In reporting recently on the difficulty that financial services companies have when trying to pitch to members of my generation, I found myself taking out-of-place shots at the way Baby Boomers talk about our generation. Having graduated into widespread turmoil in the economy, with massive debts on our backs to pay for degrees that don’t necessarily align with the needs of a globally competitive economy, Generation Y (I hate that term) is still frequently blamed for its own inability to completely turn the economy around. We’re decried as listless, lazy, self-involved and constantly-in-front-of-the-computer.

Vivek Patankar/flickr source

Perhaps the pinnacle of the callousness of this mindset comes from one Eric Chester, an author and speaker who may or may not have coined the term “Generation Why?” — get it? Last fall he released a book called Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce. Chester’s book is a guide for managers curious how to motivate their slacker Millenial employees, who Chester can not help but portray as addicted to their cellphones and covered in piercings and tattoos. Don’t believe me? Watch the rap video he made to go along with the book:

Chester is not impressed, and neither would you be if your employees were actually anything like these slack-jawed, iPhone-addicted jerks. But young people aren’t actually like this — when was the last time you went to a restaurant and found your server or bartender to be texting instead of waiting on you? It doesn’t happen because managers don’t let it happen — it’s incredibly easy to fire unskilled non-union employees like waiters, and they get fired frequently. My generation’s addiction to communications devices isn’t some crisis of productivity, just a minor managerial hurdle — the sort that doesn’t really require a book (or a rap song) to explain.

Entitled to a job at Starbucks, or in Afghanistan

As to Chester’s assertion that people of my generation feel entitled to better, more meaningful work: well, yeah. Those of us who have been able to even find a job have not entered the same economy that Baby Boomers did in the 60’s and early 70’s. The opportunities are far fewer, especially in the long term. A recent survey of 4 million Facebook profiles found that the top five employers listed by 20-somethings are as follows: The U.S. Military, Walmart, Starbucks, Target and Best Buy. What more could we possibly want but to serve our Baby Boomer overlords in a tightly-regulated corporate environment with little room for advancement? Apparently, to go risk our lives fighting land wars of choice in Asia.

Faced with all this, the Eric Chesters of the world scoff at ear piercings and text messages (in rap form.) Chester’s cultural memory might be a bit short. It was not long ago that his generation (or at least one quite close to his — it’s not easy to find out how old he is, though I’d guess he’s in his 50s) was faced with a land war of choice in Asia and bad job prospects. Young people were furious. The Students for a Democratic Society got together in 1962 and drafted up a manifesto that came to be known as the Port Huron Statement. Among their concerns was that their working lives be meaningful, and they not be replaced by machines. Here is their vision for the type of work they deserve:

His work, both present and future, should be educative, not stultifying; creative, not mechanical; self-directed, not manipulated. Around this experience men invariably will come to form their habits, their perceptions, their social ethics. It is imperative that work encourage independence, respect for others, a sense of dignity and a willingness to accept social responsibilities.

This is one of the defining documents of the Baby Boomer generation — a generation that was born into the most prosperous United States that ever was, that had to pay next to nothing for college (by today’s standards), and could buy a house on a union wage. And they want more? My goodness, the entitlement of these beatniks, with their stupid poetry and baggy clothes! And most of these kids probably didn’t have to hold a job while they were in college, nor did they graduate with much debt.

The worst thing about this attitude that Baby Boomers have toward my generation is the political effects. If you think my generation’s problems are one of our own making, and not a crisis of capitalism that we’re only just starting to understand, you likely won’t want our government to invest in creating new jobs. And as an aging person, you likely won’t vote to reduce Medicare and Social Security, the real entitlements in this conversation, which make up an astonishingly large portion of our national budget, and which will be milked dry by aging Baby Boomers and a stagnant economy.

Eric Chester’s rhetoric, while he seems to want to help, only encourages fellow Boomers to pull up the ladder behind them. That would be unconscionable and destructive.

My generation has the right attitude for turning the economy around. We idolize people like Steve Jobs and Jay-Z — part-artists, part-entrepreneurs. We make artisanal pickles and cell-phone apps — the sort of things that Baby Boomers, back when they were young, would have written off as bourgeois and banal. Boomers called for revolution in the 60’s and voted for Reagan in the 80’s. They’ve left us with an incredibly unequal, corporation-dominated economy and government. Then they they call us entitled for wanting a better future.

But you know what, Eric, a better world is what we want. And we’re willing to work hard for that.

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  • kdaAZ

    Willy Staley makes some valid points, but he completely ignores the responsibility all generations now face to unwind this entitlement society that our huge and ever more intrusive government has built in America.  The challenge now is for everyone to realize we need to quit blaming each other.  We need to focus on getting this “cradle to grave” government to back off and back out of our lives.  
    As a senior, I partially blame myself for not paying enough attention as my government grew ever larger, more powerful and more intrusive even as they were taking my earnings to buy the votes of others … so the corrupt greedy self centered politicians could stay fat and remain in power.  And realizing my part in this I will stand still and not scream when they have to cut my Social Security and Medicare if, at the same time, they take the drunks and druggies and obese fatties off of Social Security Disability.  When they quit sending monthly checks to perfectly healthy people who hand out on street corners daily selling / using drugs.  When they get serious about doing at least one thing right, like stopping the massive waste and fraud in Medicare and which, in fact, permeates all levels of government.  When our government quits deciding it knows enough about our lives to pick winners and losers with grants and tax breaks, or country will begin to recover and life will get better for all of us.  Who ever thought a bunch of self-centered power hungry politicians were qualified to “push” citizens into this behavior or into make that purchase by taking my money and giving it to someone else … to buy a certain car, for example.  

    Until we quit playing their game and “blaming each other” and until we realize the real reason our country has come to this tragically low point, we will continue to lose.  And our way of life and any hope for a better future will most certainly end. Itis time to address the real problem.  

    • The real fraud in Medicare comes from the fact that our gov’t doesn’t interfere enough. While they pay for old folks’ health care, they don’t sit down at the table to set price ceilings on treatments with health care providers, meaning that private corporations raise prices knowing the gov’t will pay for it. We pay the most for healthcare of any industrial nation because of this dynamic — and we’re the least healthy, too.

      Wanting entitlements but not governmental regulation tends to lead to these artificial increases in prices that line the pockets of rent-seeking corporations and take money from hard working Americans — college tuition and home prices are two other good examples of this dynamic. 

  • TSJ

    Let the generation wars start!  One thing all generations need to know is that the older generation paid for the younger generations education and the younger generation will pay for the older generations SS and Medicare.

    Children we are all in this together and the sooner we respect that the better for all of us.

    • I think young people would agree with this mindset, and it’s small-minded rural baby boomers who would not. They’re the dangerous element in our society, not my generation.

  • Steamguy

    Gen-Y work? Where? I can’t find them.
    I am a boomer.  in ’06 I saw what as happening to my retirement and started buying up derilict houses and converting them to mid range rental units.  In 6 years I have created a debt-free retirement for myself and my family thru hard work. Now I actually can retire with a continuing income for life.
    Here is the  rub.  I have offered to mentor the younger generation in my social circle to become independant and set for life with investment of nothing more than 4 years of hard work. Of the 6 Gen-Yers, NONE have accepted the the offer. “I won’t fix toilets” “I won’t paint’ ‘that work is too hard’ or’ too dirty’ or too…..Yet they all want to start at the top and they are hanging around living off mom and dad waiting for the big money.
    You can whine about how hard working Gen-Y is. I guess when you compare yourself to them you are  hard working by that standard. 
    When I was a kid there was no cell phones, internet and a most of todays modern convieniences.  We as a generation invented them and built them for you, the next generation.  What are you doing to build for the generation following you? You can’t even figure out how to build for yourselves so the answer is obvious.
    BTW, the 60’s radicals you quoted were all about ‘tearing down the military-industrial complex’.  They did a really good job at that.  I can see why they are your heros.  If you want to be successful, look at the builders like Carnegie, Edison, Bell, Wright Brothers and their contemporaries.
    You look to the SDS for your mentors? All they are about is milking the productive people to give to the non-productive.  Good luck in your world.  Your going to need it. I have worked hard all of my life.  I earned every bit of that social security.  I earned every bit of that medicare. Those programs are not in trouble for the people who put that money asside for their old age. They are in trouble because they have become welfare agencies to those who never contributed.  And yes Willy, we are pulling up the ladder to keep what we have earned. We are perfectly willing to mentor you to support yourselves, but we are not willing to have you hang off of our teats sucking us dry all the time telling us how bad off you are.

    • I think you just proved my point, Steamguy. You’ve worked your whole life, and made enough money to buy many homes, providing you retirement income IN ADDITION to the Social Security you’ll receive (unless you’ll opt out?). You were born into the best society America ever had, or ever will have, and you think that everything you have was earned by the skin of your teeth — that’s not the case. 

      History will soon show that the Baby Boomer generation rode this country into the ground with this incredibly unselfconscious attitude. 

    • Xait

      The writer EXPLICITLY railed against what you just said! You grew up in excellent times! The cost of goods were lower, and there were more blue collar, unskilled jobs that paid amazing wages you can’t find in modern America. If you wanted to go skilled, you could get an entire college year’s education for $1500, and a degree for less than $5000, adjusted for today’s wages!

      So, let me get this straight: You and most people in your generation worked really hard your whole life and now everyone in my generation is a worthless lazy bum? I guess society is doomed – this is the last generation that ever will be. It’s the logical conclusion of your complaining.

      But you know what? You’re wrong. When you’re dead, we’ll still be here. When you’re rotting, we’ll still be building. And when every last memory of your existence has faded, and your name is absolutely nothing but dust in the wind – humanity will still be here.

      Get over yourself. The world doesn’t end with your generation. It doesn’t end with mine.

  • KDSoCalNative

    Next time you hear a “baby boomer” criticizing “generation y” (or whatever you want to call it), ask the boomer this question: Yeah, and this generation that ended up being the thing you criticize…. who raised them? That’s right, boomer, look in the mirror. Really…boomers criticizing another generation!? Sheesh!

  • Bud

    The problem is that a relatively small number of very wealthy people, who don’t care about the rest of us (they call us roaches and “the great unwashed”, etc.) have created agenda 21 and the Map representing what they are going to do with the country when their NWO is in place. Its not about Medicare and our entitlements anymore: in fact, it never was. Its about recognizing that the taxes are not to help us, but to control us, and the Federal Reserve is “The Creature From Jeckyl Island” and is of worse than doubious design. There’s more, but there is enough here.
    He is right about the Corporate control. This is a corpritocracy, and since government is controlled by THEM and is no longer by and for the people, we have a form of fascism at work here.

  • calcollytransplant

    Can I just say that I agree with both the article writer AND the author that is targeted by the article? Gen Y is not to blame for the recent economic crisis. You can lay that at Gen X’s door, for the most part. Furthermore, Gen Y has been handicapped by attitudes about themselves that originated in the way they were raised by Gen X. Gen Y has been deprived of opportunity and/or crippled by student loan debt that never hampered Gen X.
    On the other hand, I agree with Eric Chester’s Reviving Work Ethic. The combination of economic crisis and an attitude of entitlement is creating a much bigger problem in our workforce. Hopelessness — sort of a “drop-out” attitude towards work. And yes, I’ve seen it in Gen Y workers. It exists. He provides effective ways for Gen X to address that problem. I don’t think blame or generation wars are the answer, but we have some overdue parenting that needs to be done. Since we didn’t do it in the home, it’s going to have to be addressed in the workplace.
    At the same time, it’s imperative that we start doing what we can to provide real opportunity for young people who do show the willingness to bring their A game to the workplace. It’s not acceptable for corporations to make it a nearly level playing field for achievers and slackers. If that’s what young people see, they will NOT try and I will be the last to blame them. When there are no opportunities to get ahead by working hard, why do it?

    • A nuanced and smart response in a comments section? No way! Thanks, these are some great points.

  • I guess Gen Y better vote, then.

  • Lilly

    I’m a baby boomer.  I did not vote for Reagan in the 80s,( Bush etc.) I am appalled at corporate dominance.  You are right – your job options are horribly limited.  It is a waste.  Please do not make the mistake of painting all boomers with the same brush.  To most of us you are our children, our future.  I hope I make the choices that will help you.  I’ve no intention of pulling up the ladder behind me.