Frustration of Millennials in personal anecdotes and experiences; need sociological perspective

Reading through these stories of Millennials regarding the tough economic times they face, I came to a realization: this is almost exclusively based on personal anecdotes and experiences. The comments are not much better were Millennials and Baby Boomers engage in unhelpful discourse about which generation did the worst things.

In these particular situations, a sociological perspective would be quite helpful. Yes, the economy is bad and Millennials face unique challenges. But, every generation has faced its own crises and challenges. Citing one’s own personal experience and perhaps those of friends and relatives can only go so far in illuminating the bigger picture. We need a broader, less emotional view of the whole situation: Millennials aren’t the only ones feeling the effects of a weak economy or a society that is adjusting to new globalized realities. Looking back, I suspect we will see this period as a fairly important moment in the United States and the world as economies, governments, and societies change their course.

It is interesting to read that some Millennials suggest that “society” suggested one path would be open (generally, the quick realization of the American Dream) but in reality, this path was much harder to walk or is impossible to even start on. This disconnect between expectations and outcomes is intriguing in itself.

One other thought: while there are just a few stories here, I see little mention of where Millennials turn in these times of difficulty. To families? To friends? To religion? Is a job/career really all there is?

Bonus coverage on the theme of generational conflict: a higher percentage of Baby Boomers than one might think plan to leave their children no inheritance.

0 thoughts on “Frustration of Millennials in personal anecdotes and experiences; need sociological perspective

  1. Brian, playing a bit of the devil’s advocate here, what exactly do you mean by “a sociological perspective”?  And why exactly would one “be quite helpful”?  Helpful to whom and for what purpose?

    Going on “pure data” from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (available here), I find the following seasonally-unadjusted August 2011 unemployment rates:

    all 20-24 years olds:  14.5%

    all 25-29 year olds:  10.2%

    These are astoundingly high numbers, and I think The Atlantic’s coverage in this article provides a useful “fleshing out” of abstract numbers, showing what they represent at the level of actual human experiences (at least for some).  To be sure, all such examples are necessarily anecdotal.  But that doesn’t make them any less true for these people sharing their own experiences and perspectives.

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    • Which of the tables on this page are you looking at exactly?

      You are correct: the stories are true. However, the more complete story, I would argue, is in the numbers (and their impact) rather than the individual stories. How do these numbers compare to past numbers? How do these unemployment figures affect the future lives of those who can’t find jobs? How does this affect society? This past article from The Atlantic, “How A New Jobless Era Will Transform America,” takes this approach. It’s not just this age group that is affected: it includes people across the American public and the consequences can be long lasting. The stories give us some idea that there are bigger problems: expectations about jobs and careers, an economy that has had difficulty adding jobs, the stage of emerging adulthood that has developed with its unique stresses, and so on. As I suggested, the response to the letters in the comments section (I know, not exactly a reflection of reality) quickly turned into one-upmanish and generational conflict.

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    • Re: BLS.gov data:  I can’t link to it directly because it’s a custom query of their database through an in-browser Java client.  To replicate, go to the “Unemployment” heading, click “One-Screen Data Search” under “Labor Force Statistics including the National Unemployment Rate,” and run your query.

      Re: “the more complete story, I would argue, is in the numbers”:  I simply disagree with your characterization.  The Atlantic has been running many, many stories on unemployment in America from a variety of perspectives, not just the Millennials’.  You seem to be (1) unaware of the scope of The Atlantic’s previous reporting, (2) expecting this particular article to summarize all previous reporting, or (3) saying that any discussion of unemployment that doesn’t simply stick to “the numbers” is trafficking in dubious anecdotalism.

      I don’t think it’s (1) or (2), and I doubt (3) is a precise summary of your thinking.  To the degree that (3) reflects your position, however, I repeat my contention that “this article provides a useful ‘fleshing out’ of abstract numbers, showing what they represent at the level of actual human experiences.”  Indeed, such anecdotes seem to be the only way to get at certain kinds of empirical data that are not easily or fully captured by simple numbers—especially when those simplified numbers are then further abstracted through various statistical manipulations.  As John Maynard Keynes said in Monetary Reform, “The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is past the ocean is flat again.”  Numbers and statistics are certainly a useful tool, but they can’t tell us everything and they leave out a lot.

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  2. So we disagree…

    Yes, I am aware of The Atlantic’s reporting on the topic and really liked the previous article that I linked to that didn’t rest solely on stories/anecdotes and took a broader perspective. But, I think we could ask whether the average reader/Internet browser would know whether The Atlantic has comprehensively covered the subject. If not, what does this particular story do? In a more complete context of stories plus data plus broad overviews, these stories have a place. As a stand-alone piece, I am more skeptical.

    Numbers don’t tell us everything and they can be intentionally and unintentionally manipulated. (For example, I’ve posted before about how unemployment is measured in the US and there are more people asking questions about whether this is the “right” way.) But stories are not terribly reliable either unless we have some sort of systematic collection of them (and soliciting emails from readers and choosing some of them for unclear reasons is nowhere near systematic).

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  3. Pingback: Should kids be playing Monopoly rather than Settlers of Catan during this economic crisis? | Legally Sociable

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