Have you heard about Yelp girl? As is the trend, former Yelp employee Talia Jane aired her grievances to her CEO in an open letter on Medium. The letter was followed by a scathing rebuttal lamenting Talia Jane’s “millennial whining” and her entitlement, lack of work ethic and poor financial choices. Like any true millennial, I too will weigh into this controversy via open letter.
Dear Everyone Who Cares:
Millennials need suck it up and pay their dues. It is par for the course that in your twenties you have to live with a roommate, watch your spending and work hard to move up the ladder to get a higher salary. But previous generations need to recognize that the “dues” for joining adulthood have increased and our generation faces its unique challenges.
The cost of housing in major cities has skyrocketed as young millennials moved to them for work. San Francisco saw a 68% increase in millennials from 2007 – 2013 and Washington, DC is now 35% millennial. The supply of housing has been unable to keep up with increased demand thanks to asinine zoning restrictions and regulations (e.g. parking requirements, density and building height restrictions, etc). These restrictions also make it only profitable for developers to create luxury housing, putting affordable apartments (with roommates or not) out of the reach of millennials. In fact, almost half of millennials still live at home.
On top of high rents, millennials are paying back a ridiculous amount of student loan debt. It’s great that 27% of millennial women have bachelor’s degrees, but the average student loan burden for those that graduated in 2015 is $35,000. The cost of tuition more than tripled between 1973 and 2013 — that’s also with adjusting for inflation. This is in part because the federal government has been giving academic institutions blank checks for decades. Free college is not the answer, but neither is ever-increasing tuition costs.
Millennials also had the unfortunate experience of graduating into one of the absolute worst recessions in recent history. To make matters worse, although highly educated, they were lacking in job skills, which made finding employment even harder. Even today 28% of millennials don’t have a full time job. Post high school education needs to be reformed. Period. We don’t need to get rid of all four year liberal arts colleges, but we do need to provide more options and better training for our country’s high school graduates. We need pathways and guidance into career paths that tap the best talents of students while meeting the demands of the 21st century economy. It is utterly irresponsible as a society to continue with the status quo when we know it is failing.
Where are the promising alternatives to four-year college, which we hold up as a must for anyone to succeed? Why is it more socially and professionally accepted to take the exact same course in person rather through an MOOC? We have a cultural bias towards equating youth success with where you attend college, not what practical skills you gain.
Millennials do have choices to keep these costs down. Millennials can choose to live in places other than San Francisco or DC. Millennials can choose to go to less expensive universities. Millennials can choose to forgo college altogether or pick more “practical” majors. But we also must acknowledge that the need to make these choices is rooted in systemic institutional problems.
Is Talia Jane’s attitude an entitled one? Sure. But to laugh off her complaints altogether is to overlook a serious reality faced by the rising generation of American workers and one that will be passed on to Generation Z unless necessary reforms are made. We have work to do so the spectrum of options isn’t, high-paying jobs on one end and graduating college into minimum wage work on the other, with student loans and high rent to boot. Boomers and Gen-Xers should aspire for future generations of Americans to enjoy the same or more opportunities than they had.
Shelby Williams is the Managing Director of Empowered Women and currently resides in Washington, D.C. She’s passionate about supporting girls and women to seize opportunities and realize their full potential. In her spare time, Shelby enjoys nerding-out over non-fiction books and exploring the District’s booming restaurant scene.