Home : The Reason Millennials Can’t Afford To Buy Houses Has Nothing To Do With Avocados
If millennials aren’t getting blamed for destroying the economy, napkins, diamonds, or being called whiny for wanting a living wage, they’re — or should I say we, since I, too, am part of this cursed lot — constantly reminded to stop eating so much avocado toast and just buy a house already.
The truth is that millennials take a lot of crap about their inability to survive in an economic landscape that mimics the Great Depression in more than one significant way. But it has largely nothing to do with inclinations to buy records or eat avocado toast, and more to do with the fact that millennials are suffering from disgustingly low wages.
Despite being the largest part of the American workforce right now, millennials are actually getting paid up to 20 percent less than what baby boomers were paid at the same age, taking less vacation, and working longer hours.
Many Americans believe in the idea of “picking yourself up by the bootstraps” on a near sycophantic level. But few of these scream-in-your-face fanatics would suggest raising minimum wage so that people can actually afford to buy the bootstraps they want to pick themselves up by to begin with.
Some people like to argue that paying people less for their salaries increases company funds and encourages a beneficial surplus of “trickle down” to the workers who were sacrificed. And those people are idiots, because there is an alarming amount of research that shows trickle down economics is crap and does little more than help the wealthy.
The same people and corporations that support this type of sketchy system are usually the ones who stand to gain the most in the form of off-shore tax havens and private accounts that occasionally have greater wealth than the entire GDP of some nations.
When the richest 1 percent own over 40 percent of all of the wealth in a country of 325.7 million people, there’s clearly something wrong.
And the problem isn’t that millennials are self-entitled narcissists… Although I’ve met a few, so I’m sure some of them are. The problem lies in the fact that they’re working longer hours for less pay, and have quite a different set of restrictions than many people did in previous generations.
Today, most millennials live in apartments with roommates or share a place with their significant others, siblings, friends, or yes, even their parents. And while some would suggest this is a sign of notorious millennial “laziness,” others would cite it as the exact reason they need more pay.
The bare bones of the situation is if you don’t get money, you can’t spend money. Plenty of millennials would love to buy houses… but they can’t afford the occasionally staggering prices of bills and rent without help. Just how can someone save up for a down payment when the national average for rent is $900-$1178 a month and they’re making an average of $35,592 a year?
Just what does it cost for people to actually get a house these days, anyway?
According to mine and my husband’s own experience, a whole hell of a lot.
My husband and I are both early-stage millennials, born and raised in a period of time when calling a radio station and requesting a song you could stay up late to record on a cassette was actually cool, and Mario and Luigi had never seen a day of 3D animation. We were both college educated, graduated in the top of our classes, and worked full-time jobs. We bought a house together in 2016 in a suburb of Atlanta and were over-the-moon excited to sign those papers on closing day. I had turned 29 that year and my husband turned 30 just two months before we got the keys.
Our secret? Well, it certainly wasn’t the money that we were barely making at the jobs we spent most of our time at. The fact that we had a house by the age of 30 at all is quite shocking to many people, not least of all us. But it took us over five years to get to that point.
That was five years of living in my in-law’s basement. Five years of struggling to build better credit. Five years of subsisting on little to no anything except for staple items like sandwich meats for lunches and the occasional new pack of underwear. Five years of feeling guilt over any scrap of money we spent that didn’t go to savings. Five years of working full-time jobs, often-times more than one at once.
…Several instances of nearly dying thanks to work-related illnesses that got pushed aside until actual fatality was in the cards if we didn’t go to the doctor right then, like the time I had pneumonia, bronchitis, and strep all at once. I learned the hard way out that fluid in your lungs can actually be as painful as kidney stones. And that there is such a thing as being so sick at urgent care that the doctor wants to call you an ambulance but you say no because you can’t afford a $3000 taxi with flashing lights. So he insists you wait it out in an unoccupied room until he’s convinced the meds are taking.
My husband saved literally every bit of money he could to save up for the down payment, counting (actual) pennies, putting aside every birthday or holiday card from a relative that had money, and the better portion of every paycheck once we’d paid our bills.
We missed holidays together because one or both of us had to work so we could save. We missed chances to go on vacations with family members, spend time with friends, travel, and even go out on date nights. We fought over money. A lot. And while none of these things are outlandish on their own, the problem was that we had to do all of them while literally almost killing ourselves in order to get a house.
By comparison, one of my family members was able to buy a 2000-square-foot, three-bedroom home in the 90s with three kids and one nominal income between two parents and keep that home for decades.
And the additional problem with buying a house is not that you’re just trying to save up enough money to avoid PMI, or to pay unexpected closing costs, the home inspector, or the repairmen and bug people. It’s also that once you have the house, you need so much more. If my husband’s parents hadn’t gifted us appliances and a table, we might still be washing clothes at a Laundromat and eating on the kitchen floor, which we did, the first Thanksgiving in our home.
You’ll discover being a home owner is as difficult as becoming one. Fixing up a house can cost thousands, and even painting or replacing damaged floors can be abysmal when you have to pay it off in two years or risk 20 percent APR on top of your monthly payments, bills, and your mortgage. And as amazing as your home inspector might be, there’s nothing they can do to prepare you for the weird issues you’ll discover once you move in, whether it’s an underestimation of the cost of sinking floors due to shoddy, ill-placed beams, or toilets and refrigerators breaking after a couple of uses.
Finding the time to do repairs when you’re working 35–45 hours a week and trying to live and function as a human being while getting paid $7.00-$10.00 an hour can seem like some distant fantasy. Of course it’s easier to stay in apartments, where someone else is responsible for the cost of things breaking down or replacing something that can’t be fixed, and you don’t have to worry that if a pipe bursts in your walls that you’ll be out thousands to repair it.
Why would someone making minimum wage or barely above try to forge that path alone?
Millennials aren’t fighting for obscene wages and avoiding real work. They’re struggling to be recognized as people with wants and needs in an unforgiving landscape that arbitrarily picks and chooses any unapproved spending as a kind of economic sin and views asking for decent pay as being avaricious.
If you want to send a rocket to orbit, you’re going to have to put fuel in it. Likewise, if you want millennials to fill houses, start buying diamonds and napkins and put their money back into the economy at large, you’re going to have to start paying enough to make that dream a reality.
Until then, let them eat avocado toast. It’s literally the least of their problems.