There seem to be plenty of stories in the media these days about how the Boomers have all the economic clout while the Millennial generation suffers under the weight of student debt, low wages, underemployment and – above all – stratospheric real estate prices.
Just to rub it in, I post the above pic of Maria and me at Hamlet’s castle in 2006. (Kidding! I’m kidding!)
I understand the effect that debt and soaring real estate can have on the family budget, but I’m not sure how any Boomer could have prevented the low interest rates and higher university costs of the past 20 years. Nor were we all that much better off in our mid-30s than millennials today. Honestly.
Looking back to say 1985, we were just getting out of debt ourselves and interest rates were around 15% back then. I had not yet started to accrue any sort of retirement pension, I had a rather pathetic RRSP, and little in the way of savings. A house in the 416 area code was cheaper than today, but I had no chance of owning one. I had to live in the ‘burbs and commute if I needed to go downtown.
Granted I was lucky to come out of school when I did. I had a STEM degree in 1969, and there wasn’t a lot of competition for jobs in industry. I didn’t need a postgraduate degree to get hired. Although my job was far more interesting than a factory worker’s, that blue-collar guy at GF Cobourg was getting paid more than I was in the late 1960s. Maria was certainly not overpaid as a teacher in those days either – and she needed 2 degrees to get her position.
The Millennials feel they are trapped because they can’t buy anything and have to live at home. Before I got married, I lived in a boarding house and later roomed with an elderly lady in Cobourg. I never had the option to live at home. No job there.
All 4 of my nieces are Millennials. All have the advantage of a university education. One actually works in a university. Another has traveled the world and seen more at age 27 than I have at age 72. She gets paid to do it. A third niece is an accountant, working hard to get ahead in her profession. A fourth is in an interesting program at McMaster and hopes to go into law.
Granted these are 4 exceptional young women, and it’s a small sample size, but I don’t see any lack of opportunity for them. I would say that in their own ways they are doing as well as I did at the same age. True, only one is a real estate owner but the others aren’t tied down in their twenties.
I hear a lot today about how student debt has blighted the Millennial life. I can’t say that I had much experience of debt back in the 60s, although many of my fellow students did. I chose to live a Dickensian life at university to avoid it. In my final year, I got a student award which was partially loan and partially grant. I spent the grant on tuition and repaid the loan when I got a job. I had a car loan and a mortgage soon enough.
I also hear that the Millennials fear they won’t eventually be better off than their parents. I was pretty sure we would do better than our parents but they had been children of the Depression and World War 2. To do better economically was not a lofty goal. But it still took us into our 40s before we could say that we realized it. No young person today can hope to be better off at 30 than a typical Boomer who is 35 years older. Not if the Boomer made good use of his personal capital. Well maybe if the younger person started Facebook.
I’m not complaining about my lot in life, and I acknowledge that the younger folks likely have it harder today than I did starting out. Certainly they face a lot more pressure to perform according to the boss’s standards – or McKinsey’s. But it wasn’t a perfect trajectory from school to retirement for me, any more than it will be for them. Nuff said.