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Unmotivated in the basement? A millennial responds

It’s easy enough to lump an entire generation together and label them lazy, as columnist Jennifer Graham did today on the Globe’s op-ed page. Her incendiary column proved once again the ease with which we millennials — the generation of Americans born between about 1980 and 2000 — can become a target by doing almost nothing to deserve it. Fine, we’ll take responsibility for Miley Cyrus. But Generation Y is the most educated and ethnically, culturally diverse one in the country’s history.

In talking about us, older Americans need to be willing to look past the couple of kids they happen to know who embody some imaginary millennial stereotype. If 6 million young people are indeed neither working nor studying not long after the worst recession in decades, it’s not because millennials are spoiled brats with no motivation.

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If American 20-somethings who grew up with the “four-car garage” lifestyle Graham describes are living in their parents’ basements, it’s because of the environmental factors surrounding their adolescences and young adulthoods.

It’s unfair to compare millennials to the boomers, or even Gen Xers, because it’s a different world. It’s apples and oranges. It’s Commodore 64s and iPads. Maybe we grew up with fancier toys, but today’s young adults have fewer opportunities.

Boomers lived in a world with its own form of privilege: They could get cushy jobs and support families with just a high school diploma. They also got the best value for everything they bought. They were able to afford suburban homes without going bankrupt, and could even maybe buy a house and a car on a middle-class salary. In short, boomers had options for upward mobility that no longer exist in today’s America.

Millennials, meanwhile, can’t get even an entry-level job without a college degree — which regularly means tens of thousands of dollars in student debt. Unpaid internships have now become a standard route into the workforce. All of this costs money we don’t have now and won’t have any time soon.

We suffer under the burdens of a collective trillion dollars of student loan debt, unwinnable wars (of which many millennials are veterans, thank you very much), a bloated federal budget, and an equal distrust of banks, the housing market, corporations, and the government.

We’ll never have the nice things we grew up with, mostly because boomers put all our “fancy pajamas” on their credit cards — and then passed the buck.

But it’s ok. We will make a better world out of the mess we’ve been handed. We’re scrappy, we’ll get by, and we’ll do it without the stability boomers had.

(Drops mic.) I’m out.

Alex Pearlman is a product manager for Boston.com and a member of the Globe’s editorial board.
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