Millennials Didn’t Abandon Our Institutions — Our Institutions Failed Them

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Cameron Karnes sorts CDs at Independent Records & Video March 14, 2006, in Denver. As a group, Millennials, the generation born between 1981 and 1999, are characterized as confident, hardworking and technologically fluent. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Kathryn Osler)

Cameron Karnes sorts CDs at Independent Records & Video in Denver. As a group, Millennials, the generation born between 1981 and 1999, are characterized as confident, hardworking and technologically fluent. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Kathryn Osler)

The Pew Research Center recently released a study finding that the Millennial generation – those born between the early 1980s and 2000 – is increasingly alienated from the major institutions of American society. Many are turned off by religion and see little difference between the two major political parties. They’re less trusting of strangers than previous generations. Fewer are tying the knot. Less than half consider themselves patriotic.

The report led to a lot of media chin-scratching – and no small amount of hand-wringing – much of it from flummoxed members of the preceding generations, Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers.

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat lamented the loss of community, warning that hyper-individualism may leave young adults susceptible to dangerous demagoguery. Unsurprisingly, National Review editor Jonah Goldberg blamed Obama. And Dana Milbank wrote in The Washington Post that he believed their lack of loyalty to the administration, rather than a sense of invincibility, may factor into the Millennials not signing up for Obamacare in sufficient numbers. Ignoring a Kaiser Family Foundation study which concluded that young people’s participation “is not as important as conventional wisdom suggests” and “a premium ‘death spiral’ is highly unlikely,” Milbank claimed that if their enthusiasm “doesn’t improve significantly, the result likely will be fatal for the Affordable Care Act.”

But rather than blame those crazy kids, we can look at some social trends that make their detachment seem perfectly rational. One of Ronald Reagan’s favorite lines about his switch in partisan allegiance was, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me.” The reality is that America’s institutions have become a lot less worthy of the Millennials’ trust.

Pew found that whether it’s faith in religion, trust in politics or sense of patriotism, every subsequent generation since World War II’s “silent” one has less of it than the one that preceded it.

Heather McGhee on the Millennial Generation

The silent generation had every reason to be patriotic. Their political leaders had put their parents to work during the Depression, defeated fascism and built a middle class with the GI Bill. They’d seen rural America get electricity and an interstate highway system constructed from coast to coast.

But the baby boomers’ faith was tested, and in many cases shattered, by Vietnam, political assassinations and civil strife. Yet they also saw their government try to tackle poverty and were eyewitnesses to a major expansion of civil rights.

Gen-Xers came of age being told, as per Ronald Reagan, that the government itself was the problem. Then, the oldest of the Millennial generation grew politically aware as President Clinton’s sex life was the pretext for impeachment and they cast their first votes in a disputed election decided by the Supreme Court. The youngest are growing up in an era when dark money spent by a faceless few dominates political contests. For them, partisan politics have always been toxic.

American religious life has undergone dramatic changes as well. In 1960, Kevin Phillips, who had been the chief political analyst for the 1968 Nixon campaign, wrote The Coming Republican Majority. Thirty years later, he would recall predicting that “the new GOP coalition seemed certain to enjoy a major infusion of conservative northern Catholics and southern Protestants,” only to discover that “the move unleashed an evangelical, fundamentalist and Pentecostal counterreformation, with strong theocratic pressures becoming visible in the Republican national coalition and its leadership.”

The mainline churches still exist, but the rise of the religious right in the 1970s and 1980s made them the loudest and most politicized voices in the room. As Alana Massey wrote for Religion Dispatches, this appears to have had a marked effect on young people, whom Pew found to be much more accepting of homosexuality than their parents and grandparents:

A new study from the Public Religion Research Institute confirmed what Millennials with a vested interest in the church have known for some time: homophobia, and the ill-treatment of human beings that it engenders, has a toxic influence on religion. Of course, you need not be a Millennial to know that a stance of intolerance from a religion founded on principles of radical inclusion is a losing strategy but it’s in this generation that the shift is most remarkable: one-third of Millennials who left the religious institutions of their upbringings cite “negative teachings” and “negative treatment” of LGBT communities as primary reasons for their departure.

Changing social mores no doubt play a significant role in Millennials increasingly eschewing marriage – it’s no longer scandalous to live with a significant other. But that’s not the only dynamic driving this change. According to Pew, Millennials are “the first [generation] in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income than their two immediate predecessor generations… had at the same stage of their life cycles.”

A study that followed 3,700 low-income working couples between 1998 and 2000 found that for every dollar a man’s hourly wages increased, the odds that he’d get hitched by the end of a year rose by 5 percent, and those earning more than $25,000 during the year had twice the marriage rates of those making less. The Pew researchers also concluded that “the economic hardships of young adults may be one reason that so many have been slow to marry.”

It’s unfortunate that Pew didn’t ask about young people’s faith in corporate America. When Gallup asked Americans of all ages to rank 16 institutions by their level of trustworthiness, big business came in 13th. How different generations viewed it would be telling – since responding to a call to arms known as the “Powell Memo” in 1972, major corporations, like many churches, have become highly politicized and in many ways abandoned what had been a tacit social contract.

It’s worth noting, too, that Millennials aren’t alone in becoming alienated from our major institutions. According to Gallup, over the last 40 years, all Americans have lost faith in them. The only one that hasn’t seen a dramatic decline is the military, and the pollster started asking the question a few months before the US halted combat operations in Vietnam, when trust in the armed forces was at a nadir.

With a mountain of student debt, an unemployment rate hovering around 15 percent and an array of major institutions that don’t appear to be in tune with the problems that they face, the fact that younger Americans aren’t running out to salute the flag should come as little surprise. It’s a perfectly rational reaction to the world in which they’re coming of age.

Joshua Holland is a senior digital producer for He’s the author of The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything Else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know about Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America) (Wiley: 2010), and host of Politics and Reality Radio. Follow him on Twitter or drop him an email at hollandj [at] moyersmedia [dot] com.
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  • Catherine

    I feel this way and I am at the end of the boomer cycle raising a millennial. But, I don’t believe it is as gloomy as it’s being presented here. My son and his friends are very individual, but interdependent with each other and the community. They are more into figuring out what it is that they want to do with their lives — over just working for the money like so many boomers have done — and they don’t want to get married until they have had some experiences like travel or moving around for a job. They are more scientific and accept spirituality, but disconnected from religions because they see how much the uber-religious judge those they should be helping — and they see the same with government. Millennials are more open – less judgmental since they have been playing video games and logging on the Internet to interact with people from around the world for most of their lives — which has made them more globally aware. I like the millennial generation better than the boomers I follow. I actually can’t wait to see how they change the world.

  • Idiotbrain

    Thank you for this. Another aspect of Marriage is that it is not much more than a contract which appears to have little real social benefit. It complicates arguably more than it simplifies; it breeds complacency; and should anything deteriorate in the relationship it makes splitting amicably nearly impossible. Seems like another expensive ruse like the idea that home ownership benefits me and not the person I bought it from.

  • Anonymous

    Oldest of the millenials here. Born 1980. Made good grades at a good college. Student Loan debt and lack of any real career opportunities (one entry level position told me flat out no room for advancement for the first 14 years) forced me to wait until I was 34 to get married. I had to start my own business to create any sort of opportunity. I may be able to afford one child by the time I am 40. But I pay 15% of my income to student loans. This does not even touch the principal. 15% goes to medicare and Social Security. another 25% to state and federal govt. That is over half the money I earn. Why should I give two $&^$ about this country, when I see the leaders living like Louis XIV and WASTE my money. i havent ever had a vacation! I dont know anyone my age who actually associates with a political party. My friends in Cali love Obama only because its “Cool.” But I would not call them political. The food here is terrible if you go to the mid east the food is fresh and nutritiious. not in America. We are horrible to animals. School and healthcare are only for the rich. Drugs are touted and demonized at the same time. The educated foreigners are shipped back to their homeland while the dumbest Mexicans are greeted with open arms. And the govt actually shut down our national parks over a dispute over a healthcare website built in Canada that doesnt work. There is little to be patriotic about here.

  • Caitlyn Johnston, MBA

    As the mom of a millenial, this is no surprise. Consider this: Their very first, and most deeply personal, relationship with an institution is the school system, which is failing our children, especially the really smart ones, catastrophically. During the second week of first grade, my son came home crying. I thought he’d been in a fight. His complaint? “I’m not learning anything!”

  • Caitlyn Johnston, MBA

    Absolutely. Good points.

  • Matthew Brown

    This is not new. In the early ’70s I was disillusioned with school in kindergarten. I knew that I wasn’t learning. Playing games, singing songs and everything else they had us doing was dumb. I learned more watching Sesame Street than I did in school until the second grade.

  • Anonymous

    Good for you! You figured out the puzzle – opening your own business. One day, you might even consider the conditions that pushed you there to be a blessing.

  • Alex

    I can’t speak for Idiotbrain, but if I had to guess, his or her thought process was that people used to say buying a house could only be a good investment. I work in the mortgage industry and my parents are in the process of selling their house they’ve occupied for 20 years. If they’re lucky, they will come away even from the entire situation. Mind you the value of their house hasn’t increased a whole lot in real value terms and they have spent a fair amount keeping it that way. (If you’re unsure what I mean by real, check out this wikipedia article about the differences between real and nominal:

    There are a couple of reasons young people aren’t buying homes anymore:

    1) Few can afford it

    2) It simply isn’t true that it’s always a good investment.

    Now that I’ve shot myself in both feet with my career, I’ll stop talking…

  • Lisamoon

    And you know he’s a “stoner”, because…?

  • Brian Connell

    Apologies to Mr. Kames, as I do not claim to know his views or behaviors with regard to recreational marijuana use. That said, I think the photo was a poor choice as the sole representative image. Better?

  • iEatWoofers

    What does this have to do with anything in the article? Dude, you were in **kindergarten**. What do you expect to learn there? It’s not called first grade because it’s *not really school yet*, genius. It’s just there to get kids used to not being at home all the time and they get to know other kids and make friends. That way when they enter “real” school the teachers don’t have to deal with kids that don’t have any social skills at all and the kids can concentrate on learning.

    It’s pretty simple if you think about it for more than a second.

  • iEatWoofers

    Yes, if he ever gets rich, he’ll be one happy dude. Guess what? Most people that open their own business don’t get rich. Most don’t even get far. More people opening their own companies won’t solve any of the problems.

  • Anonymous

    It’s more about what RR did! That whole “trickle down economics” bs has really destroyed the economy for everyone but the 1 %. In fact, it strengthened the 1% and really created the divide and disconnect that is so prominent today.

  • Anonymous

    My Uncle Nathaniel recently got a nearly
    new red Chrysler 200 Sedan only from working part time off a home pc… find
    out this here F­i­s­c­a­l­P­o­s­t­.­ℂ­o­m


    You can thank the Boomers for running the country into the ground well before the Millennials could even vote. The U.S. came out of WW2 stronger than ever, built on the backs of a generation of people who survived the Great Depression and a devastating war, only to have their kids (the Boomers) squander it all by voting for their own interests every step of the way, mortgaging the country’s future.

    I’m surprised if anyone found the Author’s findings to be news. This isn’t something that happened overnight; it was in the making for a few decades.

    The Boomers took out a loan with America as the collateral, and the Millennials will be paying it back for years to come.

  • Anonymous

    I honestly have no idea what you’re referring to.

  • SaintStryfe

    A lot of us grew up with him as President. Millennials go from about 1980 to about 1999. We either grew up with him, his VP, or in the shadow of the Congress that idolized his ideals of stomping on working people and aiding terrorists….

  • SaintStryfe

    Yep, my parents are in exactly the same siutation.

  • SaintStryfe

    I hope we’re up to your lofty ideals. I’d like to think my generation will be.

  • Anonymous

    We mustn’t forget the deflation on Main Street shuts Millennials out of the economy. The money is being sucked up into the stratosphere for speculation, while removing it from the productive economy. The reason for that is inherent in the way money is created in this system in the first place with mortgage debts as the most common collateral. Eventually those debts grow too much and destroy developed economies. That system needs replacing. What is happening here has happened before to societies innumerable times since ancient times spreading out from the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East.

  • Anonymous

    The Boomers definitely allowed themselves to be snookered. They should have paid more attention to their grandparents and not rejected everything. There were things our grandparents knew about community for good and bad.

  • Anonymous

    I was with you until you decided to call Mexicans dumb? Do you speak Spanish? Can you have any conversations with these people to judge anything about their intelligence? You will never know what they have been through. And. Now. I wish it on you whatever is coming to this country. You will evidently learn something, like everybody else here. If Mexicans are here it is because of our own Elites and their vassal system that makes Mexico a colony dumping the subsidized corn from our agribusiness barons onto them to destroy their farming economy. If you want to call somebody dumb, you had better start with us the snookered Americans!

  • David Dillon

    You wrote a great article Joshua, but JEIAC is referring to the poor leadership demonstrated during the Reagan years. Massive entitlement cuts coupled with tax cuts and frivolous spending have created a Boomer vs. Millennial dichotomy. The lack of trusts Millennials have in American institutions not only lies with their early socio-political experience (i.e. bush years, money influencing politics, student loan debt, high youth unemployment, etc.), but it lies in what is to come–tackling the issues that the Boomers outright neglected to address and allowed to worsen on their watch (i.e. income inequality, government debt, social security, global warming, higher education, etc.).

  • Anonymous

    We have a subscription to a photo service. I looked for an image that fit, and our choices were somewhat limited. That one said “young person,” so I grabbed it.

    I don’t think he looks particularly like a stoner.

  • dgauss

    Spot on.

  • Ashley Flinn

    Millennials aren’t enrolling in the healthcare exchanges because plenty of us between the ages of 27-33 (who therefore aren’t covered by our parents’ healthcare anymore), and those of us who live near or below the poverty level who aren’t in a state that expanded Medicaid (and that would be about half the states) simply cannot afford it.

  • Dude

    What school of economics did this theory come from?

  • Dude

    I am a baby boomer. Everyone I knew going growing up had no faith in “government”or social institutions. I don’t think I agree with the basic premise of this article. We all believed we should never count on institutions and to a large degree we have lived our lives accordingly. None of us grew up believing we would get social security. I can’t imagine a generation that had less respect for “institutions” than the baby boomers.

  • NotARedneck

    Matthew would have rather been home watching TV!

  • NotARedneck

    So true. Reagan’s (and the RepubliCON’s) incompetence shifted the economy from one of real investment to one of speculation. No jobs are created by speculation. No wealth is created but it makes the wealthy wealthier.

  • Anonymous

    They sure didn’t have less respect for banks and corporations. They let their politicians deregulate them. They let their politicians mortgage the future for their own children and grandchildren. The Baby Boomers threw out the baby with the bathwater. I agree with you. They disagreed with some important corrupt institutions, but they also threw out the good with the bad! Now, we are cooked. The foreign capital is moving in here taking over natural resources for export, our politicans are bought by shadowy SuperPACs full of foreign money, our Supreme Court turns a blind eye to everything (Swiss bank accounts more than likely), and our children and grandchildren now live in “right to work” states with no laws to protect them like Nigeria. The place will be a 3rd world colony very soon just like they left off in 1776.

  • fmendoza


  • fmendoza

    I agree with you a 1000%. but never say die. if everyone who agrees with you. and like minded people. demand the f.c.c. require t.v. and cable be required to provide free t.v. airtime for canadates. under the public interest clause. we might be able to turn things around. in the citizens favor. if you agree with what I proposed. please forward it to non-profit organizations that can take action.

  • thabe331

    To talk about your first point of the gloominess. I’ve thought for a while that selling “doom and gloom” is a profitable thing for writers. That’s not to say things won’t be different, but I feel like we millenials will adapt. I think there is a community, we just focus on smaller communities than previous generations have. We do seem to be a bit more of a cynical generation, but hopefully we’ll grow out of that. I’ll be 26 next monday and I feel like I’m less cynical now than I was 3-4 years ago. Hopefully the process continues. I don’t know what to say about the “change the world” idea as I think it’s a bit of a pipe dream, but I would hope we can coexist with the rest of the world. One thing I hope to see my generation abandon is conspiracy theory attitudes, distrust of scientific consensuses (sp?) does not seem to be well founded and I would like to see those attitudes begin to die off within my generation.

  • Dude

    I don’t think your understanding of economics is sound. The issue with our society, in my mind, is really a lack of personal responsibility. Institutions and governments don’t function well when people are uninvolved and uneducated. People can whine all they want about the failure of institutions, but the solution is really with the individuals that inhabit the culture.

  • Anonymous

    Your statement has nothing to do with economics. You should probably speak about yourself and economics unless you have specific points to make. Your statement has to do with culture, which is now shaped and molded in this country by media corporations. The money institutions control our government and reap the benefit for a tiny few. As income concentrates into fewer and fewer hands, velocity of income reduces, and the economy collapses into deflation. The model of using public debts to control states and pay bribes to the Haute Bourgeoisie was clear already by the time of Cosimo Medici. That is the money system that was implemented here. We can look forward to the same outcomes as plagued the City States and Republics on the Italian Peninsula in the 14th and 15th centuries. Holland in 1661. England in 1790, etc. etc. and then all of Europe and the World by 1930. But, anyway. The “personal responsibility” thing was invented in England as a counter-move used against the mass movement for real reforms of Parliament. Anything to get people to take their eyes off the system itself as setup in law!

  • Anonymous

    That, sadly, is one of the major problems of the public school system, and it won’t be fixed until we’re willing to RADICALLY change the way we do things. The one-size-fits-all approach to classrooms may be the most economically feasible, but it’s the most mundane approach to reaching the really bright students. Teachers are little more than glorified babysitters because they’re forced to deal with a multitude of behavior and learning problems rather than instructing or facilitating learning. To fix it, however, would cost us more than we’re obviously willing to pay. Mainstreaming is good on some level, but throwing everyone into the same classroom and essentially dumbing down the material so everybody passes isn’t accomplishing squat. If children are really intelligent and creative, put them in more challenging classes and weed out the problem causers so the ones who really are motivated to learn can do so without the distractions.

    And finally accept that not everybody’s cut out for college, so there should be alternatives in high school. Test them, find their aptitudes and interests, and career track them like countless other countries do. I know, I know, everybody deserves a chance — blah, blah, blah. The truth: making everybody equal in the classroom is killing us.

  • Anonymous

    Amen. St. Ronald of Reagan practically destroyed the working class during his presidency. As for trickle down economics, I’m reminded of a Judge Judy quote: “don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.”

  • Anonymous

    As well-argued as this commentary is, the logic of those the commentary seeks to defend or at least argue for, is flimsy as hell, sorry, Joshua. Now let me tell you why.

    As true as it is that the failure of American institutions is to blame for the disaffection of the ‘millennials’, who are the bulk of my students in my courses at Wayne State University in Detroit, it is equally true and obviously so, that the situation calls for millennials to do the opposite of what they are doing as a demographic–they are abandoning their obligation to BE ACTIVIST, not just in social equality, in racial tolerance, and in so called ‘entrepreneurial’ enterprises, and social networking (all their strong points as Americans), but also in rebuilding and reconstituting the democratic institutions that have failed them. This obligation, incumbent upon EVERY generation, is the only way democracy renews itself, the only way it works. Democracy can and must be re-vitalized by every generation when their turn comes to take the wheel and take command of the commonweal.

    Let’s be real, because only last evening in a class discussion I contended with my millennial students as they argued against the efficacy of the generation before me that had freed me through their activism–the boomers. My millennial students were people of color openly expressing their lack of sympathy for and identification with all the very social and political movements of the past whose activism, organization, and blood shed made it possible for these youths to even be sitting in a classroom in the first place. Their diffidence and self-pity, their palpable dislocation from the challenges, yes and burdens, and the ethical struggles of economics and history all around them, render them impotent and easily victimized even as they squander their own collective, potential power to rescue themselves. This they must do, I cautioned them, using the tools of American democracy. They are, in the words of Ms. Heather McGhee, ‘not political and don’t have an economic background’.

    That’s their problem in a nutshell.

    Joshua, you write, “a mountain of student debt, an unemployment rate hovering around 15 percent and an array of major institutions that don’t appear to be in tune with the problems that they face” is what they are being subjected to, and I more than anyone can feel for them being in this situation since I toil every day in a profession devoted to mentoring, training, and defending them. But I must tell you that I often feel I am a lifeguard trying to rescue drowning swimmers who cannot or will not try to help themselves. Instead they go limp.

    They do everything wrong, if they hope to escape economic victimization; they support soul-less market values, they withdraw from the arena of the realpolitique of class struggle in favor of the phantasm of digital ‘social media'; they dismiss the activism they naively claim ‘failed them’ as if their grandparents didn’t fight in Korea, didn’t create the post war suburban meccas, didn’t build the national highways and urban infrastructure following a war against fascism that THEIR own parents fought and won. Millennials prepare themselves to sink rather than learn to swim in the same remorseless waters of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and inequality that their parents and grandparents had to contend with for THEIR sake.

    What I teach my millennial students, however much they don’t want to hear it, is that democracy DOES NOT PROMISE TO SAVE US from inequality and unfair treatment. Capitalism does however promise to maintain inequality for the sake of the few through the pure profit motive. What has changed in America is simply the unhappy fact that those on the bottom sacrificing for the pleasure and leisure of those in the middle are no longer just Blacks and women, but are now also the former and rapidly diminishing middle classes.

    The democracy the millennials thought would nurture them and pamper them without sacrifice and struggle? Well, that would be democracy in a Facebook fantasy. Democracy in reality only ever offers us the TOOLS and TOOL BOX we need to save our SELVES. Gloria Steinem, Martin King, Caesar Chavez, Mario Savio, Russel Means, Angela Davis, Paul Wellstone, and now Raul Grijalva, Bernie Sanders, Barney Frank, and Maxine Waters and all the other leaders of the pitched battles of the analogue, not digital social movements for racial, gender, and class equality and opportunity were and are the face of those who paid and are paying the price of the ticket for fragile democracy in an aggressive market economy. The freedom to buy things is preceded by a fight for the freedom and the opportunity to earn the money to buy those things.

    Crippled by outrageous debt, facing the worst job market since the great depression, and overtly preyed upon by banks and state powers bent on making them pay their way into lifelong debt simply for the human right to exist, the millennials no less than the ‘Greatest Generation’ who stormed the beaches at Normandy, have a fight on their hands that so far only their bravest compatriots in the ‘Occupy’ movement have taken responsibility for.

    Julian Lennon is a wonderful example of a succeeding generational who both honors his legacy from his father, John Lennon and also takes responsibility for his own life, his own struggles, distinguishing himself from his father. In the wake of widespread calls from fans that he imitate his father’s work He sarcastically released a song, a play on John’s song, “HELP”. Julian’s song, “HELP YOURSELF” is both a satire of people’s desire for him to be his father but also, meaningfully, a call to his generation to take responsibility:

    If you take a ride on a plane or a train
    You know you’re going somewhere but is it in vain
    Oh tell me, please tell me

    Catch a staring glance at the man on the ground
    Do you think his life has been lost or found
    Please tell me, oh tell me

    Is anybody out there?
    Can you find it in your hearts to care?
    Do you find it the same?

    In your life, you must help yourself
    If you don’t, there will be no one else
    You’ve got to save yourself
    You know, you know…[Copyright, Julian Lennon]

    In other words, you mellinnials have been served a raw deal by history, and we generation X’ers and baby boom echoes need to understand your pain, but in the final tally history is known for serving many of us who came before you just such bitter fare. The answer is not to whip out your smart phone to reserve a table in the capitalist cafe but to get up from there, go out front, burn your student loan receipts, refuse to pay, organize and picket, run for office, rally, use the tools of the democracy your grandparents fought for to seize these failed institutions and re-humanize them rather than order up a serving of injustice. Savoring a promised seat at the dinner party of market economy via the cult of ‘entrepreneurialism’ might work for the isolated individual but won’t free a generation nor will it carry on the commonweal. We who came before you current victims all had to make this same decision.

    Welcome to democracy, Millennials. If you can fight for it, it’s yours to keep.

  • Caitlyn Johnston, MBA

    it’s not just educationally that the school systems fail them. It’s also socially. If I had had a girl, I never would have known this, but what happens is when the girls tease/antagonize the boys, and the boys react, the girls are not held accountable. They boys are reprimanded and it is demanded of them that they take a female approach to relationships. There’s no acceptance or acknowledgment that boys/men handle things differently and that the female approach is not always the best one.

    The education system is surprisingly easy to fix. As an educator and a mom both, it has been my observation that all they need to do is haul out the old text books from the 1950s and update the science sections, and restore the art and language departments, and American children will become world-class once again. It’s really that simple… if ONLY we had the political will to actually pull our heads out of our *sses….

  • Caitlyn Johnston, MBA

    Yep. If it were truly affordable, mortgages would be the same prices as rents. It cost my parents about $85K in 1980 to buy a house. That same house now is “valued” at $210K. That’s clearly an artificial inflation. And unfortunately, it’s what the market will bear because of our culture of credit. Our industries inflate prices because banks are willing to finance pretty much anything, so they (the banks and the industries) make out like bandits while the consumers get shafted. But of course, the onus is on the consumers not to play the game in the first place. So what we have is a vicious cycle of financial disempowerment.

  • Anonymous

    dont follow leaders watch your parking meteres

  • Anonymous


  • Name

    What exactly do you expect us to do?

    Our whole lives, the consequences of “doing the right thing” have been shown to be not just the risk of personal ruin, which is a common sense presupposition regarding any affront to power, but in the end, ultimate ineffectuality. The corrupt and powerful – the state cronies, the corporate pigs, the subhuman chief hawks of surveillance and military illegality, end up getting just a slap on the wrist and nothing more, because the fact that they hold all the cards – which is to say, the ownership and maintenance of our entire private and public infrastructure – means that they’ve made themselves too big to fail. Any major alternative modes of social organization are either non-existent, implausible, insufficiently conceptualized by fault of their utopian quality, or justly discredited by association with the crimes of fanatics and murderers. We have been offered no future except more of the same, and given nothing to believe in except the continuation of spiraling mediocrity and the increasing risk of man-made and natural destruction. So we either comfort ourselves with myths of meaningful incremental change capable of a timely rate of efficacy, or sink into quietude.

    What do you want from us? Pull out some vague hope of an alternative from our asses? Because that sure worked for the hippies and the May ’68’ers… Maybe, in a truly pitch-black way, we’ll feel a perverse sense of relief when things finally topple down.

  • Anonymous

    This is just exactly what your challenge is, and your tragedy: “the consequences of “doing the right thing” have been shown to be not just the risk of personal ruin, which is a common sense presupposition regarding any affront to power, but in the end, ultimate ineffectuality. The corrupt and powerful – the state cronies, the corporate pigs, the subhuman chief hawks of surveillance and military illegality, end up getting just a slap on the wrist and nothing more…” Don’t you see that very shortly, YOU will be those people and will be the ones serving those functions you so fear? The way of the world is that we and those older than us will die–you and those your age will inherit this earth, so whatever direction it takes will be up to you.

    What you are telling yourself is fatal defeatism, and we on this page and in global fora going on and on about ‘the millennials’ can talk and talk and analyze why you feel the way you do, and how it is clear that you were programmed by thousands of hours of mass media brainwashing and nihilism by the time you were 10 years old, but ultimately, you all must come to consciousness about it, and wake up. I don’t ‘expect’ you to do anything, and you wouldn’t be doing it for me anyway, but for yourselves. Only you can save you, just as only my generation could save our own selves. Sooner or later you must wake up to what your social role is and your historical tasks–for your own sake. It may be a raw deal to wake up to the reality that you are in a boat (history) far from shore, but however good or bad, safe or dangerous, fair or unfair it is, a boat must be rowed, or the waves can capsize it, and you will drown.

    Again, you are no more ill served by the history you find yourselves born into than any other generation has been (my first memories are of horrible social violence, the Kennedy assassination, the King assassination, and urban rebellions, soldiers on the streets outside my house in Detroit), and as such things go, you millennials are better off than some (those born into the McCarthy era for instance, those born into the era of the Great Depression, or those born into the hideous era of the first world war, ‘trapped on the wire, and dying in waves’ as Sting puts it in his song “Children’s Crusade”). All the things you cite are the harbingers of your adulthood and childhood’s end. You will either grow up and take the wheel, or you will go down and be swallowed by the waves. I have great faith that history will shape you into the tool it needs, because if history could bring MY selfish, callow, gutless, pampered, and cynical generation up to actually achieve some things, then history can work with anyone (we achieved the massively influential aesthetic of hiphop, for instance, and were an engine behind the SANE/FREEZE movement and we helped to defeat apartheid, and were behind the mass demonstrations against the US atrocities in the 80’s in Latin America–we also were the predominant generation on the streets during the international demonstrations against the so-called ‘Gulf War’, and we shut down several cities in the last of the epic anti-IMF, anti-globalist actions that essentially caused the ruling class to come down on YOU so hard).

    It was ironically, Ronald Reagan, scourge of workers everywhere, and great granddaddy imperialist, who said, “Each generation goes further than the generation preceding it because it stands on the shoulders of that generation. You will have opportunities beyond anything we’ve ever known.” And, It was Frantz Fanon, French-African revolutionary, who said, “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” Though I love you, as I love my daughter, you have to walk that lonesome valley–there ain’t no one can walk it for you, and the decision to not make a decision is itself a decision with consequences only you will have to face. But looking at my daughter’s generation, a little younger than you probably are, and coming hard and strong upon your heels, with the occupy movement under her belt, many of them enthusiastic and committed to justice, I’d caution you to ultimately remember what Yoda says to Ben Kenobi when Ben laments that Luke Skywalker may not have it in him to succeed:

    “There is another.”

    You aren’t the first generation to walk through this fire, and if you cower and fail, you won’t be the last. Do what you can, learn along the way, then die and get out of the way. That’s what we all have before us.

    Again, welcome.

  • Anonymous

    Society’s problems, whether political, economic, or social, can
    be dealt with by everyone taking ‘responsibility’ of their own selves, Dude? You have argued this same vaguely Christo-capitalist patrimony in response to some other socio-political issues on this website, in other commentary sections.

    Allow me to take you to task again: you keep putting the horse behind the cart, Dude: you want to assign blame (‘personal responsibility’) to those who suffer the effects of social inequality and social injustice, by saying things such as, “The issue with our society, in my mind, is really a lack of personal
    responsibility…People can whine all they want about the failure of institutions, but the solution is really with the individuals that inhabit the culture.”

    Which on the surface seems to coincide with my own critique on this page above, of the Millennials’ irresponsibility– but you keep missing a step, one that I try to be very clear about, which is the importance of always putting political, economic, and social issues into historical context rather than giving in to the popular habit of MTV short attention span (MTV was a Boomer invention). If we look at history’s embedded causality (as Public Enemy—an X’er band—enacts in their sonic compositions, for e.g., “Don’t Believe the Hype”) as the context of everything we discuss we see that there is a calculus of inter-causality between victims of the system (all of us, all working and middle class Americans are victims at this point!) and the system itself (which in a democracy, even a wounded one such as America’s, we are all ultimately in charge of even as we act to shape it or fail to act to fix it).

    Here’s the gist of it: I don’t actually BLAME my millennial students for the problem of democracy’s disorders, nor do I even expect them all by themselves to cure it. After all, if blame is to be assigned, historically speaking it would be you and me far more than the Millennials who would have to shoulder that blame, correct? About that much, I believe
    Joshua Holland is right on the mark, saying that our institutions have failed these kids, not the other way round just yet (cart before the horse, if we want to go on to truly understand the problem!)

    You claim to be a ‘boomer’ earlier on this page, while I am an admitted member of ‘generation X’. Don’t you think you and I should, historically speaking, pick up a lot more blame than these kids? However confused they are about how to proceed, and about how and why they must truss themselves for mortal battle to save a democracy in ruins, that failed them, certainly they didn’t create the utter ruin they were bequeathed by you and me.

    Likewise, historically speaking, to be fair to your parents (my grandparents, the so-called “Greatest Generation), they were the Americans who landed on Omaha Beach, defeated fascism, liberated Rome, cleaned out the Nazi concentration camps, flew the Berlin Airlift, fought in Korea, and for a finito, came back home and built the American interstate highway system, created the suburbs, elected John Kennedy
    (the first ‘New Frontierist’ of the Greatest Generation) and electrified rural America while making indoor plumbing available for poor ethnic enclaves in the cities and legislating public housing that at least began a dismantling of the hellish tenement systems of Ethnic poor, urban America.

    So I kind of take exception, Big Brother Boomer, when I read you saying, “I am a baby boomer. Everyone I knew [growing] up had nofaith in “government” or social institutions…We all believed we should never count on institutions and to a large degree we have lived our lives accordingly. None of us grew up believing we would get social security. I can’t imagine a generation that had less respect for “institutions” than
    the baby boomers.”

    Come on, now. Isn’t that statement a little over the edge and into the rocks? On the verge of being a model of the stereotypic narcissism of Boomers? True enough, young Boomers began by–and many continued–poo-pooing the institutions of your fathers (thus, the ‘counter-culture’, drug culture, mind expansion, communal living, the Beat Poets, self-reliance, your flirting with socialism and hippie culture,
    psychedelia, The Weathermen, “Attica!-Attica!-Attica!”, etc.)

    But after all, as you aged, and your fathers and mothers died off, those institutions became YOURS (Kennedy shook teen
    Bill Clinton’s hand in the Rose Garden, symbolically and presciently handing off Excalibur to the first Boomer president in time for his own, Kennedy’s, rendezvous with fate in Dallas; while Clinton was instrumental in planning and strategy on first X’er president Obama’s reelection team, slipping Excalibur
    into Obama’s golf bag; personally I think CLINTON was the first ‘Black’ president, while Obama should be recognized as the first X’er in the White House). And those institutions and the society itself became YOU (how long DID Eisenhower
    live after Kennedy’s inauguration, where Ike can be seen on film clutching his hat and shivering in his old bones while Kennedy, a LATE “Greatest Generation” torch bearer, went hat-less, first time for a president to do that, but soon enough became headless in Dallas–also the first president to die quite so violently and publicly?)

    Those institutions were eventually YOURS to pilot, no longer your grandparents’ who gradually populated history’s first mass produced ‘old folks’ homes’, or were struck down by their own personal grassy knolls.

    At some point your ‘counter culture’ was counter to a culture
    that was YOU.

    Boomers were eventually sole proprietors—you became both the dealer AND the junkie, the CIA AND the EPA. You became both houses of Congress, both political parties, and you were both defendant Biil Clinton AND prosecutor Kenneth Starr (both born in 1946!) You Boomers eventually became the International Monetary Fund and World Bank lawyers for ‘The Man’ (heck, you BECAME ‘The Man’) as well as being The Man’s guard dog cops, beating MY generation X’ers down in
    the streets in the “Battle of Seattle”, the Battle of Miami, and all the other Anti-Globalist (anti-You) actions. The Millennials’ ‘Occupy’ Movement, which I greatly admire, is a stronger, wiser, smarter version of my generation’s Anti Globalist and anti-war mobilization movement of the 90’s. I was one of the
    anti-Iraq war demonstrators who shut down Manhattan for a day in the 90’s and invaded the news network stations uptown. Our flaw was that we continued your mistaken tactic of depending on ‘leaders’, a mistake the Millennials aren’t
    repeating when they carry out political actions.

    We X’ers, who invented the anti-globalist movement to assault
    you Boomer ‘pigs’ were, ironically, imitating the model of hippie culture and counter-culture YOU BOOMERS HAD INVENTED before you assimilated, sold out, and joined the establishment to beat down your own heirs.

    But MY point is that these sad facts are not your ‘fault’. It’s mostly the cycle of history. X’ers invented hiphop culture but we also invented the new fascist surveillance technologies oppressing the human race now, masking Big Brother
    with the deceptively benign mask of Facebook, cell phones that are ‘smart’ enough to watch you and listen to you and GPS you day and night, by and Google. The young grow old and the old die off, but their ideals precede them in death.
    That’s the same fate the Millennials must confront: what they despise about the world bequeathed them by you Boomers and we X’ers is precisely what they themselves will soon be the sole owner-operators of. There is unequal blame to
    go around, but the responsibility of saving our democracy must be equally shared. And then, when you and I have shuffled off, the Millennials must take it all as their legacy, a dirty inheritance worse than some.

    Their historical role is worse than that of you Boomers, who inherited a post war economic boom, polio vaccine, ‘Star Trek’, Xerox machines to print your anti-war flyers rather than the smelly mimeo fluid your parents had to use to print up their ‘Big Bopper’ flyers, 60 cent gas prices, Sophia Loren, Martin King, and a nice, smooth, interstate highway system. The Millennials’ fate is quite a bit better, however, than others’, such as your parents’: the “Greatest Generation” got yanked out of the class wars and the utopian Communist Party USA of the 30’s and 40’s to be selected, inducted, shaved and shoe horned into uniforms to fight the Battle of the Bulge, walk through Auschwitz, get dive bombed by Japanese planes in the Pacific, and lose an arm or leg or have their faces burned off by sprays of molten metal spewed up off the decks of American battle cruisers struck by Japanese super heavy battleship shells in the Battle of Samar.

    Sure, the Millennials’ toils, such as their own war crimes and
    guilt in the destruction of Fallujah in Iraq, the Battle of Kandahar in Afghanistan, the PTSD and long years of insidious physical damage and amputations they’ve suffered
    from improvised explosive devices in Iraq, and the judicial injustice of Stop-Loss, have wounded their heads, heels, and innocence, but the Millennials have so far suffered nowhere near the experience of horror that your parents did, though compared to the Boomers and X’ers, it is the Millennials who have most taken on the experience of actual war and battle that had been the pivotal life experience of your parents.

    I say let’s cut them a little slack for the future, because
    their burdens have only just begun, if history is any sort of guide. And so far, history has been a good guide indeed.

  • Dude

    Pro : I enjoy your thoughtful comments. I don’t always agree, but that’s fine. I have been meaning to get back to you, but I have been too busy to write up a reply of the level of quality that your remarks deserve. Keep writing here. You are raising the intellectual bar. I will get back to you.

  • Anonymous

    Not surprising. Look how our own FDA is run by Monsanto lawyers since the 90’S. Our government watchdog is poisoning us.

  • kevin

    xcellent analysis

  • ShaunMarie

    I feel you. I came of age with Ronald Reagan, and have been protesting ever since, watching as time after time the monsters seem to win every single battle. The only thing I can tell you is that you need to keep marching, protesting, fighting, voting, sitting-in, writing – or you need to get out of the US before the totalitarians claim a total victory and you no longer can (keeping in mind, even as you do – that the US keeps hold of it’s citizens, even when those citizens give up their US life.).

  • Guest

    I don’t think you can discuss loss of faith in religious institutions without mentioning the monstrous child sexual abuse

  • ShaunMarie

    We didn’t “let” them. It was done over the very loud voices and protests of those who opposed this deregulation. We were out-manned, out-powered, and out-purchased.

  • ShaunMarie

    Professor – I appreciate what you are saying; I really do. I hope and pray that the millennial rise up enmasse and take to the streets, organize, unionize, and fight back. Because unless that happens, and happens soon, it is too late to win back the tattered remains of our democracy. But, as someone who has fought, marched, written letters from the time I came of age, you have to be aware that this might be a losing battle – particularly after the most recent budget deal which removed the last shred of dark-money control over our elections.

    The Princeton study proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that America is no longer a democracy. The needs and desires of the masses are ignored unless they happen to agree with the needs and desires of corporate America. The media, responsible for an informed electorate has become little more than a propaganda machine for the .001%. Even when we take to the streets, it doesn’t make the daily news – and when we grow large enough to be effective, we are met with rubber bullets, tear gas and black bloc infiltrators who begin riots in order to discredit grievances and silence the messengers.

    Our schools have veered away from teaching critical thinking at the elementary and high school levels, and students are no longer taught the basics of civics or history. University is inaccessible for many – and those who do attend are so saddled with debt that they have not the leisure time that activism requires.

    The fight you are asking the millenials to undertake isn’t like the task the boomers undertook to end Vietnam, nor like the task to end segregation: the public saw the body bags coming home, the newspapers published images of Vietnamese children covered in Napalm, the Mai Lai massacre was front page news. Nightly we heard the body count presented by Walter Cronkite. On civil rights, we saw the water cannons and dogs attacking children and peaceful protestors, and images of men who’d been lynched.

    How do you show a photo of Citi and JP Morgan stealing your future? How dramatic is a picture of a congressmen taking a call from Charles Koch? Where are the images of our men, in body bags – or the countless civilian casualties destroyed by our endless war machine. The revolution won’t be televised, and if it isn’t televised, how will those with whom we stand in solidarity even know that there is a movement?

    To be sure – our only chance as a nation is that the millenials rise up and fight back – but until they have lost so much that there is nothing left to lose, I cannot in good conscience judge them for sitting back. It appears, from here, to be a losing battle.

  • linerider

    Excellent points. Not sure how to get through to them. I think though that it must involve somehow waking them up from their self-absorption long enough to recognize the hell on earth they are setting themselves up for, if they opt out of American democracy and allow it to fail, without a good plan for something that works better to take its place.

  • Paul Bronfman

    “American Fascists:
    The Christian Right and the War On America”

    Chris Hedges’s book examines how Christian dominionists
    are seeking absolute power and a Christian state. This movement bears a strong resemblance to
    the young fascist movements in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and ’30s.

  • Felis V.

    What the heck do you think “Occupy Wallstreet” is about? They are Millennials that ARE fighting against the economic injustices that has them buried in debt and unemployed. What about the Ferguson and New York protests? They are Millennials that ARE fighting against the social injustices that has militarized police and put the US as the most jailed citizens in the first world countries list.

    They are not all falling into defeatism. Heck I’m a Gen-Xer and my Husband and I are more nihilist than my daughter is. She however has seen enough and is ready to just leave and I can’t blame her.

    The really upsetting part is that Millennials ARE doing what you say they should be doing and what they get back from everyone is derision!! The media have either purposely ignored their statements of what our protests are about or, and they get this from not just the media, “you are nothing but laze-abouts with no sense of purpose, dirty hippies!! Get a job!!!!” My question is “WHAT FRACKING JOB?!?!?!?”

  • Anonymous

    The millennials saw how this country abandoned their hard working parents and sent their good paying jobs overseas.

  • Susan Wheadon

    Don’t forget the fossil fuel industry.

  • Ian Rynex

    Ahem. The hell on earth that ‘we’ have set ourselves up for? The proverbial setting up of hell goes back well before our births. I like to start with the construction of suburban sprawl post WWII and the elevation of oil to lifeblood of the US economy (sometime before that). Our professor, while he makes many good points, missed the mark on naming suburban development one of the great achievements of past generations. American prosperity may hinge on its reversal, in fact.

    We (millenials) simply had the misfortune of being born at quite an inopportune time. We can see what is happening, and if older political figures would listen and not cling to greedy motives of the status quo, or if the economic/political machine wasn’t a greedy behemoth runaway train most interested in it’s own survival, perhaps change could come fast enough. But, increasingly, we see that going about our personal business may be the most rational thing for the time being, on an individual level, until, as the professor said, those in power die (at which point many scientists are saying it may be too late anyhow). Also I think our generation is split economically, we are not a monolith, and some will continue to work in finance and be corporate pigs and keep the ball rolling, perhaps they will inherit enough money to simply do whatever they need to do to survive and leave the rest of us die, either slowly through economic siege or through possible climate disaster, making no effort to change the way business is done.

    We were told to follow our dreams, but it has gone too far and now most of us are selfish and delusional in our dreaming to the point of no return.

  • Charles Ayala

    Millennials are abandoning religion because people are finally waking up to how utterly absurd it is….see what happens when you don’t shove it down people’s throat and actually give them a choice.

    The marriage issue (which isn’t an issue at all) has a lot to do with economy, but also because it is common knowledge that most marriages fail, time is wasted, and families are negatively affected…and a harder truth to swallow is the rise of neo-feminism (read the article about “the sexodus” amongst millennials)

  • ShaunMarie

    fmendoza – we can demand until the cows come home, the moon turns into edible green cheese, and the oceans flood the earth; our demands are NOT of any import to those who hold power. The rich and the powerful own the F.C.C. and cable stations, and if it doesn’t serve their interests to provide air-time to candidates who might regulate them, they will not do it.

  • ShaunMarie

    You don’t need a degree in a school of economics to be educated about the economy, or to see how crony capitalism is destroying the futures of this entire generation.

  • ShaunMarie

    Ronald Reagan was no boomer, nor was most of the leadership during that time. I am getting a little frustrated at this boomer v. (name other generation) canard. The rich, powerful and evil have a great stake in we lowly citizens blaming each other; gen x vs boomers, , men vs women, black vs white, middle class vs the poor. The current economic situation is not the fault of the middle class, the poor, the immigrants, the feminists, the black men, welfare mothers, deadbeat dads etc…. the economic crisis is the result of a concerted and successful set of economic and governmental policies designed to get rid of the problem – clearly stated by Dick Cheney and his pals in the PNAC documents – of “too much democracy”. I think it’s time for thinking people to stop blaming other powerless people and turn our attention on those who’ve actually destroyed our nation. And to be sure – the millenials had NOTHING to do with it.

  • Dude

    Please do illuminate me in laymans terms what planckbrant’s comments concerning speculation, money creation and deflation mean vis a vis economic historical parallels.

  • ShaunMarie

    There is no current American historical parallel in recent US history, as we were – once upon a time, the benchmark currency. However, you can look to both Germany and Argentina for lessons regarding deflation, money creation etc. As to speculation, look no further than pre-Roosevelt times. Better yet, read some real experts (as I am no expert.) I suggest Pinkety.

  • Dude

    In other words, you don’t understand his comments either. Germany and Argentina had problems with inflation not deflation. You see you really do need to have a decent understanding of economics and business to coherently discuss some, but not all, of these issues.

  • linerider

    This is precisely what I meant, no realization that your generation can reverse the trend looking forward from here, or a fatalistic lack of willingness to even try. Sorry, but the ball is in your court or will be soon. You’re adults now and you don’t get to hide in the skirts anymore, even if failure may seem easier than hard work and taking risks. Playing the blame game instead of stepping up is a symptom of our whole society now (look at politics), but it doesn’t help create positive change.

  • Anonymous

    Being on the tail end of gen x, I can say I feel the same way as the millennials. From my perspective there is an economic cutoff after 1975, where first inflation started to erode American prosperity, and then the 3 decades of the Reagan-god-head-inspired war on the poor and middle class.

    However, from my perspective the abandonment of “religion” seems to be more in line with abandonment of evangelical and legalistic catholic christian ideology – it just happens that those two religions had captured a large number of people in the prior generation. “Religion” is much bigger than those two minor sects (even within the confines of Protestantism and Catholicism), and I’ve seen a wide-ranging plurality of philosophies in my peers. It seems to me that somehow the atheistic war on religion has captured much of the progressive media and rhetoric – where instead of tolerance to differing philosophical views we have “all religion must be stamped out at all cost”. That sounds like fascism to me, in the same vein as the politicized religious right.

  • Dude

    Also, the USDLR, as much as we seem to deficit spend our way to economic oblivion, is still the only reserve currency of the world. There is no other currency that offers the liquidity and stability needed to be a reserve currency other than the USDLR. That is economic truth.

  • Anonymous

    Why do most people get remarried? That’s not much of a waking up.

  • Anonymous

    here is a tissue.

  • Anonymous

    Can we have a collective cry for the millennials? I’m feeling better all ready. When you confront a problem there are two possible reactions: stay and fight or run for the hills — for millennials, the hills are iphones. Now, I ask, where are the millennial organizers, the leaders, the boots on the cause ground? Every generation has confronted this problem and more or less collectively has made a decision. X-ers squandered their time, and like the Silent generation, they were swallow by the much larger and more dynamic generation that preceded them. I’m not convinced where the millennials are headed, but I do know there is coming a generation that will stand and fight.