Opinion: The shutdown of SVB is more of the same for Millennials
Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and author of the book “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion on CNN.
The shutdown of Silicon Valley Bank has a lot of Americans understandably worried. Chaos and tension are palpable. The Biden administration is scrambling to stabilize the banking sector and many populist voters are chafing at the idea of what they fear could be another bailout, while some conservatives are bizarrely blaming the breakdown on “wokeism” because the bank’s entire board wasn’t White and male. And then there are Millennials like me, stressed but somewhat resigned as we conclude: This again.
While “Millennial” is often treated as shorthand for “young,” the oldest of my generation are in our 40s, and our lives are not nearly as stable as we would hope. That’s in part because of a series of crises that have disrupted our earning and wealth-building power. The financial crash of 2008 happened just as many of us were entering our working years, and as the first in, we were often the first out.
The rest of our adult lives have looked like this: instability, job losses, recovery, reversal. While many of us managed to reenter the labor force after losing jobs, our earnings have taken permanent hits. We lost a larger proportion of our earnings from the Great Recession than any other adult generation, and by entering the workforce at a time of cut wages and more competition, we were set up for a lifetime of lower earnings and less savings.
As we entered our 20s and 30s, housing prices skyrocketed, putting home ownership largely out of reach. At the same time, jobs were increasingly concentrated in large cities – the places where housing costs, including rent, were highest. As many of us poured huge chunks of our take-home pay into our monthly rental costs and our astronomical student loan payments, there wasn’t much left over to save for a down payment.
With interest rates now high, the promise of home ownership feels even further away for many Millennials. We remain far behind Boomers, Gen Xers, and even members of the Silent Generation when it comes to home ownership in one’s 20s, 30s and 40s. We live with our parents longer; when we move out, we are more likely to rent than to buy.
Then, Covid-19 hit. The pandemic was a disaster for everyone, and was deadliest for the oldest Americans. But it was financially calamitous for working parents and for single moms of young children in particular.
And who were most of America’s working parents of young children during Covid-19? Millennials. Many of us struggled to work for pay and care for kids who were suddenly home fulltime; it was Millennial (and some older Gen Z) mothers who were the most likely to lose or be forced to quit their jobs, interrupting their earnings and career trajectories in crucial years – money and opportunities they will never get back.
And now, another potential crash on the horizon, this one coming in our prime working years. Already, the tech industry – with its many Millennial-owned businesses, and an employer of so many Millennials – has been laying off workers en masse. Meta just announced it is terminating another 10,000 workers, after eliminating 11,000 in November. Now, with the failure of Silicon Valley Bank, we see the threat of even greater disaster at worst, and yet more instability to cope with at best.
And we wonder: Why haven’t the people in charge worked harder to secure our futures?
Millennials have unusual politics in the sense that we are a broadly liberal generation that has not grown more conservative with age. While older adults tacked right as they hit middle age, Millennials have not.
This is not a coincidence. American Millennials were born into the Ronald Reagan’s America, one in which the safety net had been badly punctured and the stage was set for radical inequality to take root. As we entered the world, America diverged from our economic peers in Europe – our health care costs skyrocketed while our health outcomes and life expectancy stagnated. Many European nations implemented generous paid parental leave policies, invested in public transport and planned for affordable childcare while the US simply did not; American special interests pushed both parties to strip away the guardrails that kept banks from taking unforgivable risks and kept things like college affordable.
Millennials have paid the price. While we’ve done everything right – we went to college in record numbers, delayed marriage and childrearing, spend less frivolously and save more diligently – we have still found ourselves entering middle age feeling like financially insecure 20-somethings. And we are wising up to the fact that this isn’t our fault – that it wasn’t the avocado toast.
We see Baby Boomer politicians who refuse to step down and make way for the next generation, and who also refuse to invest in our lives and futures. We look across the pond or up north and see our European and Canadian peers who get months off when they have babies, who are not drowning in student loan debt, who can go to the doctor without worrying about overdrawing their checking accounts or torpedoing themselves into bankruptcy, whose toddlers are eating fresh vegetables in free or affordable high-quality daycare and who go on long paid vacations every summer.
We see Republicans in particular who try to distract us by fearmongering about drag shows and gay penguins while they keep throwing our lives into precarity. Former President Donald Trump, notably, rolled back some of the regulations put in place after the 2008 financial crisis, opening the door to this new one, and it’s Republicans who are fighting student debt relief all the way up to the Supreme Court.
We are staring down the possibility of yet another crisis, again caused by a feckless and greedy financial industry and a Republican Party that has put the interests of banks over the basic stability and wellbeing of the rest of us. I don’t speak for every Millennial, but I certainly hope President Joe Biden does everything in his power to keep the US economy, and by extension the global one, stable and afloat.
I realize that may require some politically unpopular choices. But Millennials have borne the brunt of these repeated failures, which threaten to keep us broke, stressed and financially unstable for the rest of our lives. And we deserve a long-overdue bailout.