We’re arguing for the right side, but our approach isn’t working.
College, health care, living wages. We’ve all seen these topics multiple times over recent years. Most of us, I assume, have read a number of blogs, articles, and essays on the issue, and have rather strong opinions on them, one way or the other. Often, it seems, these opinions are not articulated in the most productive matter.
I’ve seen many of my fellow millennials attempt to make the case for these programs and initiatives by laying out the facts, from how student loan debt currently exceeds $1.3 Trillion, to how my generation increasingly has had to delay livelihood milestones such as home ownership, starting a family, and, in some more extreme cases, moving out of our parents’ home in general. My experience thus far is that these arguments, regardless of how much data we use to support them or the projected consequences thereof, have largely fallen on deaf ears. More often than not, I receive or read comments that equate us to being “lazy” or expecting everything for free. These misrepresentations of my position seem to serve as little more than hasty attempts to shut down any further discussion of the issue at hand.
Allow me to take this chance, as a millennial, to explain why I support each of these programs. My goal is to illuminate certain motives that, while perhaps not widely held, are nonetheless important reasons to push for a living wage, universal healthcare, and publicly-funded education.
When I discuss and advocate for a living wage, I am not referring to anything like this absurd counterpoint of “Why not pay everyone $100 an hour?” Such ridiculous strawmen arguments serve no purpose but to misinterpret and redirect the conversation away from the issue at hand. I have not seen one serious advocate for such a drastic increase to the minimum wage; the closest argument is that, if the minimum wage had kept pace with the increase of productivity since the 60’s, it would be over $21/hr. What I, and most supporters of a higher minimum wage want, is for the minimum wage to do what it was intended to do: allow one adult to feed, clothe, and house themselves and their family with a full-time job, and have enough cash at the end to live life instead of merely exist.
I am all for discussing what that means in a time where both parents tend to work and millennials are delaying marriage and homeownership, but it does not change the fact that, in no place in the country is $7.25 an adequate wage. I’m not asking for a salary that would have let me purchase a Lambo straight out of high school; I want to be able to pay my bills, save some money, and pay for the occasional album or lunch date. You know, the kind of commodities that keep the economy going.
Hell, I’d like to have enough of a financial cushion that I could afford to be politically active. This probably isn’t something that crosses most peoples’ minds, but consider: I am currently breaking even with my income. For me to drive or take the bus anywhere requires about $5 minimum, which adds up pretty quickly when you don’t have a lot of money to spare. Anything on top of that, such as making signs or donating to whichever campaign, is currently not possible. I find it rather annoying that partaking in the most direct and basic part of democracy is not something I can do because of my income level.
With regards to income, I get it. Businesses are concerned that paying a higher wage and/or providing healthcare to their workers will be too great a burden. Here I must ask: why is it up to businesses to provide healthcare? Why is that not something we agree to provide one another? The rest of the developed world has figured out how to do this, and how to do it cheaply and more efficiently than here in the States. What is stopping us from copying them? “Well we’re not [Insert whichever country here]. It simply won’t work” sounds to me a lot like saying the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the history of the world is incapable of doing what nearly the entire rest of the world has already done. “It’s too expensive.” Again, these other countries manage to keep healthcare costs down. Most of them, it’s also worth noting, haven’t spent over $1 Trillion dollars over the past 12 years bombing the Middle East, nor do they devote $0.57 of every tax dollar to the military. Seems to me like we have our priorities mixed up when we can afford to flatten other nations while our own people die due to lack of coverage. I find it especially perplexing that a nation full of so many self-professed Christians does not think providing its citizens with healthcare to be one of its highest priorities.
I have essentially the same argument for tuition-free college; how is it that we can afford the world’s largest military, but cannot find $70 Billion to education our people? It’s not like we don’t have the resources. Be it through a few new taxes or reallocating what we already spend, we are more than capable of providing for each others’ needs if we really wanted to. “But I had to pay my way through college” says the person who grew up before everyone owned a cell phone. Isn’t the point of society, in some sense, to make the world a better place for those that follow? I am well aware of the fact that I’ll have finished my education before it will be tuition free; I would still much rather see my taxes go towards fueling the passions and intellect of the next group of kids than bombing their peers to ash halfway around the world, or bailing out the next corporate schmuck that crashes the economy.
My generation has seen perhaps the greatest degree of change of any who have come before. In my lifetime, I remember my parents going from vinyl records and cassette tapes to CDs to Google Play. I remember booting up Windows 95 and having to ask permission to use the phone line to access the internet, an action I can now do with a device that fits in my pocket from damn near wherever I choose. I also remember when the economy crashed in ’08, just months after turning 18 and graduating high school; my first thought was “There goes my future.” I am part of a generation that may well be worse off than our parents, with fewer stable, well-paying jobs, not social security or pensions, possibly no chance of retirement, infrastructure that was old when Reagan was in office (and ruined everything), and all anyone who bears the responsibility for that has said is “quit whining and get a REAL job.” Not one person has apologized for their part in crashing the economy (electing the officials that allowed it and failing to hold them accountable, not protesting the Middle East wars more vehemently or better working conditions… I could go on), and instead expects us to accept that they put our futures on the credit card so they could continue to enjoy the bubble Reaganomics convinced them was real.
We are not unwilling to work long and hard for our futures. Contrary to what you may think, we do not want things for free. We want our tax dollars to go towards helping each other and building each other up. We want employers to see us as valuable assets, not expenses to be minimized and overworked. We see what the rest of the world offers its people and wonder “why not us?” We don’t want handouts.
We want what’s rightfully ours.
Photo: Getty Images