The idea that we millennials’ only hope for retirement is the end of capitalism or the end of the world is actually quite common sentiment among the millennial left. Jokes about being unable to retire or anticipating utter social change by retirement age were ricocheting around the internet long before CNN’s article was published.
Older generations, and even millennials who are better-off and who have managed to achieve a sort of petit-bourgeois freedom, might find this sentiment unimaginable, even abhorrent. And yet, in studying the reaction to the CNN piece and reaching out to millennials who had responded to it, I was astounded not only at how many young people shared Wood’s feelings, but how frequently our expectations for the future aligned. Many millennials expressed to me their interest in creating self-sustaining communities as their only hope for survival in old age; a lack of faith that capitalism as we know it would exist by retirement age; and that alternating climate crises, concentrations of wealth, and privatization of social welfare programs would doom their chance at survival.
“I think a system with universal basic income is inevitable if we're going to survive the automation of jobs as a society,” Becca Cook, 30, told me over Facebook chat. “We need to shift our understanding and expectations to a world where not everyone has to have a job.”
Sarah Frasco, 26, a student, saw a gulf between her and the young people that even thought about things like retirement. “For the most part, the idea of retirement or how you plan for it is really the privilege of the few people my age who have access to that kind of security and stability,” Frasco told Salon. “I know a few people from school who are on that track right now and sometimes I compare myself to them and wonder how I'll ever catch up.”
Good agreed with Frasco that retirement savings plan were the domain of bourgeois millennials. “In the 12 years since graduating college, I’ve spent one year working a job with benefits,” Good told Salon. “The rest of the time I’ve been cobbling together gigs and part time jobs and under-the-table work that hasn’t paid me enough to save anything.” “The economic realities of my generation make the expectations for my parents’ generation seem ludicrous to me—having a job with benefits and that pays enough that I can make rent, and save for retirement and also maybe for a down payment on property seems like a lottery,” Good continued. “Maybe 15% of my peer group has this, and having it is a combination of luck and family connections rather than skill and work ethic.”
Interestingly, privileged millennials on the higher end of the economic spectrum had trouble comprehending these kinds of attitudes. John Hagensen, 35, founder and managing director of investment advisory firm Keystone Wealth Partners, couldn’t fathom his struggling coevals’ alternative visions of the future. “I guess my argument to [their points] would be whether [societal collapse] happens or not, where does that change the personal responsibility for you to prepare yourself to take care of yourself and be responsible for yourself?” Hagensen told Salon. “They may be right, so does that mean that for the next 25 years they should save nothing?” Despite Hagensen’s preconceptions that lack of retirement planning indicated a lack of personal responsibility, the millennials I interviewed had all planned thoughtfully and carefully for their retirement — just not in the “traditional” manner, via investment accounts, that Hagensen was accustomed to.
“I’m way more invested in the family I’m building now than any fake sense of security that some mutual fund may or may not provide for me twenty years from now,” she added.
“When I'm at retirement age, around 2050, I think it's possible we'll have seen a breakdown of modern society,” Schwartzman told Salon. “I do see it as a real possibility that nuclear holocaust or environmental apocalypse will make money completely meaningless, and that reinforces my approach of living in the now. If I can find my way to saving, or creating a lot of wealth, I’ll use it to buy land and