, well, I’m kind of gonna get screwed no matter what sort of job I take unless I’m going to be an investment banker. So I may as well do something that I care about and that feels meaningful. And then, that, you know, does sort of set you on a career trajectory. So, yes, millennials generally are a pretty values-driven generation. But we do also wanna pay our rent. I don’t think that we’re being (laughs), you know-

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:22:27

    Right.

    Jill Filipovic:

  • 00:22:28

    … com- completely ridiculous.

    Scott Winship:

  • 00:23:05

    I think it’s a great thing, uh, that millennials or anybody else feels, um, like they can take jobs, uh, that reflect their values rather than taking the first job that they get offered or the job that they got their expensive degree for. You know, I think that’s a reflection of affluence, right? These are things we get to do once we’re rich enough as a nation. And that’s, that’s sort of the story, uh, of the last 50 years, I would argue, uh, is that we’ve gotten richer, uh, that, uh, has allowed, uh, more wives to go into the workforce for longer. I think a lot of times, people think wives have been compelled, uh, to go to work, uh, to prop up family income.

  • 00:23:34

    I don’t think that’s true at all. I think it’s costly to send two workers in the workforce, need two cars, need childcare. Uh, and, and we’ve… Uh, that… that’s been part of the way we’ve spent our affluence over 50 years, is on things that are not, uh, just material, uh, o- or, uh, sort of taking the first opportunity we- that we get, whether we enjoy it or not. So I think it, it just reflects, to me, a, a positive sign that, that millennials aren’t getting left behind, that they have the ability to choose these things.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:23:51

    Jill, uh, let’s talk about children. Uh, you know, the fertility rate or the, the number of children that women have has been going down. Is that a sign of economic desperation or is that a sign that actually women are choosing differently and have the ability to control their biology?

    Jill Filipovic:

  • 00:24:13

    I think it’s both. You know, when you look at what women say that they want, uh, women generally say at various age stages that they want roughly two children. Uh, we’re not seeing that play out, particularly among millennial women. We’re at record low fertility rates. We’re seeing that all over the world, though, (laughs) including in places that have really, really robust social welfare programs.

  • 00:24:57

    So I, I do think part of it in the US is this lack of support that women get. I mean, we… I think we all probably know these stats, right, lack of paid parental leave, we have no universal childcare, uh, we work these incredibly long hours and don’t get paid sick days. I have to imagine that those material conditions are driving women and families to make certain choices or not make certain choices. But I do think another big component part of it is that women now have more areas than ever before in all of human (laughs) history to find meaning and purpose in their lives. And I think, historically, a lot of women have found that through childbearing, right? That was something you could invest in and gives you a sense of forward trajectory and, you know, living beyond yourself.

  • 00:25:07

    And now, women can find that in a lot of different places. And that, to me, is an- is a quite positive thing, and I also think is one big component part of driving-

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:25:07

    Right.

    Jill Filipovic:

  • 00:25:09

    … low fertility rates.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:25:10

    Um, Scott.

    Scott Winship:

  • 00:25:40

    I looked at… into this question of whether, uh, whether it was the case that declining fertility over time, um, uh, reflects, um, women not being able to have the number of kids that they said they wanted, uh, as teenagers. So it’s interesting, we have surveys for everything. So we have, uh, two surveys that interview people both, uh, when they’re teenagers and, and then follow them. Um, and so, you can compare, uh, what people, the number of kids people had in their mid-30s to the number of kids they said they wanted at 18.

  • 00:26:17

    Uh, and you could do that in these two different surveys, which roughly correspond to millennials and the younger boomers. Uh, and what I found is essentially, um, it hasn’t gotten… It, it seems like women are doing no worse. In fact, maybe, they’re doing a little bit better, hitting the targets they said they wanted as teenagers, uh, than, uh, than the young boomers were. So it doesn’t look to me… Uh, you know, that doesn’t prove that economics don’t matter, but, but it does sort of say to me that, uh, that, that for whatever reason, women aren’t struggling more to have the number of kids, uh, that, that in theory, they wanted to have.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:26:19

    But they want to have fewer kids.

    Scott Winship:

  • 00:26:20

    That’s right. Yeah. That-

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:26:24

    Even as teenagers, they say, “I want fewer kids.” Uh-

    Scott Winship:

  • 00:26:44

    Yeah. That, that goes down in line with, with the numbers that you’d see from the CDC or anything. There was this huge drop in fertility in the 1970s. It corresponds with the, the big increase in married women into the workforce. Um, so these things are all related. They all reflect affluence. They’re all good things in my book to the extent that, that people are choosing, choosing them.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:27:02

    One place where, uh, I think everybody would agree that, um, there’s something going on. Millennials, when they talk about mental health issues, um, it seems to be much more foregrounded than older generations, Gen X or boomers. Um, Jill, can we talk a little bit about that?

    Jill Filipovic:

  • 00:27:38

    Yeah, I mean, millennials see a whole host of challenges to both mental and physical health. And we have higher rates of things like type-2 diabetes and hypertension. But we have much higher rates of things like anxiety and depression than, say, Gen X’ers did. And where we really see, I, I think, a lot of (laughs) scary statistics is in, in Gen Z-ers and in adolescents and in teenagers. Wha- I don’t think there’s a single cause of what is fueling this. I mean, a lot of folks theorize that, obviously, being attached to our cell phones and having a constant stream of other people having fun without you is maybe not ideal (laughs) for your mental health.

  • 00:28:10

    And then, part of it may be that millennials are much better about talking about these issues than previous generations were. And it’s awfully hard to identify a condition if you can’t put a word on it, or if there are significant social taboos around identifying with that, right? So my best guess is that it’s a combination of both shifting kind of social and material circumstances and also greater awareness of mental health and greater willingness to be open and discussing it, which to me is, is probably a net positive.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:28:18

    Scott, is it possible to be materially better off but to be mentally less, you know, kind of present?

    Scott Winship:

  • 00:28:59

    Yeah, absolutely. And I, I think that’s, that’s kind of what… what’s happened. When I look at economic trends over 50 years, um, you know, most of them look pretty decent. Uh, men in the 1980s, uh, their earnings, uh, was… went down. Um, but, uh, it’s hard to find. You know, the story for women is almost uniformly positive. Um, but when you look at indicators of, of social capital, um, our… the strength of our, of our social relationships, those are almost uniformly down, um, whether you’re looking at marriage rates, um, out of wedlock births, uh, doing things with your neighbors, uh, doing things with your coworkers after work. We actually have data on this that’s gone down over time.

  • 00:29:11

    Trust in institutions has gone down over time. Uh, participation in organizations and church, church attendance have all gone down. And, and I think that is really at the root of the mental health challenges that we’re facing today.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:29:34

    Jill, to kind of pursue this a little bit more, um, millennials a decade ago or, or roughly were generally described as an incredibly optimistic and forward-looking idealistic generation, now, they’re always talked about as kind of sour and bitter, the present company excluded, of course. (laughing) Um-

    Jill Filipovic:

  • 00:29:34

    Present company is absolutely included.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:30:04

    Is, is that, um… You know ha- is that a uniquely millennial experience or is a general kind of souring of the country? Uh, according to Gallup in 2001, 70% of all Americans, uh, said they were satisfied with the direction of the country. It’s now 16%. So again, is it, you know, is there something particularly driving millennial kind of malaise, um, or… And how do you separate that out from what seems to be a general tanking of positivity?

    Jill Filipovic:

  • 00:30:27

    I think it’s awfully hard to kind of look around at the politics of the last few years and not feel pessimistic, scared, outraged, whatever word you… you know, whatever kind of negative emotion (laughs) you wanna attach to it. Um, and I, I think millennials though are in this really particular circumstance where we’re hitting a period of life that should be sort of like peak adulthood, right?

  • 00:31:00

    I think the reality for a lot of millennials is that, aside from the kind of most privileged among us, we are looking at our lives and realizing, “I don’t have enough save for retirement. I either don’t own my home or I was only able to buy my home with help from my parents or I do own my home, but I’m paying way (laughs) too much in a mortgage, or I’m still a renter and that feels very scary. Um, I don’t have kids or I don’t know if I wanna have kids, and I should have (laughs) made this decision by now, or I do have kids but I can’t afford childcare, and I feel like I’m just keeping my head above water.”

  • 00:31:16

    And I don’t think that is the general sense, um, that millennials expected to feel at an age that, you know, we have understood 40 to be like the age of the midlife crisis, right, not the age of, “Oh my God, why do I feel like I’m still barely making it?”

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:31:46

    We are going to wrap our discussion here. We’re gonna have questions from the audience when we come back. Will millennials be left behind? We’ll be right back. Welcome to Open to Debate. I’m guest moderator, Nick Gillespie. I’m joined by Jill Filipovic and Scott Winship at the Comedy Cellar in New York City. We’re debating the question, will millennials be left behind? Let’s move into our audience Q&A.

    Sam:

  • 00:31:56

    Hi. Um, my name is Sam. I’m curious to know what you think about how the… Well, to put it morbidly, how the death of the boomers will affect millennials.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:31:57

    Oh, okay.

    Sam:

  • 00:31:57

    How do you model that?

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:32:05

    Yeah. (laughing) He went there. Morbidly, now, you’re setting, uh, people free. Okay. So, uh, Jill.

    Jill Filipovic:

  • 00:32:40

    Uh, I mean well what we are already seeing underway is the largest wealth transfer in American history. Um, so that’s going to impact millennials tremendously. But what we’re going to see is that it’s going to impact millennials. We’re already doing the best the most. Um, so boomers… There is a book by this guy, Philip Bump, who’s a columnist at the Washington Post. And he described boomers as, uh, like the pig moving through the python, right? So it changes the entire system from tip to tail. And that was his metaphor for boomer’s effect on, on American society. It’s, it’s nice.

  • 00:33:06

    But, um, you know, boomers have accrued a tremendous amount of wealth. Um, and boomers in the top 10% and then the top 1% beyond that have accrued, you know, just absolutely massive kind of previously unthinkable amounts of wealth. And that is, much of that is already being passed on to their children even before they die, right? But that’s being passed on largely to white millennials and to millennials who are already college-educated and have a huge amount of advantage.

  • 00:33:31

    So, yes, many millennials are going to benefit from boomers aging and from boomers dying, but I think there’s a really outstanding question of whether that’s going to kind of increase the average well-being of millennials, but I suspect that it may have the effect of actually widening inequality within the millennial generation and making the worse off millennials even worse off by comparison than they already are.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:33:49

    Uh, Scott, what do you think? And I’m, I’m looking at figures that I dug out for this that by 2030, um, some estimates are that $68 trillion of wealth will have flowed from boomers to millennials. How is that going to change the conversation and the debate?

    Scott Winship:

  • 00:34:24

    Yeah, I agree with a lot of what Jill said. I think it’ll probably exacerbate inequality to some extent. It’s not gonna make anybody poorer, I don’t think. But, uh… And it certainly will not be distributed, uh, evenly. There’s, there’s another way that perhaps the, uh, passing of the baby boomers might help more people, which is that, uh, there’s gonna be an oversupply of housing. Um, and to the extent that that relieves some of the pressure on housing costs, uh, which, which really are increasing much faster than, uh, than, than most things in the economy. Maybe, that’s sort of a, a good surprise coming.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:34:26

    Do you have a quick question, sir?

    Ryan

  • 00:34:28

    I don’t think it’s quick. (laughing)

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:34:30

    All right. Let’s-

    Ryan:

  • 00:34:30

    The question is quick. The answer’s not.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:34:31

    …The question is quick. Yeah.

    Ryan:

  • 00:34:40

    Um, hi. I’m Ryan. I’m curious if we could talk a little bit of political representation, rather than financial health, like that’s it. (laughing)

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:34:54

    Okay. Political representation. Uh, let’s, uh, talk about this. Uh, something like 56% of millennials in 2020 voted for the Democratic Party. Uh, Jill, do you think that will hold up?

    Jill Filipovic:

  • 00:35:26

    Yeah, it’s an interesting question. There is just this piece in the Times that suggested that millennials, uh, have actually moved a little bit to the right. Um, unclear to me from that data if millennials who were voting 10 years ago have gotten more conservative, or if it’s just that college-educated millennials who tend to be more liberal in the first place, were more (laughs) likely to be voting 10 years ago. And now, you have millennials, uh, without college degrees who are, again, typically going to be more to the right who have now shown up to the polls, and that’s kind of driving this cohort shift.

  • 00:35:58

    Um, I’m not sure which, which one of those it is. Previous generations, you know, have shifted, not kind of, I think, as much as the stereotype, but have tended to shift a little bit more conservative as they’ve aged. Until recently, millennials really didn’t seem to be undergoing that same kind of shift. But now, as we hit middle age, I will see. E- To me, the bigger problem, as what Ryan points to, which is that millennials are and have been radically underrepresented in the halls of power in Congress and in the Senate.

  • 00:36:32

    And when you compare what, for example, boomer representation was when they were our age, Congress was much (laughs) younger. Boomers got elected in pretty significant numbers, and then they stayed. And the result of that is, you know, for the past few terms, um, we’ve had the oldest Congresses in history, that’s now starting to shift a little bit. But boomers have stayed. Silent generation members have stayed. And by virtue of how political system works… Yeah.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:36:32

    I think there’s a couple members of the founding fathers.

    Jill Filipovic:

  • 00:36:32

    Right? (laughing)

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:36:32

    So, still-

    Jill Filipovic:

  • 00:36:32

    Were still there.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:36:32

    … kind of working.

    Jill Filipovic:

  • 00:36:32

    No, I mean, we’ve had-

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:36:32

    Yeah.

    Jill Filipovic:

  • 00:36:43

    … straight baby boomer presidents, uh, for pretty much my entire life. The last president we had who wasn’t a boomer was George H. W. Bush, up until Joe Biden, who’s not a baby boomer because he’s too old. (laughs)

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:37:01

    That’s fantas- That is… Scott, what, what do you think? What… Um, how will the kind, um, of growing political clout of millennials, uh, as boomers die or stop voting, uh, or their kids won’t drive them to the polls anymore? (laughs) Um, how is that gonna change the conversation?

    Scott Winship:

  • 00:37:26

    Yeah, that’s a great question. I, I think a lot depends on, um, the extent to, uh, which millennials get more conservative as they age, which I think is a, a thing that, uh, has been empirically, uh, found. People get married. They have kids. They start thinking of schools. They start thinking of safety, uh, and, and it tends to be the case that, that, uh, generations get more conservative over time. Uh, if that happens, maybe, the or- impact won’t be that big.

  • 00:37:46

    I also think, you know, the major divisions in politics are not generational, um, comparing a Democrat to a Republican, uh, you, you get much bigger divides, and if you’re comparing a Republican boomer to a Republican, uh, millennial. Also, uh, Gen X just got, uh, our first representation in New York’s own, Hakeem Jeffries-

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:37:46

    Yeah. Okay.

    Scott Winship:

  • 00:37:48

    … so Gen X.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:37:56

    Gen X, the forgotten generation. Uh, we do have time for two more questions. So let’s go to it, quick question.

    Paul:

  • 00:38:16

    Hi, I’m Paul. I would like to ask if you all could talk about the prospect of climate change and the ramifications of, say, State Farm deciding that they will no longer ensure new homeowner policies in California and how that will play out in a generational development.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:38:30

    Thank you. Let’s talk about climate change, which seems to be, as much as anything, the defining event, if that’s the right thing, or frame for millennials. How do you respond to the question?

    Jill Filipovic:

  • 00:39:15

    Yeah. I mean, a, a hugely definitional issue for millennials. It’s, it’s terrifying, right, to think about, for example, having children on a planet that is currently on fire that (laughs) we’re seeing outside of our doors. Um, you know, whether that’s actually shaping, for example, childbearing patterns, I think, is a different question. But certainly for millennials, I think part of what contributes to this sense of political frustration, alienation, and certainly existential dread is the understanding that climate change is absolutely going to profoundly affect our futures and the futures of our children, and in part because of the previous question, because of our lack (laughs) of representation, uh, in the highest levels of power. Not nearly enough is being done to combat it.

  • 00:39:47

    And, you know, and you look at, for example, who was championing the, the Green New Deal in Congress, um, and who were the, the forces of shutting that down. You know, it’s not, it’s not purely along generational lines, of course. But I do think you see generational differences in priorities around climate change, um, and in the people that are really jumping up and down and screaming and saying, “Do something.” But, unfortunately, those people don’t have nearly as much access to power as the folks who don’t seem to have that much of an investment in our planet’s future.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:39:58

    Scott, how do you think the centrality of climate change and climate change legislation, how much is that driving the pessimism of millennials?

    Scott Winship:

  • 00:40:34

    Yeah. It’s a good question. I, I don’t have a good sense myself. Um, I was skeptical, uh, whenever there’s polling and, and people say that they would have kids. But for the en- environment, that sounds to me like people don’t really wanna have kids. Um, but maybe, maybe, such people exist. Um, I, I, I think, you know, the environment is, is a huge central problem that we’ve got to figure out. Um, I think probably, uh, more economic growth and affluence is probably gonna end up being the way to do that, um, figuring out ways to deal with it, um, rather than trying to, uh, slow down, uh, the extent to which our lives improve.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:40:36

    One last question, so please, sir.

    Tim:

  • 00:41:10

    Uh, Tim, 1990. Um, (laughing) I just wanna say that my, uh, my, my mom, she’s a bloomer. And she, my whole adult life, has always said, “You know, when I was your age, when I was your age, I was your age, I worked a job. I had this house. I moved out,” that kind of stuff. And on the flip side of that, I have a lot of friends that are Gen Z, and they seem to be more aware, uh, professionally, socially, and politically. So I just wanna say, how do you make boomers aware of millennial plight? And then, how do you, as a millennial, not have resentment towards Gen Z and actually, like, lift them up, to do (laughing) be- better than us?

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:41:13

    That’s the coming war, right, millennials versus Gen Z. Jill, do you wanna go first on that?

    Jill Filipovic:

  • 00:41:40

    Yeah, that, that is a, a great question. Um, you know, one thing I would love to see, probably, the reason I wrote my book, was to create not hostility, although I think some (laughs) hostility is warranted, um, but to create conversations between baby boomers and millennials so that boomers have a better sense of how much the world changed when millennials were entering into it and kind of our unique, uh, our unique challenges.

  • 00:42:00

    I think boomers and millennials, we know each other well, right? We’re often parents and children and individually get (laughs) along pretty well. Um, but generally… generationally see a lot of tension, I think because millennials kind of rightly resents, uh, all the doors that seems like they opened for baby boomers and feel like, to mix metaphors, the latter was kind of pulled up behind us.

  • 00:42:18

    You know, when it comes to millennial and Gen Z relationships, oh, it’s, it’s less of the, the parent-child dynamic, which is nice. And I really do see Gen Z as kind of inheritors of, I guess, (laughs) mil- millennial culture. You know, (laughing) sorry. Maybe, that’s bad. But, you know, Gen Z’ers are even further to the left than millennials, right? They tend to be very progressive.

  • 00:43:04

    Um, Gen Z-ers, you know, like millennials, uh, have record numbers of members who identify as LGBT. Um, they’re incredibly racially diverse. They are politically engaged. I mean, so much of what we were saying about millennials 15 years ago, we’re now seeing among Gen Z, but kind of, like, on steroids, which, you know, as a progressive millennial, to me, is very exciting and, and quite heartening. And so, I do think it’s, it’s healthy for millennials to not kind of sit in our own sense of despair and frustration and instead say, “Well, how can we look at what I think are many of the mistakes that boomers made and kind of shutting doors for us and think about how we leave those open, how we kind of helped you some, you know, downward generation, you know, pull up mobility?”

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:43:16

    Scott, um, how as a member of, uh, Gen X with a boomer, how do we ally ourselves to take on the millennials and Gen Z who seem to be teaming up against us?

    Scott Winship:

  • 00:43:29

    It’s a really important question. Um, I, I think we need to find ways to work together, uh, to prevent, uh, these, uh, things from befalling us, uh, because we are the, the greatest generation, uh-

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:43:50

    Right. (laughing) Since the last one, yes. All right. Uh, now, is the time to bring it home to the audience with your closing remarks. Scott, since Jill went first for our opening statements, you have the floor. You’ve got two minutes to tell this audience why they should be convinced that millennials will not be left behind.

    Scott Winship:

  • 00:44:15

    Thank you, Nick. Uh, over the course of our lifetimes, we all experience good economic times and bad economic times. Millennials were unfortunate to experience unusually bad times at the start of their adulthood. Um, but the bad times were also experienced by members of the other generations just at different points, uh, in their lives. Uh, millennials will continue to experience good economic times and bad economic times as they age.

  • 00:44:45

    They’re currently in the midst of a good one, uh, and it’s left them better off on most economic measures than previous generations. Uh, we can’t predict the future, but there’s no reason to assume that it will leave millennials, uh, worse off than their, their forerunners. Uh, and there are several reasons, uh, to think they’ll prosper. Uh, we’ve already…. Uh, somebody went dark before I did, uh, regarding the, the passing of the baby boom generation. A- another, uh, point has come up here as well, millennials are the most educated generation.

  • 00:45:08

    Um, this enhanced human capital will continue to pay off down the road. It will become more clear once the student loans that financed, uh, this investment are paid off. Furthermore, we may be on the cusp of technological breakthroughs that will increase productivity, which is the engine, uh, of wage growth. It’s safe to say that rising costs and key sectors of the economy can’t just continue forever. They can’t just keep going up.

  • 00:45:43

    Low fertility will continue to present challenges for our system of federally subsidized retirement savings, but lower expenses for the smaller number of kids who are born, uh, will free up spending for other purposes, including building an estate. Focusing on the overstated economic problems of millennials detracts from the urgent task of helping lower income Americans, increasing upward mobility among them, ensuring up the nation’s social capital, addressing our crises of loneliness, trust and alienation, problems that will not so much leave millennials behind, but sweep them up along with everybody else.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:45:56

    Thank you, Scott. Okay. Now, Jill, you get the final say tonight. Your rebuttal, please, as to why millennials will be left behind.

    Jill Filipovic:

  • 00:46:35

    So, I hope Scott’s right. (laughing) I mean, really, fingers crossed. Um, but as Scott says, yes, bad times come and go, so do good times. Millennials have been hit by bad times at some really key life moments, right, when we are entering the workforce, and then as most of us, we’re in our prime childbearing years, right? We face two financial crises right at those kind of peak moments that has long-term effects. Right now, we are in pretty good economic times, and we’re seeing that in the past couple years, millennial kind of financial well-being has gotten much better.

  • 00:47:11

    So when you look at numbers, for example, around millennial wealth, one of the reasons why you’ve seen those numbers go up is because millennials are finally buying homes. That seems to have been at least partly a result of this government investment from COVID, as well as our boomer parents gifting us or loaning us money or giving us (laughs) inheritances. In 1989, baby boomers were 37% of the US population, and they held about 21% of the wealth. Millennials were roughly the same age. We were 30% of the population and just 6% of the wealth.

  • 00:47:55

    And at least according to the Urban Institute, nearly 40% of older millennials are now predicted to lack adequate income to cover our basic needs when we’re 70. The final thought that I’ll leave you with is that millennials have been radically underrepresented in our political system, and this has really dire consequences. Compared to when boomers are young, we are spending significantly less money now, um, on future investments, and less money in terms of proportion of spending, not real dollars, on future investments on things like education and infrastructure than we are on things like entitlement programs. That has real effects for millennials, for our future, and for the future of our children.

    Nick Gillespie:

  • 00:49:07

    All right. Thank you. Okay, Jill Filipovic and Scott Winship, thank you so much. Uh, can we have a big round of applause for them? Okay. All right. And now, we’re gonna ask you, the audience, your opinion again, to see if you may have shifted your stance on the question, will millennials be left behind? So after having heard this debate, I’m gonna have you applaud to show your stance, yes, no, and undecided. So right now, clap if you think, “Yes, millennials will be left behind.” And clap if you think, “No, millennials will not be left behind.” Okay. And then, finally, clap if you are undecided. (laughing) Okay. Wow, that’s… I’m, I’m not quite sure. It sounds to me like that the, the biggest portion of clapping was for millennials will be left behind.

  • 00:49:27

    That concludes our debate. I’d like to thank our debaters and everyone here at the Comedy Cellar for keeping such an open mind while listening to this, the debate. I’m Nick Gillespie, and thank you for joining us at this Open to Debate live taping.

    John Donovan:

  • 00:49:42

    For all of you listening, I wanna thank you for tuning into this episode of Open to Debate. As a nonprofit, our work to combat extreme polarization through civil and respectful debate is generously funded by listeners like you and by the Rosencrantz Foundation and by supporters of Open to Debate.

  • Open to Debate is also made possible by a generous grant from the Laura and Gary Lauder Family Venture Philanthropy Fund. Rosencrantz Foundation is our chairman. Clea Conner is CEO. Lia Matthow is our chief content officer. Julia Melfi is our senior producer. Marlette Sandoval is our editorial producer. Gabriella Mayer is our editorial and research manager. Gabrielle Iannucelli is our social media and digital platforms coordinator. Andrew Lipson is head of production. Max Fulton is our production coordinator. Damon Whittemore is our engineer. Raven Baker is our events and operations manager. Rachel Kemp is our chief of staff. Our theme music is by Alex Clement. And I’m your host, John Donovan. We’ll see you next time.

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