Millennials get a bad wrap sometimes. We’re lazy. We’re entitled. We’re overeducated and underprepared. And we’re never going to measure up to past generations.
And maybe some of that isn’t our fault. At least, that’s the argument that Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Diana Furchtgott-Roth and Fellow Jared Meyer propose in their new book Disinherited: How Washington is Betraying America’s Youth.
Disinherited is adventurous enough to take a position that few writers have ventured to assume so far. Instead of casting the blame on the millennial generation for failing to seize the opportunities that they have, the pair of authors examine how failed policies and shortsighted lawmaking have setup the millennial generation to be the first generation that’s less successful than their parents.
The book is set into four basic sections, the titles of which illustrate the authors’ central points fairly well: “Stealing from the Young to Enrich the Old,” focuses on entitlement spending and health care; “Keeping Young People Uneducated,” explores primary/secondary education in one chapter and the cost of college in the next; “Regulations that Cripple the Young,” offers a perspective on the minimum wage as well as licensing requirements; and “Where To from Here?” thankfully begins to offer a few suggestions on how to reclaim our collective future.
A New Map
The authors are, for the most part, trotting down an already-worn path, albeit with a new map. While plenty of writers, including the folks at GenFKD, have taken on one or two of these topics in relation to our generation’s future before, I haven’t yet seen a book as ambitious – and readable – as this one.
Furchtgott-Roth and Meyer excel at tying the results of policies – say, the expense and difficulty of obtaining a cosmetology license – to very real people and situations – in this example, a young woman named Becky Maples and her stymied passion for running a makeshift salon on Chicago’s South Side.
That’s where Disinherited excels. Instead of wading into the traditional mudslinging that usually accompanies policy debate, they frame their arguments with their audience in mind and personalize them appropriately.
Take, for example, their approach to refuting the merits of raising the minimum wage. While many business owners have opposed an increase because of how it’ll eventually impact their businesses’ bottom lines, their argument has occasionally fallen on deaf ears. The authors assume a different approach, dissecting how raising the minimum wage will actually hurt ambitious teenagers looking for their first (or second) job.
The authors argue that, contrary to popular belief, most minimum wage earners (two-thirds), “work part time, and the average income for households with a minimum-wage earner is more than $53,000.” Their argument, then, is that the majority of workers reliant on the minimum wage are not parents, but children of parents who are earning quite a bit more than the minimum wage. Those jobs, while trivial and often the butt of jokes later on in life, are hugely important for teaching the “soft skills” that hiring managers often complain that millennials lack.
For the most part, Disinherited is a very good, very quick read. Furchtgott-Roth and Meyer are adept at synthesizing a collection of different perspectives, from collected anecdotes to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, to support their points in an interesting and engaging manner.
That’s not to say that Disinherited isn’t without its flaws. Most of this information isn’t new. Readers who frequent free market-leaning blogs or websites (or even the Opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal) will likely have seen some of the authors’ arguments before.
And the while the book reads like a short and punchy manifesto, I was occasionally left wanting a bit more. Given the authors’ respected economic backgrounds (Furchtgott-Roth is a former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor; both authors are Manhattan Institute Fellows), I found myself wishing that more time was spent deconstructing the most common arguments against some of their points instead of (i.e. “Do I really want an unlicensed interior decorator picking fabric for my hospital room and potentially spreading infection?”).
At the same time, Disinherited does a fantastic job of asking the right questions (and in offering some smart solutions) in a very short, readable context. Instead of writing a long, dense history of every failed policy that may harm millennials, the authors have instead produced a great primer on how certain policies – healthcare, anyone? – may be seriously detrimental to our future.
Disinherited is, then, a great jumping off point for those of us that want to understand “the issues,” but don’t know where to start. If you find yourself apathetic now about what’s going on in Washington, I recommend picking up a copy to flip through on the beach this summer. At the very least, it’ll make you want to learn more.