Jack Ohman

May 18, 2014

Jack Ohman: I’m optimistic about millennials, but they’re not

I’m currently in the business of raising three millennials. Trust me, it’s a business.

Jack Ohman

Editorial cartoonist, writer and Joe King’s alter ego

I’m currently in the business of raising three millennials.

Trust me, it’s a business. I guess I’ve spent something like $100,000, more or less, in helping them. And that’s my half. My ex-wife has kicked in a similar amount, too. Less fortunate people I know have had to take out massive college loans, or their kids have. My two oldest have some student debt, but it’s chump change compared to an acquaintance of mine who took out $250,000 for their kids against their mortgage and then saw the housing market collapse.

Send Goldman Sachs the bill, right? Good luck. Just give them a bonus.

Maybe that’ll provide stimulus in the Hamptons.

My oldest son is about to graduate from college this semester, my daughter is in graduate school, and my youngest son is a sophomore in college, as well. Each of them has their own strengths and talents, and I am hopeful that things will work out for the best in their chosen careers.

I am not convinced they are hopeful.

As a slovenly greedy tail-ender baby boomer, I think our generation has taken everything the system can offer and then some. Some of my fellow generational cohorts have muttered angrily about what they perceive as a lack of initiative on the part of millennials, but that hasn’t been my personal experience.

I have seen this generation apply for job after job, jobs that would have been ours for the taking in 1978, and those jobs are simply nonexistent. Nonexistent hiring managers don’t care whether millennials have initiative or not.

When I was around my children’s ages, say late teens to early 20s, it wasn’t exactly a banner economy, either. The economy during the Carter administration was anemic and, at one time, featured seriously double-digit interest rates. I recall buying a car with a 20 percent interest rate. You couldn’t move a lot of iron with those numbers now, right? We all love our zero-percent financing, particularly if you have a job. Then we headed into a very serious recession under The Halycon Era of Ronald Reagan, and unemployment was pretty comparable to what we saw in 2008-11.

So I’ve been to this recession rodeo several times. But my kids haven’t, and it’s killing their joie de vivre and sense of optimism. People in their 20s shouldn’t have their souls killed. We need them to be happy, reproduce and build a greater economy, too.

I recall having a chat with my father a few years ago. He grew up during the Great Depression, where the unemployment rate was 25 percent. I was lamenting the banking crisis, how it all seemed rigged, and how I was falling behind. He, on the other hand, was a comfortably retired federal employee who had a full pension and medical benefits. Life was very good for him, and he had earned it. He had almost $1 million in savings. He wasn’t putting kids through school.

I noted that my college tuition at the University of Minnesota in 1980 ran about $1,000 per year. His was about $300 per year. When I mentioned my daughter’s was $40,000 per year, he was aghast but remonstrative about my pessimism.

“The United States is the strongest economy in the world. Why can’t you see that? Relax. It’ll get better.”

The United States wasn’t writing my checks to Knox College, but I stopped the conversation. He didn’t get it.

My kids currently have no expectations about owning a home or, for that matter, most any other economic trapping I enjoy. They scan through want ads, seeing jobs that pay $8.50 an hour. Some of my fellow baby boomers are doing that, too, after being laid off from their high-five-figure jobs.

During the Great Depression, there was an entire generation of people who couldn’t pull together a coherent job history. They drifted into the 1940s unable to compete with people who were younger and faster: the war vets and the defense factory workers. The millennials face a similar fate, and it’s hard to watch.

So I will drive my zero-percent-financed car, go to my lovely home and worry about my kids. It’s what I do. I will listen to them talk about their prospects each night, and listen. And, undoubtedly, write them another check until they can find something. And when they do, it’ll be a great day indeed. I’m optimistic.

They’re not.

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