The Millennials' American Nightmare

Ed Zitron 5 min read

I am currently trying to get a refinance on my house, which has been about as much fun as it sounds. The current state of the American credit system is such that you have to contort yourself around three different credit agencies, provide your bank statements, P&Ls, blood and urine sample and eighteen hairs exactly to even get your file in front of an underwriter.

If your credit scores don’t match up in the way they want, you can go through a rescore based on the fact that the capriciousness of the actual credit check system means that the reported balance can be from, say, three months ago, or yesterday, and if you have been diligent on your payments that does not matter because what they get reported is what you’ve got. To get them to rescore said scores requires you to send them statements of your current balance - but only if it shows exactly what the want to see, which has to include the right account number as well as your balance, and no, these cannot be on two separate screens.

This becomes frustrating when you use an Apple Card, a card that does not show the current balance on the same screen as an account number, even on the statement.

Anyway, all of this stuff is why I get so annoyed when I hear some sort 50+-year-old harping on about how kids just need to work hard and buy a house. It used to be that you could work in a grocery store and linearly become a manager through years of service, get a mortgage simply by showing your W-2s and you were all done, which hasn’t been the case since at least the 2000s. The actual state of affairs is much more grizzly, requiring hours of paperwork and financial surgery to get a borrower in a state that an underwriter will dare to lend them money, and no, that does not rely on your rental history, despite, in my opinion, a flawless rental history being more of a proof of anything (assuming steady income).

I think that things like this are a large part of the reason that so many people feel so jaded by the future, even before the pandemic. Boomers - and honestly, plenty of other people who aren’t quite that old - seem to have this exaggerated belief that it is easier to live than it is, that it is simply a case of working hard and showing how hard you’ve worked, and boom, house, boom, stability, boom, retirement.

The truth is that both the way in which we make money and spend money has rapidly changed without the standards we’re measured up against changing with them. Many, many people make money from independent contractor agreements, in some cases significantly more than they’d make from a desk job, but the suggestion is that a desk job (regardless of whether you live in an at-will employment state or not) is somehow more reliable, despite 12+ years of employers happily laying people off as if they were contractors.

While I understand corporations are gonna do what they do at scale, and thus automate as much as possible, the systems that exist are built allegedly to be “fair and impartial,” but almost exclusively to benefit those who have less of a need to borrow money. The impartiality of the system is rooted almost entirely in fitting people into a box that was come up with by a pair of white guys in the 50s, and exists mostly to take advantage of and/or exclude the majority of people, heavily punishing those who make mistakes or have trouble in their lives with little or no recourse to removing said punishments. And it gets worse based on race and gender, because all of these systems were invented, even with the best possible intentions (lol!) by well-to-do white guys at a time when the business of lending was a fraction of the size of what it is today.

I can be a little jaded people’s public displays of angst over the current state of everything, but honestly, writing this out reminds me of exactly how raw a deal young people have got, both of my generation and those that came after me. We’re encouraged then shoved into a collegiate system that burdens us with lifelong debt, and constantly nagged to get a good job, which requires us to move to a city where there are jobs, where the rents are high, so we have trouble saving, so when we’re nagged to settle down and have kids and buy a home, we are expected to cough up 20% plus fees for a downpayment on a house in a market that is, by definition, expensive.

All the while we’re also told that we have to make sure we have enough in retirement, nagged by the media to put away 15% of our income every year, all the while still sidled with the debt of the college degree that basically only put us in parity with the rest of the world versus making us stand out. And while we’re doing that, we have elderly relatives who tell us that we have to reach some golden mean of living, that we have to “find someone” and “settle down” despite being born into a world that is extremely hostile to both finding people and settling down with them. We pay astronomical amounts for health insurance that, somehow, still leaves us with bills, with no reason other than “well, that’s how it goes!”

There are more people who need jobs and less jobs for them to do, less means for them to acquire the assets necessary to live, let alone thrive, and a system that has been built to evaluate people based on criteria that hasn’t made sense for decades. We are chided for wanting student loan forgiveness, even though said forgiveness would only exist to give us the freedom to exist on what any normal society would consider a baseline.

I’m very lucky, and have not had to face a lot of these - I went to school in a cheaper country, with loving parents that supported me through college, and the obvious opportunities as a result - being able to take unpaid internships, not being sidled with $50,000+ of debt - put me in a position to thrive and seek opportunities, and frankly even have the curiosity to research and experiment in different industries. That, and I was in England, thus I didn’t have the constant fear that if I hated my job I’d lose my health insurance.

Whenever I see whatever vile conservative has an opinion about kids being “snowflakes” today I feel the bile well up in me - as if kids are “softer” today based on standards of…what? The 1980s, when students paid about $2000 a year for tuition, room and board? Or the 90s, when it was 50% cheaper? Or a job market that didn’t require college? Or that this generation has an internalized understanding of oppression, and, as a result, is able to empathize in ways that previous generations may not have?

Or perhaps is that the older conservative types (and hell, some liberals) have this internalized view that all it took for them was working hard - with nothing as a result of their privilege or when they grew up - and thus others should stop complaining and simply work harder to get where they got. I’ve seen people my age make this argument too - that being born in America is a privilege, and thus you’re able to make it here because of the opportunities available, which is mostly an argument made by those who are too fragile about their own lives to believe that anything could’ve been left up to luck.

What sucks is that you can simultaneously understand that you worked hard to get where you did without discounting the fact that where and when you were born giving you an advantage. By discounting that, you’re basically throwing those lacking your privilege to the wolves. You aren’t actually interested in making your generation or society better - you’re interested in fitting into and encouraging established norms that hurt your peers and continue a systemic, generational oppressive force.

All in all, I get why anyone has felt bad for the last ten years. I get why people are angry, and I get why young people are angrier. Most people that are online more than two minutes a day are either having to reconcile with the shittiness of the hand they’ve been dealt or reconcile with the inherent fragility of their internalized “I worked so hard” dream.

More from Ed Zitron's Where's Your Ed At

Empty Laughter

Amongst the sludge of AI-powered everything at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show, a robbery took place. “Dudesy —” allegedly a
Ed Zitron 15 min read

Welcome to Where's Your Ed At!

Subscribe today. It's free. Please.

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to Ed Zitron's Where's Your Ed At.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.