Opinion

Recession 2020: why millennials are more resilient than we’re given credit for

The reality is, we’re a generation sandwiched between two recessions. But living through such uncertainty has made us value different things to the generation before. Our resilience is our greatest strength. Though the future is unnerving, we’d all do well to remember that. 

2009. The year I graduated from university into adulthood. Bright-eyed, minimal life skills and no life plan. It also happened to be the year after The Great Recession, something I hadn’t fully appreciated in my bubble of pesto pasta and fluorescent face paint. 

The economy had hit its lowest point since the end of the Second World War and 2.5 million were out of work in the UK. The Class of ‘09 faced mounting student debt, a gutted job market and house prices higher than Mount Everest. Our safety bubble had burst and we were catapulting into an uncertain world. 

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There’s something else you should know about the Class of ‘09. We’re millennials. You know the kind – flaky, self-absorbed, an addiction to avocado on toast and our priorities all wrong. Through tabloid headlines and stereotypical sitcoms, those born between 1981-1996 have slowly been reduced to a handful of overused, middle-class clichés. But the reality is, we’re a generation sandwiched between two recessions. A generation still living in a society which measures success by the number of rungs on your career ladder and how many square metres you own. 

No pressure though, these life goals are available to everyone, regardless of race, class or gender… Or so we were told. But life has turned out very differently for so many of us, and, dare I get millennial about it, through no fault of our own.

After graduating, I moved back home and found myself fumbling from one unfulfilling job to another. There was no toolkit on how to adult the best (asking for a friend, has anyone made that yet?) but I sure could have done with one. So, like the millennial cliché I am, I packed my bags and moved to London, lured by the bright lights and an unpaid internship. A note to my younger self: juggling little money with the cost of London living isn’t half as sexy as you think, is in no way sustainable and won’t lead to a job. 

This isn’t a sob story though. I had a mum who could help if things got tough, along with the privileges that come from a (northern) middle-class upbringing and being part white. It was also a familiar story. Take my friend Rhys, who paid hundreds of pounds to rent a room so small he could starfish and touch all four walls, just so he could afford his tuition fees. Or Pat, a struggling musician, who started escorting to pay the rent. Adulthood for a lost generation; all in the hope of working hard enough towards something that vaguely resembled the career we thought we wanted.

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It was a slow start to our 20s and as we waited for the economy to crawl off its knees, we’ve spent the following decade playing catch-up. It’s meant slower career progression, minimal savings, and in some cases, putting off getting married or having kids. I’ll be honest: right now it’s hard to know if I’ll ever own a place of my own but one in three of us never will. 

And it’s not just about money – the wider impact of living with such uncertainty, financial anxiety and the feeling that we’re failing at adulting goes so much further – how many of us experienced burnout, imposter syndrome and anxiety at some point in our 20s?

And here we are again, at the start of another recession, supposedly bigger than ever before. But for us millennials, we’re still jaded by the last one and I, for one, am scared. Because while there’ll be very few winners, it’s predicted that millennials, in particular those from ethnic minorities, will be hit hardest. 

Tellingly, two-thirds of us millennials have already seen our income drop. Another cruel blow being played out in a society most of us didn’t want – two-thirds of millennials voted to remain in the EU and Labour won the highest proportion of our votes in the 2019 election.

But amid all this chaos, there’s hope. Millennials are so much stronger and resilient than those flat white-drinking clichés we’re associated with. Yes, we might not be rich on paper, but living through such uncertainty has made us value different things to the generation before: we’re more environmentally conscious, racially accepting and give more to charity despite having less money. We speak out against social injustice, know an incredible amount about sustainability and rate job satisfaction above everything else. We should be championed for this, not ridiculed.

So while this isn’t a future we’d pick, it’s a future we can shape. Without even knowing it, we’re already breaking down the outdated ideas of success passed down to us from our parents’ generation but never attainable for ours. 

Our refusal to settle is less about Tinder culture (that’s another story) and more about our commitment to change. Tomorrow’s always been uncertain for us, so we’re not afraid to start speaking up today. For me, that’s the real power of millennials: our genuine desire to make the world a better place, because let’s face it, we have enough resilience to make it happen. Perhaps we can have our avocado on toast and eat it after all.