I couldn’t stand millennials until I realized I was one

A sea of hires.
A sea of hires.
Image: AP/Mel Evans
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No one likes the term “millennial,” with its connotations of narcissism, laziness, and self-delusion. And yet it wasn’t until I was editing a piece on millennials, and my office debated the merits of the term for a global audience, that I realized I was one.

If the selfie generation is self-obsessed, it’s likely because marketing machines have only encouraged them to look inward. The US Chamber of Commerce Foundation believes at 80 million strong, they’re likely the most studied generation in history.

We, I mean. Or do I?

Millennial has become a catchall for everything right and wrong with the younger generation. In being used too broadly and frequently, it’s become meaningless for some of the nuances that differentiate us. It also covers a swath as wide, in some definitions, as those born from 1977 to the year 2000.

Everyone thinks they are distinct from the generation below them, but among millennials, there truly is a divide. Most importantly, the Great Recession: A group of us entered the workforce in a distinctly different economy from today’s graduates.

A recent survey conducted by Zogby Analytics looked at millennials in two cohorts—those born between 1979-1989 and those born 1990-1996. The older cohort was more apt to have a college degree, consider their current job a career, and less likely to have lost a job in the past 12 months. Older millennials were born to Baby Boomer parents and graduated college and entered the job market in a boom time. The younger set, which entered adulthood during the financial crisis, are products of Gen X-ers.

Proper millennials (the new kids) are entrepreneurial because they have had to be. In June, 40% of those unemployed in the US were millennials; one calculation found that 18-29 year olds had a 15.2% rate of unemployment compared to the national rate, which was 6.1%. Those of us who entered the job market in the early 2000s faced a rosier picture—a 30-year low in unemployment in 2000—despite a recession that began in 2001.

According to the US Department of Education (pdf), today’s college grads face depressed wages and a long-lasting difficulties in getting their careers off the ground. And that matters in their (our) outlook on the world and work.

A handy quiz from Pew Research informs me that I’m 75% millennial. I’ve felt anything but as I encounter new grads who drink coffee through a straw during an interview or respond with “k” over Gchat. Next year, the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts the majority of the US workforce will be millennials (75% by 2030), which will eventually be a fair amount of millennials managing millennials.

I graduated from college in 2004 and the job market was good, even if I was rudderless. The publishing world was beginning to grapple with the internet and I swiftly shifted my focus to digital the first chance I got. I had the luxury of time but the rest of my fellow millennials aren’t so lucky.

“Once they get going” and “hit their stride,” millennials are expected to help grow the US GDP by as much as 3%. Yet overeducated and underemployed sounds like the recipe for another generation that’s lost—not booming. And it’s one I can’t help but want to distance myself from.