The United States Economy for Nineties Kids
Or, What the Fuck Do You Mean, ‘It’s Not Fair?’
There’s something that I’ve heard a lot of people talk about. They’re not wrong, but they are missing the point quite dramatically.
I was born July 10, 1990. I grew up in one of the poorest cities in the country. It’s been the poorest for several years running. You know it, you love it. Detroit’s not a place I’m proud of, and I don’t particularly identify with it. I think everyone I know personally wanted to get out of this cesspit years ago.
I can say without special pride that when I was younger, in my school-age years, everyone I know said I was talented. I was always the smartest guy in the room for my age group. I could throw a football better than most people I knew, though I never did anything with that. Once someone described my singing voice as “the best voice they’d ever heard.” I was the best artist in my grade through middle school, when I stopped working at it.
I didn’t earn those talents. I was given them. Frankly, I squandered them. And that’s why I don’t feel as if I’m bragging when I say it.
I had always heard, you get out of high school, get a summer job, go to college, get started on a career. Well, I fucked around in school. Got a 31 on my ACT my first try, and graduated with a 2.8 gpa. I didn’t turn my bad habits around until the 2nd semester of my 3rd year in high school, and by then the damage was done.
So no ‘real’ school would take me. But I was committed to getting a job and making sure that I could pay something towards my schooling before I went to school. Three years later, I was sitting in an interview for McDonald’s. I’d applied to every business I could get to on my bicycle that wasn’t pure manual labor, but this was only my 4th interview, because a 18/19/20-year-old unemployed white boy in Detroit hasn’t got a whole lot going for him.
The woman ignored me for most of the 15 minute interview, repeatedly getting up and walking away from the table to go talk to other people. I can’t explain how angry I was. At the end of the interview, I asked her how I could improve myself, to become a better candidate. You know what she said to me?
She said that not going to school had made it look like I wasn’t “serious.”
Here I was, trying to do the right thing, to look before I leapt, and now some regional manager who couldn’t be bothered to put 15 minutes together for an interview without running off to talk to three separate people, was telling me, a talented, smart, strong, capable… You get the idea.
Well, I took the risk. I applied to U of M Flint, hoping to get into engineering, since that was all I’ve wanted to do for years. They weren’t interested. I didn’t show promise with my grades, but they did have a program for people who had done poorly in school like me, but wanted to turn things around.
Go to Henry Ford Community College, right next door, for 2 years. Get good grades, and come back with an associates and I’d be in like Flynn. I went to school. My priorities changed, though. I realized that I’d been running away from who I really was. That engineering was something I’d like, but I had been avoiding my passion for coding because my father was a programmer and I have strange issues about retreading paths.
That’s a stupid reason to avoid what you like doing.
So I dropped the engineering schedule and started over, took some coding classes.
And that’s when I learned, not in class of course, the most valuable lesson of my life so far. Something I think every millennial, every “nineties kid” needs to learn:
They’re not handing out money.
At least, not the way that they used to. Sure, you can get on Welfare. You’d think that growing up in Detroit I’d know more about that, but I’m not a huge fan of the program and I never was, even when I was a hardline socialist.
But the economy of the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s… The economy your parents know about, the economy your grandparents know about? That doesn’t exist now. In a very real sense, you live in the Wild West.
Things are changing, are evolving and shifting, so dramatically over the past 10 years.
There’s no place for stable, smart, head-down workers. You might get into a job like that, but 99% of them are taken up by someone else’s father, or grandfather. People more capable than you, with more experience. You think you’re hot shit, but the fact is that when you put a 20-year-old genius in the room with a 50-year-old veteran of no particular talent, the veteran is better.
This isn’t news to any of you, though.
You’ve lived in this world for 20+ years now. You’ve been unable to get work for 5 of them, except maybe shitty 28-hours-a-week jobs at local diners. You can’t raise a family on that. It’s not a career, and it will never be a career.
Which gets me to my point:
Don’t rely on other people to make a space for you because they won’t. You’ll get eaten up and spit out, and the truth is, you deserve it. Anyone who doesn’t adapt to their situation will fail and that’s not a bug, it’s a feature.