Under President Trump, things are going very well in America. After experiencing 2.9 percent economic growth in 2018, we are currently enjoying structurally low unemployment, with historic lows for people of color, and close to 7 million jobs that have yet to be filled. Wages are up, inflation has remained in check and while there are always exceptions to the rule, overall, people should be feeling great, right?
Well, millennials missed the memo and feel like they haven’t participated in American prosperity at all, Charlotte Alter claims in a Time Magazine cover story on Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
Alter, who is herself a Harvard grad, the daughter of a famous journalist and TV producer and the sibling of a venture capitalist, unironically writes in a tweet: “People our age have never experienced American prosperity in our adult lives — which is why so many millennials are embracing Democratic socialism.” This on the back of a quote from Ocasio-Cortez in the piece that says, “’An entire generation, which is now becoming one of the largest electorates in America, came of age and never saw American prosperity,’ she says. ‘I have never seen that, or experienced it, really, in my adult life.’”
Whether this is an attempt at gaslighting or pure delusion, in America, things are so good that many young people don’t know the difference.
Ocasio-Cortez herself, who has spent most of her adulthood under the Obama administration, says that her current gig in Congress is, at age 29, her first full-time job — one that notably pays six figures. She attended a university that costs, according to estimates, more than $70,000 per year for tuition, fees, room and board. Even her signature lipstick, which gets a shout-out in the piece, retails for $22. This is hardly the profile of a person who is not enjoying prosperity.
Leaving Americans’ prosperity vs. most of the world aside, even versus days gone by, Americans are beyond blessed. In a report put together by the William J. O’Neil Center for Global Markets and Freedom at Southern Methodist Univesity, they compared consumption, wealth, health, safety and more between 2018 and 2015.
The data shows that consumption per capita has nearly doubled. People are spending less of their budget on food, clothing, shelter and utilities, and more on entertainment and recreation. The number of households with three or more Internet-connected devices went from zero to 90% and the working hours required to pay for gasoline to drive 1,000 miles decreased from 6.1 in 1980 to 2.7 in 2015.
Statistics show that life expectancy has increased while the death rate has decreased. That includes a sharp fall in deaths from heart disease and cancer. The work week has decreased and output per hour worked has nearly doubled, while work deaths and accidents have been cut sharply.
When I was growing up, doing research meant spending hours going through microfiche at the library. Today, a supercomputer in your pocket — the smart phone — can connect you to almost all the information ever created in a matter of seconds.
During my youth, an AIDS epidemic claimed the lives of young men by the thousands. Today, drug innovations can let one live a full life with HIV, and drugs can even be effective in its prevention.
Prosperity has seeped into everyday life in a way that goes unappreciated. Millennials are the generation of instant gratification, where food is delivered to them on demand, they can stream entertainment programming to their personal device at any moment from everywhere and they don’t even have to raise their hand to hail a cab or take the bus; setting up an Uber will get you transportation at a moment’s notice.
This is all amazing progress and prosperity, unless you take it for granted. Delayed gratification has been studied as a predictor of success. My father lived with my grandmother from the late 1950s to early 1970s — until he was 35, so he could have enough money saved to buy a house and start a family. The reason people have been successful in America is that they worked hard, they sacrificed and ultimately, their delay of gratification over enough years allowed them to experience better outcomes in later years.
The instant-gratification generation has forgotten that and expects you should enter adulthood with ease. They believe you should be able to live in any city — including those with limited space and policies that drive up prices — and have amazing living conditions right out of school. They are aghast that you might have to work extra hours if you took on extra debt or that you might forego an avocado toast brunch at the hip café and make your own meals in order to save for a home and family.
Whether it comes from not appreciating a time that didn’t have the prosperity of today or comparing themselves with select outliers who have done incredibly well — or perhaps just spreading the myth of "the other guy" — "I am doing OK, but I know a friend of a friend who isn’t" — millennials are becoming susceptible to the push toward socialism, an economic system that has never produced prosperity. While they have a real-time, real-life example of a country destroyed by socialism in Venezuela to demonstrate its perils, millennials ignore the facts to live in their own strange fiction.
All business cycles end and things will ultimately eventually turn down from here. So, if you know a millennial who doesn’t believe they are prosperous, stage an intervention now and explain the difference between gratification and instant gratification — before their ignorance becomes a catalyst to destroy the economic foundation of this country.
It has always paid to be an optimist in America. Millennials need a dose of history and reality.