The kids are alright

York Dispatch editorial board
Jameson Shanabrough standing next to the thousands of toy donations for Danville's Janet Weis Children's Hospital in York on July 20, 2022.

Criticizing young people is a tradition as old as Aristotle.

Literally.

The Greek philosopher — presumably between swigs of wine from a terracotta jug — had this to say in the 4th century B.C.: "Young people have exalted notions because they have not yet been humbled by life. ... Moreover, their hopeful disposition makes them think themselves equal to great things."

These days, many old-timers harrumph about Tide Pods and Justin Bieber and so-called devious licks. Millennials, they scoff, are shiftless and overly sensitive and don't know the value of hard work.

To be sure, there are young people today who fit these stereotypes. Just like there were hipsters, punks, hippies, bobby-soxers and flappers who embodied the frivolity of youth, too.

But we're here to say we are consistently impressed with the mettle of the rising generations — who are often lumped under the umbrella of "millennial" when we're really talking about several distinct groups of people.

First, let's deflate the myth of the lazy millennial.

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, teen employment has steadily increased since 2009 — incidentally, the end of the Great Recession — to nearly 33%. As The Washington Post pointed out, this increase (and a preceding decline in teen employment) came amid evaporating entry level jobs, increasing competition with older people and immigrants and the rigors of higher educational attainment.

Youth unemployment among people aged 16 to 24 is now at its lowest level — 9.3% nationally and 9.5% in Pennsylvania — in more than a decade. Even among the 16-to-19 age range, a group that's normally focused on school, unemployment is just 13%.

But young people have good reasons to resent the economic status quo as it's currently structured.

Millennials earn 20% less than baby boomers — the generation that's currently between about 57 and 75 years old — did at the same point in their careers, according to a study of income and labor statistics by New America, a nonpartisan think tank.

And that disparity comes even as the rising cost of college, and just about everything else, drains the younger generations' personal wealth and political clout.

Young people, however, aren't content with the status quo.

They are organizing protests about everything from climate change to criminal justice reform and reproductive rights. They are leveraging the limited power they have to change American life for the better, insisting on better working conditions. And they're demonstrating real empathy for people unlike themselves.

Locally, it was high school students who led the charge, organizing protests against the Central York School District's racist book ban. Likewise, students cried foul on social media when parents bullied fellow students after a Northeastern High School diversity day event.

Panther Anti-Racist Student Union organizer Edha Gupta speaks at rally outside the Central York School District Administration offices before a school board meeting there Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. The rally was in opposition to a banned resource list instituted by the district, which demonstrators say targets minority authors. District officials added formal discussion of the ban to Monday's agenda. Gupta is a Central York High School senior. Bill Kalina photo

And the Dispatch recently reported the story of an 11-year-old leading a toy drive for other sick children.

We would argue it's a good thing that our young people haven't been humbled by life, as Aristotle pointed out. We need more of that energy and enthusiasm if we'll have any hope of solving the greatest challenges of our time.

These strong, socially conscious young people might just might save the rest of us from ourselves.