How much of the millennial and gen-z job crisis is self-inflicted?

All over the internet, on high-IQ and ‘smart’ communities such as on Reddit, in particular, but also in ‘think pieces’ on Vox and other publications, there are are plethora of stories about college-educated millennials and gen-z being unable to find gainful employment and enter the privileged ranks of ‘middle class,’ but rather are unemployed or are toiling away in low or inconsistent-paying service sector work (the archetypal college-educated barista comes to mind). There are two possibilities: that these educated young people, for whatever reason, are unqualified for better-paying work, or are voluntarily choosing lower-paying work. Even if they, these smart millennials and gen-z, are qualified based on credentials and intelligence to earn a solid, consistent middle-class salary, their individual preferences are aligned in such a way that they choose not to, forgoing corporate work for low-impact jobs that may have more autonomy and creative freedom at the cost of pay. The first explanation, that these smart young people are being systemically excluded, gets much more media coverage than the second possibility, but I think the latter is possibly more likely the correct one.

I have always been skeptical of the exclusion argument/explanation, in which millennials are the victims of circumstances beyond their control. I think individual preferences play a large role. Regarding being qualified, the issue is not a lack of intelligence. As someone who spends a fair amount of time online and reads opinion article, there is no shortage of well-written articles on sites such s The Outline, Cut, Mel Magazine, The Baffler, etc. written by 20 and 30-somethings. There articles are cogent, grammatically sound, flow well, and are spliced with nuggets of history and academic citations. Given all the media hype and hand-wringing by pundits on either side[1] of the political aisle about lowered standards and dumbing-down, evidently there are a lot of young people who can write well and are demonstrably not dumbed-down. I guess this epidemic of dumbing-down, if it is real, has not yet manifested itself on online media.

Now contrast that to the professional business world. In spite of large paychecks, these people, by in large, are not that smart. Their choice of reading is not political philosophy but rather such profound works as Nudge, The One Minute Manager, What Color is Your Parachute, Blink, and Who Moved My Cheese, the latter which weighs in at just 32 pages (which out of disbelief I had to verify from multiple sources, as I don’t have a physical copy of the book at hand). Someone who is smart enough to reference Nietzsche, Gramsci, Schumpeter, Walter Benjamin, and Adorno in everyday conversation and in their writings should have no trouble understanding business lingo and parlance. The whole point of business, marketing, and sales is to make things as accessible as possible to as many people, for a profit, whereas academia is is the opposite and exclusion, obfuscation, and approbation by other academics rather than the general public are the yardsticks for which academic success is measured by.

These business professionals are often so bad at writing that they depend on ghostwriters and various underlings for their PR and books. The biggest client of ghostwriters is business leaders and professionals. These executives who are making high six-figures or even 7-figures and are on the cover of magazines and featured in publications and invited to be on panels and give TED talks, apparently are not smart enough to write 300-word press releases or an autobiography, yet some college grad who is just scraping by at Starbucks or writing for some obscure online magazine for peanuts, can. So on the hierarchy of intelligence and skills, being a liberal arts major often supersedes being a business professional, so because this hierarchy works in reverse, the the former should be able to acquire the skills of the latter, such as how to read a balance sheet or how to create a ‘strategic global initiative’. As a caveat, this does not apply to tech/STEM executive and high-level jobs, which are intellectually demanding.

One may argue that that not using a ghostwriter is a misuse/waste of the business professional’s valuable time, but even if so, it does not change the fact that the professional is likely also not smart enough to do so, even if given unlimited time. Why else are business books written at an infantile reading level. If these people are smart, wouldn’t they take umbrage at their intelligence being insulted.

Many of these creative, aspirational millennials hope that the writing gig, teaching assistant job, or unpaid internship will turn into a more lucrative writing gig or job offer, which will then lead to a book deal, and then an even more lucrative book deal, and then movie rights. etc., but it seldom works that way. Consumer preferences only allow for a small number of well-paid creative people. The economics of print and online media are also terrible. In spite of stories that may generate hundreds of thousands or even millions of impressions, there isn’t much profit left for writers, and is a reason why major online media publications such as Vox and Vice run on thin or negative margins. Hollywood has proven successful and resilient for nearly a century, and pays well, because there is a finished product that is sold to the masses, but trying to turn outrage or social justice into something economically tangible has proven more difficult.

[1] Always be skeptical of narratives, whether from the mainstream media or alternative media. Narratives are popular, not because they are true, but because they affirm preexisting beliefs, which may be false. Do your own research instead of blindly taking someone else’s word.