Most People Aren’t Spending Five Dollars on Coffee
Here we go again…
Right now, I’m reading yet another article that claims young activists are out buying $5 lattes and $14 cocktails. Who are these people? I don’t know any. I live in a midsize town in flyover country. My idea of a luxury meal is a microwave dinner. Anyway, the article goes on to blame young people for their problems, while insisting we’re not entitled to anything, regardless of how hard we work or how much we save.
It even blames us for inflation.
Finally, it tells us to give up on ever trying to change the system. It tells us to abandon the vast majority of our social, political, and environmental causes. It describes our efforts as futile.
Instead, we should hustle.
Yes, hustle as wildfire smoke blankets a third of the country and we spend an entire summer under air quality alerts. Hustle as heat domes kill essential workers by the dozen and state governments refuse mandatory water breaks. Hustle as the Supreme Court strips away your rights and protections, one by one, while using your tax money on armed guards to shield them from protestors.
Hustle as a growing number of politicians on both sides talk about taking away your social security after you spend decades paying for older generations to retire. Hustle as they say things like, “Young people will have plenty of time to plan for that.”
In other words, it’s okay to screw us over.
It’s okay to steal from us.
We’ll get over it.
The web is full of affluent or child-free 40 somethings who feel qualified to tell us how to spend our money. They complain about falling birthrates, then they ask us why we dared to start a family.
They think they know us.
These articles are always written by someone who makes an entire career out of beating up on younger generations while offering the most toxic stereotypes and lazy financial advice they can find. If they’re not beating up on us, they’re beating up on poor people. They get handpicked by editors and promoted all over the internet.
Sometimes, it’s hard to stomach.
In reality, the average Gen Z worker barely makes $30,000 a year. The average monthly cost of rent in the U.S. hovers around $1700. Anyone who blames young people for this doesn’t have their facts straight. They’re simply tossing out stereotypes for clicks.
They find it comforting.
Over the last 72 hours, I’ve been bombarded with articles telling me to smile more, socialize, dine out, and talk to strangers every day. The authors insists these activities will restore our mental health and give us energy. They’ll make us feel better about things. They warn us about the mental health risks of “complaining too much.” They tell us to eat at regular times, as if we’re a bunch of errant children.
It’s a little insulting.
Gen Z is accumulating debt and falling behind on it faster than any previous generation. The media blames their spending habits and their “demand” for luxury goods, but they never list specifics. I wonder what counts as a luxury good these days:
A place to live?
Rest assured, millennials and zoomers gave up on the American dream a long time ago, but it’s even worse now. We’re not even sure we’ll survive. McKinsey says we’re struggling with mental health more than any generation, “although the underlying cause remains unclear.” They blame our phones, but that’s an excuse.
I have some theories:
Maybe we’re struggling with our mental health because, at any given moment, a third of us can’t breathe clean air. Maybe it’s because we have two or three jobs, and we put in more unpaid overtime than previous generations. Maybe it’s because every time we open our mouths, someone tells us to work harder or vote blue.
Ten years ago, the media pumped out the exact same kinds of stories about millennials and our mental health, our poor spending habits, and our lazy entitlement. They blamed our poverty on smartphones and flat screen televisions. It was a rare surprise when an economist put the reason where it belonged, corporate greed.
Nobody ever asks an ordinary young person what they think. They interview rich people’s kids.
They find a hustle bro.
Even as supposedly liberal newspapers talk about the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down student loan forgiveness, they can’t help but point out how “expensive” it would’ve been. They never do that when it comes to wars and military spending or search and rescue efforts for billionaires. When it comes to those things, it’s always worth it.
It’s never a question of money.
That’s how it goes.
So, I shouldn’t want a house anymore?
You know, I tried living in apartments for 15 years. I lived in apartments without heat or air conditioning. I lived in apartments where the light and noise pollution shredded my sleep. I lived in apartments where roaches crawled into bed with me at night. I lived in apartments where drunk frat boys sang in the stairwell at 2 in the morning and told me things like, “You’re angry because you wanted to hear us.”
I lived in apartments where the landlord decided to bring renovation crews in at 7 am on Saturday mornings.
Those were the ones I could afford.
In many cities, a monthly mortgage payment doesn’t cost much more than an average rental payment. At least with a mortgage, you eventually own something. When you rent, you simply throw that money into the ether. Banks don’t deny people mortgages because they don’t have enough money. They deny them mortgages out of spite.
So I shouldn’t be engaging in activism?
You know, I’ve tried hustling. It works extremely well for dudes, especially the kind who goes around telling everyone to smile more and hum to themselves when they’re feeling down. It works well for women who want to bash feminism and tell us to try harder.
It doesn’t work so well for everyone else.
Most of the time, I have to shrug it all off. I can’t spend my day thinking about the extreme levels of abuse young people are subjected to on a daily basis, all for the sake of the economy.
Sometimes, I can’t.
The smugness burns through my mental armor. I honestly wonder why things are like this. I wonder why everyone expects our labor, our sacrifices, and our votes without giving us anything in return except false promises and long, condescending lectures.
It’s not our $5 coffees.
I’m pretty sure.