Video footage of a Kenosha, Wisconsin man trying to impart respect for private property to a group of young protesters has gone viral, mostly among conservatives who hold it up as proof the kids flooding the streets to smash windows and set things on fire are spoiled brats who’ve never worked a day in their lives. That self-serving reading is only half the story, however: while owning a home and business remains the American Dream even for young adults, many of them are finding that, just like any other dream, it vanishes when they wake up.
“What y’all don’t f***ing understand is that people have their lives in these businesses,” the exasperated man tells the younger protesters in the video, posted earlier this week to social media.
“We pay for this!” one of the protesters, a young woman who looks barely out of high school, shouts back, while the man vainly attempts to draw a distinction between private businesses and the police who paralyzed Jacob Blake, reigniting tensions over racism and police brutality that have polarized the nation since a white cop killed black Minneapolis resident George Floyd in May.
“Are furniture stores the police? Are car dealerships the police?” he insists, before he’s finally chased off as the woman promises, “We’ll burn your stuff down, too!”
Most who see the video sympathize with the man, who comes off as a defender of the quintessentially American value of private property. But when fewer Americans than ever can afford to own a home, can young people be expected to uphold a value that doesn’t apply to them?
Like most cliches, the “Antifa protester living in Mom’s basement” trope contains a grain of truth. More millennials live with their parents than with a romantic partner – the first generation in over 150 years to forsake ‘leaving the nest’ in favor of moving back in with Mom and Dad. The trend is only growing: the percentage of young adults living with their parents has more than doubled since 2000. And the Covid-19 economic shutdown has forced even more newly unemployed young adults to retreat to the safety of their parents’ basements.
But this isn’t necessarily because they’re too lazy to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Many work – or worked, pre-pandemic – multiple jobs, struggling under crippling student loan debt, often emerging from the college education they were told would open the door to professional success only to find all the good jobs have been taken and their law degree has merely prepped them for waiting tables at Applebee’s. They don’t qualify for a mortgage or even a rental apartment – landlords generally demand tenants make 40 times the monthly rent – and thus moving back in with their parents is their only option.
Even young adults who live on their own are much more likely to rent than own. While some commentators have tried to spin this as young people not wanting to be tied down, it usually boils down to simple poverty. Nearly three-quarters of millennials believe home ownership is a “top priority” – they just can’t afford it. And a growing proportion have become resigned to the fact that they’ll “always rent.” Do those who condemn millennial living habits genuinely believe that, given the opportunity to not turn over more than a third of their monthly salary to a parasitic landlord, they wouldn’t take it?