February 12, 2013
(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts) Here is the exterior of the Capitol building! Here is the exterior of the Capitol building! (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Happy State of the Union, President Obama.

Nice presidency you have there. Anyone you’d like to thank? Anyone at all? Does any group of people spring to mind? Sizable, stressed, jobless? Heavily in debt? Well-educated? Ring any bells?

Hint: a lot of us volunteered for you, and not because we were excessively employed to begin with. We resemble that one friend who is always free to get drinks at the drop of a hat. It’s not that he likes you more than anyone else. That friend has nothing better to do with his time.

Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:

Tonight President Obama delivers his State of the Union address, that traditional speech where the president goes on at great length about things he’d like Congress to do so that he can claim them as landmark legislative accomplishments.

If the inaugural was any indication, I am worried he will keep ignoring Millennials. I hope he doesn’t. The State of the Union may be improving. But the state of the Millennials is — still pretty dire, actually.

I know we are noted, as a generation, for our ability to complain. We have complained before. We are Generation Always Says We’ll Quit Facebook But Still Hasn’t. We complain on Twitter, on Facebook, via text, in person, on Tumblr. We are squeaky wheels. But where’s our grease? We could stand a little grease right about now. And none is forthcoming.

And this is really a problem.

We are grotesquely unemployed. We waded bravely into the workforce waving extremely expensive sheets of paper that turned out to be almost meaningless. Nearly half of college graduates are working jobs that don’t require four-year degrees. And those are the ones who are working at all!

The rest of us still paid too much money for educations at universities that did nothing much to improve our critical thinking skills, and several of whom turned out to be falsifying their test scores to appear more exclusive. The only thing college trained us to do was to drink lots of inexpensive beer quickly and uncomplainingly, which is useful given the likely state of our beer budgets in years to come. But we had hoped for more.

13.1 percent of Millennials were unemployed last month, according to Generation Opportunity. And that number doesn’t take into account the 1.7 million who have stopped looking.

Even our optimism is flagging. We are stressed – 52 percent of us reported being kept awake with stress in the past month. Nineteen percent of us have been diagnosed with depression, more than any prior generation — which might reflect more awareness of mental-health issues, but is still not pleasant. And things seem unlikely to improve any time soon.

We are stressed about work (76 percent of those stressed), money (73 percent) and relationships (59 percent). We are getting to the point where we are no longer fun to be around because we spend the entire time staring gloomily into our PBRs and muttering about how much we identify with Florence and the Machine lyrics. So I hope President Obama addresses some remarks to us. Does it get better?

We need him to be there for us. We were there for him. Who do you think got him this nice election? We are the ones who received all those creepy fundraising e-mails. And yes, we like the social issues. But we are hurting. We are lying awake at night stressed, staring up at the glow-in-the-dark stars that we put on our bedroom ceilings when we were eight and thought that the world was going to be our oyster. It needs to start looking more like an oyster and less like our parents’ basement.

And we were so good.

We never messed around. We never embraced 1970s fashion, or burned any draft cards or bras or — anything but CDs of illegally downloaded music, really. We had nothing that could be remotely likened to a Woodstock. We have been carefully trained by our loving helicopter mothers and fathers to supply correct answers on any standardized test you can hand us, talk in complete sentences and maintain a firm grip on our social media presences. But the past few years have been a test of a totally non-standard kind. What do we do now?

And what has our hard work gotten us?

A lot of student loan debt. Stress. And — that’s about it. Not jobs. (I write this as someone with job-market survivor’s guilt, but then again what I have is a job in the newspaper industry, which is a nicer way of saying that ten years from now I am certain to be unemployed, and that a year from now I will have a hideous flaming burnout-cum-nervous breakdown in which I run screaming from my desk insisting that I am an egret.)

Last State of the Union, the President suggested the need to control the cost of college and deal with the more than a trillion dollars of student loan debt facing the country. But it’s not just the student loans. And staying on our parents’ insurance was nice — but what happens next? Hitting the snooze button on these bills won’t fix the larger problem of what we are going to do with ourselves. The fact that we can’t afford to pay them back now is a symptom of the problem, not the problem.

We have no idea how to handle this. We have tried listening to music. But Beyonce is not as reassuring as we would like.

We understand your twenties are never easy. They are the point when all your confident When’s start melting into If’s. Sure, it’s the economy. But for how much longer?

We thought we would have more options than to be depressed because we do not have jobs or depressed because all our friends are getting married. According to the stress survey, the percentage of people who use unhealthy coping mechanisms like drinking away their stress and eating away their stress is lower than it used to be. But it ain’t zero, either.

We should have known that Hope was the most dangerous thing in Pandora’s box. What are we going to do with the rest of our lives?

Our voting levels barely decreased from 2008, The Cool Election Where We Knew Everyone Running, so you can tell we are concerned. We don’t know what comes next.

The President has taken on a lot of causes that are important and well and good.

But there’s one group of people that President Obama needs to stop ignoring: us. Yes, we care about today’s children. But — we were children once too. What about our futures? If he really, as he said in his inaugural, believes that “we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future,” then he needs to speak to us. We could use the reassurance.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.
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