A new book on the tension between boomers and millennials is required reading for those eager to bridge generational divides.
Millennial journalist and author Jill Filipovic is mad as hell and, it turns out, with good reason. Her new book, OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind, makes a convincing case that millennials aren’t, as the stereotype goes, “indulged, immature, hypersensitive, narcissist[s].” They just have it much harder than we boomers ever did.
Filipovic calls the book “a true reckoning with the consequences of Boomer politics” and a “peace offering to those Boomers who are worried about the world they’re leaving to their children.” Peace offering accepted, but the book is an angry one. I’d call it a hammer, full of blame and harsh truths that can’t be dismissed.
I’m afraid we need to hear them. As Filipovic writes, “peace deals aren’t brokered with platitudes. We won’t reconcile this generational divide or move beyond it if we don’t take a hard and sometimes uncomfortable look at what caused it.”
So prepare to squirm, fellow boomers. Here are six key takeaways from OK Boomer, Let’s Talk.
1. Most millennials are worse off than most baby boomers ever were. Millennials are tired of being slammed as snowflakes, condescended to, and blamed for spending on avocado toast and coffee instead of saving up to buy homes. And they’re not even young anymore. The oldest millennials are nearing 40 and, Filipovic writes, they’re not making “the leaps” their parents made at comparable ages.
Instead, she writes, they’re “trying to walk up the down escalator” — still coping with the setbacks of the 2008 recession, buried under college debt, unable to find affordable housing and health care, and now dealing, as we all are, with the pandemic and record unemployment.
Consider this: Like boomers, millennials are 22 percent of the U.S. population. Unlike boomers, millennials hold only 3 percent of the nation’s wealth. At the same age, boomers held 20 percent of the country’s wealth.
A year of college in my day wasn’t more than an average American’s annual income. My first car cost $500. Rent and home costs in cities weren’t sky high. And most of us got jobs — not gigs — that covered health insurance. It was a lot easier to live comfortably on entry-level wages.
2. Surveys show that boomers and millennials are actually close, when they know each other. “Boomers were the original parent-friends,” Filipovic writes, “developing relationships with their children that put authority aside in favor of genuine respect and mutual connection.” I’m glad I get mom-points for that!
Still, in the wider world, there’s tension. As Filipovic notes, “‘OK Boomer’ doesn’t mean my Boomer. I’m talking about Boomers out in the wild.”
This certainly argues that more relationships between unrelated boomers and millennials and less segregation by age — in schools, jobs and housing — would make a big difference in easing tensions overall.
3. Broadly speaking, boomers are the bad guys. Brace yourself for this blast from Filipovic: “[M]uch of what Boomers did for the benefit of their own kids their generation didn’t do for society at large. Instead they hoarded resources for themselves. They redirected tax dollars toward their own entitlements and away from investments in younger generations, enjoying the security of Medicare and Social Security while we struggle to get decent health care and look forward to empty federal coffers when we retire. They refused to adequately combat the threat of climate change. They walked back earlier progress toward racial equality, which left our more diverse generations broke and struggling. They allowed the gap between the wealthiest few and the poorest many to expand into a vast gulf. So yes, we’re a little resentful. And when Boomers then berate us for a litany of perceived flaws? We get angry.”
Wow. I need a minute of yoga breathing — and maybe a decade of regret. Sure, I’ve worked hard for social change all my life, as so many boomers have. But I think we have to acknowledge that much has gotten worse on our watch. When viewed from a generational lens (which is what Filipovic is asking us to do), it looks a lot like “damn the future, give me what’s mine.”
4. Race and inequity are at the heart of the generational divide. Enter the so-called “gray-brown divide.” Boomers are 80 percent white; Millennials are 40 percent people of color. A generation that was largely white had it easier because, well, we were largely white. Millennials have it harder, in part, because they’re more diverse.
Consider the disparate impact of wage discrimination, racial profiling, police brutality, incarceration rates and generational trauma. Not to mention land and housing policies that rob people of color of inherited wealth and public school financing that explicitly and deliberately benefits the white and the wealthy.
Forty percent of Millennials — many more if you include their Gen Z children — are dealing with all of the above and more. I think their pain can be heard in every protest since George Floyd was killed. We all have so much more work to do.
5. Fox News is intentionally stoking the generational war. “Generational warfare is nothing new,” Filipovic writes. “What’s different now…is that there is a moneyed system interested in sowing generational discord and stoking fear.”
Consider this (I hadn’t): Fox News regularly floods a largely older, white audience with stories about young people of color storming the borders and the barricades. Keeping boomers “aggrieved, annoyed and afraid is good for business,” Filipovic writes. “The result: a ginned-up generation war.”
We need that about as much as we need, well, Fox News.
6. Boomers are hoarding power. With two septuagenarians running against one another for president — one of whom was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972! — it’s hard to argue that we’re passing the baton.
“[N]early 80 percent of senators and two-thirds of the U.S. House of Representatives are 55 or older,” Filipovic writes. “Just 7 percent” of House members are Millennials. “And there is not a single Millennial in the U.S. Senate.”
So Filipovic asks us — perhaps a bit too politely — to slide over. “We need you to vote with all our futures in mind….We need you to see that we will make this country, and this world, better if you’ll let us. Mostly, we need you to hand over, or at least share, the reins of power. Give us a hand, Boomer — okay?”
But one last point: As much as I wish some boomers would go away, most of us can’t just step off the stage. We may live into our 90s or beyond, and we can’t afford 30 years without income. Many of us don’t want a single year without purpose. And the world truly does need our experience.
So let’s make room for all ages in the seats of power. And let’s do it together. There really is no other way.