A participation trophy for my generation

Column by Michael Alcorn
Posted 4/30/21

We have failed. I say this to my generation. We have failed in this: is it not the unspoken (or spoken) desire of every generation of Americans (at least since the industrial revolution) to make the …

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A participation trophy for my generation


We have failed.

I say this to my generation. We have failed in this: is it not the unspoken (or spoken) desire of every generation of Americans (at least since the industrial revolution) to make the lives of their children better than the lives we had? Isn’t that, as parents, educators, public policy citizens, what we’re supposed to do? And, in any way, have we come close to achieving that?

I know — I like to make fun of millennials as much as anybody. But, seriously, they didn’t do this to themselves: they’re not the ones who insisted on not keeping score, they’re not the ones who provided orange slices at halftime, and they’re not the ones who gave trophies even to kids who never showed up at practice.

But, those aren’t really the bigger problems they face. There is a certain softness and lack of resilience that we bred into them with all of those small offences, but then we turned them loose into a world that requires more resilience and mental fortitude than we ever did.

We have created a world in which my daughter, going out apartment hunting last week, has to attempt to build a personal budget around rent which is almost three times as much as my first mortgage. And, I get it — I’m old, and inflation does its thing. But if her salary right now is twice what mine was at age 25, and her housing costs are thrice what mine were, then how far behind is she falling every month?

So, what kind of an apartment can she find on that budget? Not bad, really. It’s a decent upgrade in quality and space from where she’s lived before, and the neighborhood is significantly better, so we’re quite happy about that. She’ll share the cost with a roommate — like I did with my wife — so there’s also that opportunity to learn the all-important life skill of living with another human. So, it’s all a part of what was supposed to happen at this point in life for her.

But renting is throwing money away — the trick is owning, right? The problem with that is that rent is so high that no millennial can set aside the money necessary to accumulate that all-important down payment. Sure, there are down payment assistance programs and the like, but those require credit, and the process of building credit is not quite as simple as you’d like it to be.

And then there’s the issue of college debt. The College Board estimates that the average cost of a year of schooling at a four-year public university in 2019-20 was roughly $22,000 — that is almost the exact amount of money I had between scholarships and savings to get me through *four* years in Boulder, and I accumulated so little debt as to not be worth mentioning. The average college graduate these days has almost $30,000 in debt.

So, here’s your carousel: assuming you survive school shootings, the opioid epidemic, and awful teenage suicide statistics, we absolutely expect you to go to college, where you will accumulate enormous debt getting a degree that 40% of the time is useless (only 60% of U.S. jobs require degrees, and that’s a dubious number), then go out into the world to live in a rat den that costs most of your salary, whereupon we will add your student loan payments at the least opportune moment, and place you in a world where your only social contact is in your phone. And then we will point you towards a house that you can’t possibly afford and expect you to feel pretty good about your future.

And then make fun of you for being snowflakes.

Sorry, kids. We had good intentions, but we really screwed this up for you. If we could have known all our systemic “fixes” were gonna mess things up so bad, we would have withheld the orange slices. Ya’ know, to toughen you up a bit. 

Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Valkyrie’s Kiss,” which is a finalist in the ScreenCraft Book Competition, is available now at michaeljalcorn.net. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.

Michael Alcorn


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