UTPA students discuss a new age

Today’s generation of 18- to 33-year-olds have the highest levels of debt, poverty and unemployment in American history, according to the Pew Research Center. In addition, studies suggest these individuals are America’s most diverse generation in religion, ethnicity, and political views. Who are these individuals that shape one of the country’s most recognizable groups? Millennials.

According to Pew, Millennials are America’s youngest adult generation. They are burdened with financial obstacles, yet optimistic about their future, and more open to same-sex marriage. The Millennial Generation is also known as Generation Y because it follows Generation X, or people who were born between 1965 and 1984.

The term ‘Generation Y’ first appeared in an August 1993 issue of Advertising Age, a global source of media and marketing news. An editorial described teenagers of that era, which were defined as separate from Generation X.

The word ‘Millennial’ first reached the public in William Strauss and Neil Howe’s 1991 book Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069. In their book, Howe and Strauss used the term in place of Generation Y because members of the generation did not want to be associated with that group.

Researchers at Pew suggest Millennials make up the most racially diverse American generation with 43 percent of adults being non-white, based on a large wave of Hispanic and Asian immigrants that began in about 2000.

With studies showing such distinct characteristics about this age group, UTPA students opened up on how they do and don’t fit into the Millennial Generation.

HARDSHIPS

According to Pew’s study, a Millennial’s economic circumstances are a reflection of the Great Recession of 2007-2009, the sharp decline in economic activity during the late 2000s. They are also partly due to the long-term effects of globalization, or the process of international changes of world views, products, and ideas.

Out of 1,821 surveyed Americans spanning all generations, seven in 10 agreed that today’s young adults face more economic challenges than their elders did when they were in the same age range.

Psychology major Karina Chacon admits she and her family have had their fair share of financial obstacles when it comes to keeping her and her 21-year-old brother in college.

“Financial hardship has always affected me,” the 19-year-old said. “Whether it was worrying about my parents working too hard to make sure there was enough money, or seeing them struggle when there was not enough work to make enough money.”

Still, a third of older Millennials (ages 26 to 33) have a four-year college degree or greater, making them the most educated group of young adults in American history. But this education comes at a price.

A 2013 Urban Institute study shows this generation of college graduates is entering adulthood with record levels of student debt: 15 percent of recent bachelor’s degree graduates have an average debt of $27,000 or less. While 37 percent of students manage to graduate without the use of loans.

Pete Gonzalez Jr., a biology/pre-med graduate, will attend Texas State this fall to finish his master’s in science of biology, and then plans to attend medical school. Along with a bachelor’s degree, the 25-year-old graduated with $20,000 in debt.

“After medical school I will finally reach my final goal of becoming a psychiatrist,” the San Antonio native said. ”Until I graduate, then I can start paying my debts, which will probably increase over the next eight years.”

Marketing major Aaryn Marez said financial issues have affected her wish to attend college in Atlanta, along with creating self-doubt about studying a field that will fail to fulfill her dream of becoming a fashion entrepreneur. She fears for herself and her generation, feeling the majority will end up working where they never wanted to, just because doing so was a safe way into the career world.

“Student loan is the one thing that is just waiting for you to fail. You can be stuck in debt your whole life,” the 22-year-old said. “With (debt) constantly on your back, many don’t get to do what they actually want to do. There isn’t any reassurance that loans will help you in the long run.”

POSITIVE ATTITUDES

Despite the financial burdens, research suggests Millennials are the nation’s most stubborn economic optimists.

Based on a Pew 2014 study, 32 percent feel they presently have enough money to lead the lives they want, while 53 percent say they don’t earn enough now but expect to in the future.

Even though he’s a long way from paying off his debt, Gonzalez believes his future career in the medical profession is looking bright.

“The way I see it is that I’m making an investment in furthering my education in order to have a more secure future,” he said. “Viewing it in this aspect helps me to not worry so much about my future.”

Chacon, a Harlingen native, said she still worries about her parents working too hard, or about seeing them struggle, but she still finds a reason to think positive.

“(My brother and I) are getting the education (my parents) pay for…so that keeps me optimistic about my future,” she said. “More education and more opportunities are available to our generation and learning how to take advantage of that makes me feel more at ease about finding financial stability.”

Like Chacon, Marez said even though it’s difficult to make a stable living, there is always a way of making things happen.

“Despite the doubt I have, I am very optimistic about my future. I think you have to be if you want a successful future,” the La Feria native said. “I believe there are always loopholes in front of us and in the end, I will be doing what I always wanted to do.”

No other era of adults is nearly as confident about their economic future, with the exception of Generation Xers when they were in the Millennial age range.

TAKE A VOTE

According the Pew, 50 percent of Millennials choose not to identify with either major political party, and 31 percent say there is a great deal of difference between the Republican and Democratic parties.

Chacon explained she has never voted, identified with a political party, or taken a stance on important political issues.

“I cannot say that I have any sort of preferences at all,” she said. “When it comes to government and politics, with all the never-ending conquests and corruptions, I try to maintain a ‘hope for the best, prepare for the worst’ attitude.”

The Atlantic Monthly, a literary and cultural commentary magazine, explained millennials dislike politics more than any other generation, yet they hold a strong opinion when it comes to Congress.

However, not all Millennials feel the same. Gonzalez believes the less he associates with Congress and politics, the better.

“I choose to not involve myself in our government’s politics due to the fact that I believe it’s corrupt and runs on favoritism,” he said. “We hear more bad than good and I just feel that the government is too dramatic sometimes…I’d consider myself a hypocrite if I voted for someone or an issue I don’t really believe in.”

According to Pew’s 2014 study, The Next America, the young-versus-old partisan voting gap is the widest since the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1972. As recently as 2000, there was no difference in the way young and old Americans voted. The young-old partisan voting gaps in 2008 and 2012 were among the largest in the modern era, with Millennials far more supportive than older generations of Barack Obama.

Marez feels if she were to be affiliated with Democrats or Republicans, she would be breaking moral principles that are supported by the government such as abortion and gay marriage.

“There are so many political issues in the world today, the few things I certainly am sure about is that abortion should be illegal, same-sex marriages shouldn’t be allowed,” she said. “If I had the choice to vote for a president who was a Democrat or a Republican, I probably wouldn’t vote at all.”

Chacon believes there are too many problems to be fixed, and solutions to these problems will only benefit one group and damage the other.

“There are just too many issues and too many people sitting around all sides of them,” she said. “Certain people need things that will disadvantage others, what will please one group will anger another. Politics seems to be a winning and losing game, so I’d prefer to just pray for more wins and do my best to cushion the losses.”

ACCEPTING

About 29 percent of Generation Yers are not affiliated with any religion, numbers that are at or near the highest levels recorded for any generation in the last quarter-century.

A study by Pew showed that a solid majority of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated supports same sex marriage, 77 percent. Today’s 59 percent of all Catholics favor it, an increase of 19 percent since 2001.

Gonzalez, born and raised Catholic, is included in the 59 percent and believes people have the right to live life the way they want to.

“People say ‘love is love,’ which is true. I feel it’s a person’s own choice to choose who they love despite what other people may think,” he said. “I feel that people are more open about same-sex marriage because it’s slowly becoming a more common and accepted thing in today’s society.”

According to a 2003 Pew study, 51 percent of Millennials supported same-sex marriage. Since then that number has increased to 68 percent – the highest of all time.

Chacon believes the Millennial Generation has a more accepting mentality due in part to being connected to a wider range of people while being exposed to differing traditions because of technology and social media. She feels people are entitled to choose who they love, no matter the gender.

“I support same-sex marriage because I’ve always believed that all people are deserving of happiness, even if they may seek happiness in ways that differ from our own,” she said. “There’s all kinds of arguments that homosexuality breaks religion and family tradition, but I feel that as long as people have the freedom to make their personal choices and no harm is done to others, there isn’t any reason to reduce the diversity that already exists in our society.”

Older generations have become more supportive over the years as well. In 2003, 49 percent of Generation Xers supported same-sex marriage compared to today’s 55 percent. However, Millennials still accept gay marriage 13 percent more than their predecessors.

But not all individuals feel the same. Marez explained that being brought up in the church and having her mother as a pastor has made a big impact on how she views homosexuality.  

“I personally do not support same-sex marriages. Having been raised in a church, it is only obvious that my principles are different from that of one who was or has never been introduced to Biblical principles,” she said. “When the world was finally familiar with the fact that they had the right to do whatever they wanted with their lives, people began living life differently from previous generations.”

Not only do Millennials approach the world differently from previous generations, but from each other as well. Students explained how being born into this generation doesn’t necessarily make one a Millennial.

WHO ARE THE MILLENNIALS?

According to Pew, Millennials have fewer attachments to traditional political and religious institutions, but they connect to personalized networks of friends and colleagues through social and digital media.

Chacon believes she doesn’t identify herself with all the characteristics of the group, but finds the information reassuring.

“After learning about the way our generation is seen, I actually feel better about being associated with the ‘Millennials,’” she said. “I think the term is a sound reminder that even though many traditional values may be getting left in the past and things can change quickly, we live in a time where society and technology is exciting and we have the power to take full advantage of it all.”

Some students feel they do not fit in with ideas from the studies. Marez admits she is glad she doesn’t have Millennial characteristics.

“It’s slightly unsatisfying to be a part of the Millennial Generation,” she said. “The things that make us ‘Millennials’ are things I wouldn’t have even thought to be a factor in distinguishing our generation from the others. Quite frankly, these factors are unsettling to hear. These factors are what make up our generation and it’s pretty upsetting.”

Gonzalez agrees with Marez and explained the name ‘Millennials’ is just another label, which doesn’t define every person in the age group.

“I feel that I don’t pertain to this characteristic because I am, to a certain level, informed in politics and definitely affiliated within religious institutions such as church and retreats,” he said. “Knowing all these facts doesn’t make me think differently about our generation because personally I feel that we are who we choose to be.”