People have a lot of opinions about money.
In our “Money Mic” series, we hand over the podium to someone with a strong opinion on a financial topic. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses.
Today, Jessie Rosen, a woman in her 20s, reacts to a New York Times article that renamed Gen Y the "Why Bother" generation.
It’s hard not to be offended by the suggestion that your generation is, “literally going nowhere,” and that’s not just because I’m a 28-year-old currently pursuing her dream job 3,000+ miles from home.
The recent New York Times opinion piece “The Go-Nowhere Generation” went well beyond that dramatic characterization of my people, Generation Y—or as its authors Todd G. Buchholz and Victoria Buchholz cleverly re-named us, “Generation Why Bother.” Meanwhile, The Atlantic has labeled us "Generation Stuck."
According to them, we are, “risk-averse and sedentary.” We have a “stuck-at-home mentality.” We are “perhaps … too happy at home checking Facebook."
And, they say, we’re unwilling to move across state lines—let alone off our parents’ couches—to look for work.
The Truth About the 20-Somethings I Know
In the words of one 23-year-old who lives six hours from home on account of the Teach For America program she works for, “this article is curiously void of interviews with actual 20-somethings.”
As one 28-year-old with a master's degree in History from Columbia University (a school that is two states away from her parents’ basement) put it: “I hate anecdotal historians.”
In fact, each of the dozen or so peers I spoke with regarding this piece were more troubled by what it didn’t say than what it did.
For me, this article isn’t just frustrating because its authors paint the opposite picture of how my closest friends and I are actually living our lives (of my five college roommates, zero have returned to their hometowns). It’s frustrating because it avoids a real conversation about why those of us who aren’t currently “movers and shakers” feel the desire and/or need to be less mobile.
Regarding my own 20-something experience, I am a 28-year-old writer and branded entertainment producer living in Los Angeles. I am currently 2,819 miles from my hometown of Freehold, New Jersey. I moved here a year and a half ago after spending five years in Manhattan where I lived without financial help from my parents. I have a strong sense of independence and an even stronger sense of adventure. I’d rather fail than live wondering what might have happened if I tried.
Why I Didn’t Move to Italy at 22
To a casual observer it may seem like my life flies in the face of this article’s premise. I followed a passion that took me far from my home and family, one involving considerable personal and financial risks. But I moved to L.A. at 27 after saving enough money working jobs that I fully acknowledged were not my passion.
At 22, I wanted to move to Italy to teach English, but I did not. At 23, I wanted to take a road trip across America to write a series of articles about modern relationships, but I did not. At 25, I started to consider moving to L.A. without a job or any savings just to finally get my intended career going, but I decided it still wasn’t the right time. The economy was collapsing and unemployment was rampant, so I decided a stable life was more important to me than a wild and crazy adventure.
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Does that make me un-American? Does it make me sedentary? I know it doesn’t make me much like Tom Joad – the character from "The Grapes of Wrath" that this article uses to characterize the more adventurous generations prior to my own, but then again Tom Joad was fictional. If he were real, I’d love to ask him what he was doing for health insurance.
Where Is Our Safety Net?
If Todd and Victoria Buchholz had interviewed me about the times in my 20s when I’d been sedentary, I would have said that it was because the value I placed on safety and security outweighed the value I placed on risk.
If they asked me what contributed to those feelings, I would have cited the shaky economy, shakier employment opportunities and the cost of living an independent life in 2012. I would have also told them that I love Facebook, but generally access it from my laptop, which allows me to be both Internet-addicted and 100% mobile.
That is my personal experience, and I think it’s far more common than tales of 20-somethings stuck on their parents’ couches. But regarding those who are feeling less apt to adventure than generations prior, I have several off-the-cuff ideas that would form the basis of a perhaps more interesting New York Times article.
Maybe my fellow 20-somethings who haven’t yet experienced lift-off are crippled with fear about falling flat on their faces in an era without many safety nets? Maybe they were raised by “helicopter parents” who instilled in them an unweaning attachment to the comforts of home? Maybe, with the whole world at their internet-connected fingertips, they don’t feel a need to venture beyond being big fish in their hometown ponds?
These are the questions worthy of exploration. But next time The New York Times wants to know what it's like to be a 20-something trying to be an adult in this very challenging time, I suggest they plop down on the couch next to one of us and ask.
Jessie Rosen is a writer, branded entertainment producer and the author of 20-Nothings, a blog about her 20-something life.