- - Wednesday, December 11, 2013



Millennial-bashing has almost become a blood sport akin to “The Hunger Games,” but that much-maligned generation is making its case through the media.

Since nearly all of my students over the past decade have come from the 85 million-strong cohort, I wasn’t surprised when an article by The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson ended up in my mailbox.

Mr. Thompson, a senior editor at the magazine and a 27-year-old millennial, wrote a wonderful takedown of the stereotypes under the headline, “How to Write the Worst Possible Column About Millennials.”

He said a columnist must use the stereotype of “spoiled young people refusing to work because they just don’t want to.” A columnist then needed a reference to a millennial in the basement of the family home. “Blame today’s high youth unemployment on ‘their parents’ success’ and suggest they’re not actually to trying to find work because ‘they’re already livin’ the dream,’” he added.

Mr. Thompson’s attack occurred after Boston Globe columnist Jennifer Graham used almost exactly that formula to reinforce a negative stereotype of those born between 1982 and 2000.

One of Ms. Graham’s colleagues, millennial Alex Pearlman, 26, fired her own fusillade.

“Boomers lived in a world with its own form of privilege: They could get cushy jobs and support families with just a high school diploma,” wrote Ms. Pearlman, a digital product manager for Boston.com. “They were able to afford suburban homes without going bankrupt.”

She noted that many millennials labor under a collective $1 trillion in debt from student loans and were hurt far more than boomers by the 2008-2009 global recession. She noted that millennials face a bloated federal budget — thanks mainly to baby boomers. She pointed out that many millennials served in Iraq and Afghanistan — not exactly hanging out in their parents’ basement.

“We will make a better world out of the mess we’ve been handed. We’re scrappy, we’ll get by, and we’ll do it without the stability boomers had,” she said.

In a recent poll from the Harvard Institute of Politics, that’s certainly the message millennials provided to President Obama, whom they voted for in large numbers. Some of the findings of more than 2,000 people polled:

Only 41 percent of millennials approve of Mr. Obama’s job performance, while 54 percent disapprove — roughly the same numbers seen among all age groups.

The millennials gave failing grades to Mr. Obama on a variety of issues, including the economy (33 percent approval) and health care (34 percent approval). Full poll results can be found at bit.ly/1eVPfoA.

I find it comforting that millennials have found the policies, if not the personality, of Mr. Obama to be suspect. I don’t agree with the dominant theme of millennials’ politics concerning social issues, particularly in their support of abortion rights and same-sex marriage. But I also remember my generation, the baby boomers, held a variety of rather outlandish views.

In my book, “Flyover Country,” I examined my fellow students at Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls, S.D., where I graduated in 1969, and those who graduated 40 years later.

We baby boomers faced a variety of stereotypes as long-haired, dope-smoking ne’er-do-wells who wouldn’t amount to much. I’m not certain we did as well as we should have, but we amounted to much more than most people expected.

During interviews with the baby boomers and the millennials, I found their aspirations quite similar: an interesting job, a good marriage and a loving family.

Both groups wanted to change the world. We baby boomers came up short and the millennials may, too. But I am pleased to see millennials pushing back against the stereotype the media have created.

Christopher Harper is a professor at Temple University. He worked for more than 20 years at the Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and “20/20.” He can be contacted at [email protected] Twitter: @charper51.

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