It’s no secret that many Millennials, as well as members of Generation Z, are huge fans of social media. After all, apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are a great way to stay connected with old friends and meet new people. Recently, however, some young people have even discovered how to use their social media apps to ask for financial help. With the recent rise in popularity of an app called Venmo, sending money directly to and from your bank account has never been easier. Gone are the days when asking for a little help from strangers was restricted to those begging for change on the street. With many Americans struggling to stay afloat amid the strain of medical bills, tuition, and the high cost of living, these days it’s become far less taboo to admit you’re in search of a helping hand.
The accidental crowdsourcing app
That said, traditional crowdsourcing is nothing new online. Fundraisers have been using sites like GoFundMe and IndieGogo for years in order to raise money for everything from medical costs to independent films projects. The latest shift, however, is that crowdsourcing is now being done through apps that weren’t necessarily intended as fundraising avenues. Venmo, for instance, was created more to give friends an easy way to split the bill on a night out than to ask for financial assistance from strangers.
As a Venmo spokesperson put it, “We’re definitely not a GoFundMe and we certainly don’t facilitate charitable payments. A lot of use cases for Venmo are people splitting a dinner bill or utility bills, and it’s really happening between friends. If someone was going through a difficult situation and might need help with medical payments, for example, I’m sure that does happen, but we don’t have data to support it.”
Still, many Millennials and Gen Z’ers are finding that crowdsourcing through Venmo can have some pretty killer results. One student named Pauline Elevazo decided to try it out after learning that a charge of less than $2 has been declined on her debit card. Already struggling to pay for other expenses, not to mention tuition, she decided to describe her situation in a tweet that included a link to her Venmo account. Within 24 hours, she not only had enough money to buy her next meal but for three weeks worth of groceries.
No shame in the crowdsourcing game
“There’s no shame in having to do it. Women of color, trans folks, queer folks — these institutions aren’t built to love us and support us. These institutions don’t care about our well-being,” Elevazo said when asked about how her experience felt. “Sometimes you have to turn to folks on the Internet and their generosity, and that’s totally OK. It’s one less thing to worry about.”
As what some people are calling the “Great American Affordardability Crisis” is becoming all too much of a reality, it’s easy to see how Elevazo’s feelings towards financial institutions are becoming more common. After all, things aren’t easy with record student debt souring at a national total of $1.5 trillion and the current median rent in the U.S. at $1,700/month. Not to mention that the cost of raising a child is higher than ever before, as affordable childcare is becoming a rarer commodity.
Social media crowdsourcing has become especially prominent among groups such as women, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and people of color. As the gender and racial wealth gaps continue to persist, many people online are realizing that it’s more important than ever to rally together.
Make no mistake, however, for it’s not just traditionally marginalized groups that are struggling at the moment. One report found that as many as half of all Americans are regularly losing sleep each night over finance-related issues. Though Millennials and Generation Z may be less shy about admitting their struggles, older adults are suffering as well. In fact, the report found that Americans between the ages of 39-54 were among those suffering the most from “financial insomnia.”
The (hurricane-level) winds of financial change
So why is it that the younger generation seems to be more vocal about their plight on social media? It may due to the fact that being broke has never been all that uncommon among today’s young adults. Back in the 1960s, rent was around $71, which equals out to about $588 by today’s standards. Not so bad. Whereas owning a home may not have been seen as an impossible life achievement 50 years ago, these days only 31% of Millennials expect to pull it off in their lifetime. And savings? Forget about it. Granted, there are occasional forward-thinking Millennials and members of Generation Z who have set aside a nest egg. But the average Millennial today has a net worth of less than $8,000 and not even $5,000 in their savings account.
So, when the chips are down, young people today realize that their peers on social media will get it. After all, crowdfunding attempts of this sort usually aren’t asking for much. Some of the most common requests include things such as help with rent, groceries, medical bills, immigration fees, or funeral costs.
Above all, it’s heartwarming to note that a wide variety of different calls for help are actually being met. It may be that someone with a little cash to spare is far more likely to answer such a plea because someone once did the same for them. Though things may not always be easy, at least the Internet has managed to foster a sort of “pay it forward” solution that has managed to help a few people out when it really counts.