Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) tended to be workaholics—causing the average time their Gen X children spent with an adult role model during a typical day to fall to about 14.5 minutes.
Despite their parents’ attempt to make these fleeting moments “quality time,” adult Gen Xers (born 1965-1981) are determined not to let their own work life intrude on the time they spend with their family.
However, as Boomer Anne-Marie Slaughter so eloquently points out in her controversial and interesting Atlantic magazine article, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, implementing the concept of work/life balance can be challenging—especially for women.
As a result, the children of Boomers and Xers, members of the Millennial generation (born 1982-2003), are searching for an alternative approach to incorporating the obligations to family and the demands of work.
The desire of Millennials of both sexes for a “blended life” will remake how work is organized and what is expected from each parent in the years to come.
Ryan Healy, (pictured right) the COO and co-founder of Brazen Careerist, clearly articulated his generation’s desire for something completely different than the work/life balance exhibited by his Gen X elders early in his career.
“I would never dream of saying I want a Family/Life balance. … This whole notion of needing to separate work and life implies that your career, which takes up about 75% of your day, is something you simply try to get through so you can go home and do what you really enjoy for the other 25%. What a terrible way to live. My purpose is to be successful, genuinely happy and to make a difference in this world. … The balance doesn’t work, we already know this. I don’t want to choose. I want a blended life.” Click here to read more.
Millennials like Healy have the most gender-neutral attitudes of any generation in American history.
Unleashed from traditional societal constraints, Millennial women have reached new heights of accomplishment in comparison to men.
For instance, by 2016, women are projected to earn about two-thirds of all undergraduate and master’s degrees and even 56 percent of the doctorates that will be awarded in the United States. Millennial gender-neutrality has also led to a perspective on feminism that isn’t defined in comparison to men.
Jen Kalaidis, (pictured at left) is a writer and marketer in DC who describes her Millennial sisters’ attitudes this way, “Today’s women were raised to believe we were equal to men, but we didn’t have to try to be them to prove it. We play sports, go to college, start businesses, have babies, and travel the world on our own terms. We aren’t constantly trying to out-man the boys, play for play.”
All of this female success has led some male Millennials to rethink what it means to be a man in today’s society.
Two of them, Andrew Romano and Tony Dokoupil, wrote about “Men’s Lib” in Newsweek and took issue with those “who argue that men are ‘designed’ for some gigs and not others … women long ago proved that gender essentialism doesn’t determine what kind of work they can do. … The time has come for a similar expansion of what men can do for a living.”
Romano and Dokoupil expect to see greater participation in housework and child-rearing from the men in their generation as well, with Millennial fathers creating a demand for, and taking advantage of, paternity-leave opportunities as they become more available.
As Millennials marry and start families and pursue their individual careers, employers who wish to attract the best talent of the generation will have no choice but to accommodate their desire for a more blended life.
Such things as telecommuting, flexible hours, child care, and round-the-clock access to technology will become essential elements of the benefits package employers will need to offer their workforce.
With Millennials on track to become more than one out of every three adult Americans by the end of this decade, their desire for a seamless blend between working and raising a family will generate a new national consensus on the importance of enabling the full participation of both sexes in all aspects of American life.
Since at least the time of Socrates, older generations have criticized younger ones for not being as smart, hardworking, polite, selfless, or strong as they themselves were when they were young.
For that reason, it’s hardly surprising that a cottage industry has arisen devoted to attacking the nation’s youngest generation, Millennials (born 1982-2003), as a lazy, soft, self-centered, and narcissistic “me” generation.” Why? Research suggests this tsk-tsking of young adults has found a receptive, albeit selective, audience among older Americans.
Attacks on young people make for provocative media copy and may help sell books or generate publicity for those who find satisfaction in criticizing other generations. But, contrary to these charges, both generational theory and the real-life attitudes and behavior of Millennials demonstrate that, in fact, their cohort is far more accurately described as a “we” than a “me” generation.
Four types of generations have cycled throughout American history.
William Strauss and Neil Howe, the founders of generational theory, know that not everyone in a particular generation can be painted with the same brush.
They make a strong case that both of the two generations that immediately preceded the Millennials—Generation X and Baby Boomers—contain a larger share of individuals who are inwardly focused and self-oriented than does the Millennial Generation.
- Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) were encouraged by their parents to develop strongly held internal values, which, as Boomers aged, gave their lives meaning and on which they continue to be unwilling to compromise.
- Gen-Xers, (born 1965-1981) reared by their parents in an unprotected, critical manner, often became individualistic risk-takers and entrepreneurial adults.
- Millennials, by contrast, are considered a “civic” generation and have historically been group-oriented, problem-solving, institution builders or, in other words, a “we” generation.
- As teens, almost all are involved in community service. Among 2011 college freshmen, 88 percent had participated in such activities while in high school.
- The contribution of these young Millennials to America’s nonprofits is both striking and crucial. In 2008, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, Millennials provided over a billion hours of service, worth more than $22 billion.
- Some would argue that as impressive as these numbers may be, much of this teenage community service is actually “forced labor” because it is a graduation requirement at many US high schools and, therefore, will not be sustained once Millennials graduate.
- But, in fact, most Millennials do retain at least this lesson from high school as they age. Among Millennials entering college in 2011, for example, 70 percent said it is “essential or very important to help people in need,” the highest percentage ever recorded.
- After leaving college, 60 percent said they wanted to engage in service to “help the country” and they have delivered on this pledge. An April 2012 Pew survey indicates that 58 percent of Millennials (compared with 51 percent of older generations) had “done volunteer activities through or for an organization within the previous year.
A 2010 Cone Cause Evaluation study found that when deciding where to work, 87 percent of Millennials, compared with less than 70 percent of the overall population, consider the causes a company supports.
Some Millennials are creating social entrepreneurships that let them use their energy and talent in original and imaginative ways.
- For starters, they are creatively solving problems in arenas ranging from the environment to education and from economic opportunity to civil liberties in dictatorial countries.
- Others expect to implement their values when they join more traditional organizations. In either case, more than other recent generations, Millennials will be driven by a desire and a need to make the world a better place.
- This will permeate all aspects of their lives; not only their free time, but their work as well.
Older workers, take heart! And take a page from—or at least understand—the Millennials playbook.
Traditional or social entrepreneurs who recognize the Millennial Generation is a “we” rather than a “me” generation, and operate on that basis, will be in the best position to compete and prosper in the Millennial era ahead.
How Millennial are you?
To find out, take this quiz, courtesy of Pew Research:pewresearch.org/millennials/quiz.
In the mid-1950s, the McGuire Sisters’ version of Johnny Mercer’s song about what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object made it to number five on the record charts. Their prediction, that “Something’s Gotta Give,” provides an apt description of the outcome of today’s battle between the parents of Millennials who want more say in their children’s education and the teacher unions and school district administrators who refuse to give up a smidgeon of control over the public schools they run.
One of the hottest battle fronts in the war between these two forces has been debates over whether to adopt “Parent Trigger” laws, similar to those passed in California in 2010. Such legislation empowers the majority of parents in any school district deemed to be “failing,” according to the federal No Child Left Behind standards, to essentially reconstitute the school according to parents’ desires either by turning it into a charter school or removing and replacing all current teachers and administrators.
Since 2010, Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana have passed similar legislation and it is up for debate in major industrial states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York. In Florida, the idea came within one vote of passage in the State Senate thanks to the enthusiastic support of former Florida Republican Governor, Jeb Bush. At the same time, such Democratic stalwarts as Barack Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and liberal Congressman George Miller (D-CA) have expressed their strong support for the concept.
Most recently, the bi-partisan U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously passed a resolution in support of Parent Trigger laws. Los Angeles Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, chairman of both the Mayor’s Conference and the upcoming Democratic National Convention, led the charge for the resolution’s passage, aided by strong support from Democratic Mayors such as Michael Nutter of Philadelphia and Kevin Johnson of Sacramento.
None of this has softened the resistance from teacher unions, historically a bulkwark of Democratic support. Often led by unreconstructed Boomer liberals from the 1960s, they see the law’s emphasis on parental prerogatives as the ultimate threat to their control of the classroom and educational budgets. In the most recent battle, unions were able to pressure Change.org, a for profit, grass roots website “staffed by some of the most talented progressive organizers in the country,” to bar StudentsFirst, an advocacy group run by Democrat Michelle Rhee, the former Washington D.C. School Superintendent, that supports giving parents more control over the schools their children attend, from using its website.
And when the chief press person for Parent Revolution, the non-profit that is the primary driver behind the adoption of Parent Trigger laws, was announced as the new education media spokesperson by Obama’s re-election campaign, teachers' unions threatened to withhold their support of the president.
In the long run, the implacable objections of the unions to parents having more say over the type of education their own children will fail. They will prove no match for the irresistible force of generational change that is already sweeping away existing institutional power structures in schools across the country.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of Millennials, born 1982-2003, is the intense interest their parents take in every aspect of their children’s lives. This desire to constantly hover over their offspring earned parents of older Millennials (those now in their twenties) the sobriquet, “helicopter parents.” The younger half of the Millennial Generation, which accounts for most elementary and all secondary school students today is primarily parented by members of the more entrepreneurial Generation X (born 1965-1981). These parents replaced their Boomer predecessors’ tendency to hover and talk with a desire to take action and change bottom-line results.
Millennials are the largest, most diverse generation in American history, and many of them are now starting to have children of their own. When those children begin arriving in the nation’s schools, Millennial Generation parents will bring the same dedication that their own parents exhibited to making sure each school serves their child’s interests first. As a result, it won’t be long before the same rights California, Mississippi, Texas, and Louisiana parents now have are given to every parent in the country. As Ben Austin, the founder of the Parent Revolution points out, “the old coalitions don’t apply here; it’s a cause that unites parents from upper-middle-class and working-class backgrounds—white, black, and Latino alike.”
The type of generational change America will experience over the next few decades will drive the transformation of America’s educational institutions and overwhelm those who attempt to keep parents from deciding what kind of school their kids go to. When push comes to shove, something’s gotta give. And, in the end, that means that those who stand for the status quo in our nation’s schools will have to give up their traditional prerogatives and let parents choose the educational experience they think is best for their own children.
at Politico/The Arena
In this week’s Newsweek, Paul Begala suggests that the 2012 presidential election will be decided by “swing voters” in six battleground states — Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Iowa, New Mexico, and Colorado. But his definition of such voters is so out of synch with reputable polling data that the wiliest of Democratic political operatives must have been trying to fake out Republican readers of this piece rather than reveal the real Obama campaign strategy to Newsweek’s readers.
Begala identifies 916,643 “swing voters” as the 2% of the electorate in each of the six states who have not yet decided how to vote. He makes it clear that his pro-Obama super PAC, Priorities USA Action, will spend $2,181.87 to reach and presumably persuade each of the decisive voters, which is undoubtedly true. But then he gives a head fake to anyone trying to divine the super PAC’s real intentions by saying these undecided voters are disproportionately women, young voters, and Latino. Although it is true that these demographic groups are usually considered to be the most open to commercial advertising, there is little evidence in recent survey data that the relatively few “swing voters” within the electorate come primarily from these demographic groups.
For instance, the most recent Pew Research Center national survey provides analysts with an operational definition that Begala could have used. Using their data, “swing voters” would be comprised of either those who prefer a candidate other than Barack Obama or Mitt Romney; or those who say they are now undecided in the presidential election; or those who refused to answer the vote intention question. By this definition, “swing voters” comprise 6% of the total electorate in the Pew data. Contrary to Begala’s description, men (7%) and women (6%) are equally likely to be in this category. Older people are far more often “swing voters” than are younger members of the electorate. Among Baby Boomers (those 50-64), 9% are “swing voters,” while within the “Silent Generation” (those 65 years old and over), 7% meet this definition. By contrast, among Millennials (those 18-29), just 1% would be considered a “swing voter.” According to Pew’s results, older white folks of either sex (but especially older white women) are most likely to be “swing voters,” rather than young minorities. In fact, in the Pew survey, Millennials preferred Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by a 1.65:1 margin (61% to 37%) — by far the biggest spread between the two candidates within any age cohort.
One can only assume Begala described swing voters in the way that he did to trick Republicans into wasting their money on ads designed to persuade the least likely to be persuaded demographic groups. If Republicans fall for his head fake, the Obama campaign will run right past them and stuff the ball into the basket for a clear victory in November.
at Huffington Post
Every 80 years, the Supreme Court has decisively entered a sharply divided political process to provide its own answer to the fundamental question of American politics: what is the scope and purpose of government? Each time, it has attempted to reinforce the generational and party alignments of a previous era in the face of challenges from the beliefs and partisan preferences of an emerging civic-oriented generation like today's Millennials (born 1982-2003). But this time, as the 80 year cycle came full circle, the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to uphold the individual mandate in the 2010 Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") under the taxation powers of the Congress surprised everyone.
As in the past, the generational and partisan composition of this Supreme Court reflects an earlier era. Five of the justices, including a majority of its conservative bloc (Roberts, Thomas, and Alioto) are Boomers (born 1946-1964). The rest are members of the even older Silent Generation (born 1925-1945). A majority are Republicans. Yet in this case, Chief Justice Roberts bucked history and his generation's preference for ideological confrontation in order to preserve the institutional reputation of the Supreme Court.
Perhaps the Court understood the historical and generational trends any ruling to overturn the Affordable Care Act would have had to fight against. Two-thirds of Millennials wanted the Affordable Care Act either to be expanded (44 percent) or left as is (23 percent). By contrast, clear pluralities of Boomers (44 percent) and Silents (46 percent) wanted it repealed. Millennials, however, represent the wave of the future. They now comprise one-fourth of all eligible voters; by 2020 more than one out of three adult Americans will be Millennials. And that Millennial-dominated future is now likely to arrive much sooner as a result of the court's decision.
Because this large cohort is bringing a new "civic ethos" to American democracy, the Court's decision is likely to have far-reaching effects on the future relationship between government and its citizens. Millennials believe that social rules are important but that everyone should have the freedom to choose how to abide by them. They see government as a parent, setting the boundaries of behavior but not dictating it. Two key elements of the Court's decision today reinforce this approach. One upholds the right of the federal government to tax behavior of which it does not approve (in this instance, not buying health insurance). The second denies Congress the right to dictate to the states what they must do with regard to Medicaid. The Millennial civic ethos will use democratic processes to determine national priorities and rules for permissible behavior by both individuals and states, even as it provides incentives for greater individual and local initiative.
With the Court's affirmation of the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, the country is likely to see this framework used to resolve many of the other policy challenges the country faces. June 28, 2012, will be remembered as the day the Millennial Era arrived in the nation's legal principles as it did in its electoral politics four years ago.
at National Journal
In 1964, Jack Weinberger, a leader of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement that kicked off a decade of student protests, famously proclaimed that his age cohort should “never trust anyone over 30.” A recent survey by communications research and consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates suggests that a gap just as deep exists today between younger and older generations. While the gap may not be as visible as in the 1960s, it still has the potential to be every bit as divisive.
Magid asked a national sample of 3,150 Americans, ages 16 to 66, if they were “least likely to get along with someone of the opposite sex, a different racial background, or a different generation (much older or younger).”
Overall, 53 percent say that they are least likely to get along with someone of a different generation. By contrast, only about a third believed that they would have the most difficulty interacting with someone of a different race, and one in five mentioned a person of the opposite sex as least likely to get along with.
Given their high degree of racial tolerance and wholesale rejection of traditional gender roles, it isn’t surprising that the youngest generation in Magid’s sample, Millennials (those in their teens or twenties), were more likely than older persons to cite generational disagreements and less likely to expect disagreements across racial or gender lines. This was especially true of the teenagers in the survey.
While Magid’s question focused on interpersonal relationships, there is already evidence that the generational divisions it uncovered will be of increasingly broad societal importance in the years ahead.
In the 2008 presidential election, for example, Millennials supported Barack Obama over John McCain by greater than 2-to-1 (66 percent to 32 percent), while the next two older cohorts (Generation X and boomers) divided their votes about evenly between the two candidates; a majority of senior citizens supported McCain.
According to the latest polls, Millennials support Obama by about the same 2-to-1 margin as in 2008, while Gen-X’ers and boomers are evenly split. Seniors prefer the Republican candidate by an even greater margin than they did four years ago.
Indeed, Pew’s latest American Values Survey attributes much of the increasing polarization of U.S. politics to the “strong generational characteristics of the Millennial generation compared with” older generations. This makes it likely that the same large generational split will occur again this November.
But the political differences are only one example of a large-scale division in attitudes and behavior between Millennials and their elders. From the country’s houses of worship to its major-league ballparks and from its homes to its workplaces, Millennials have a very different outlook on society than older Americans.
So far this generational division has not had the acrimony of the generation gap from the 1960s. In large part that’s because Millennials, unlike the boomers of 50 years ago, are not rebellious by nature. If anything, Millennials are unfailingly polite. Their parents, whom they actually like, have taught them to seek win-win solutions to controversial issues.
However, as demographer Joel Kotkin indicates, many current public policies work to the benefit of older generations at the expense of younger ones. Kotkin points out that U.S. politicians of both the right and left promote “governmental policies [that] continue to favor boomers and seniors over the young.”
In Great Britain, young people have formed an organization, the Intergenerational Foundation, to publicize and begin to redress their grievances. The IF website features postings such as “Intergenerational Practice vs. Intergenerational Justice” and “Sharing the cake—an Intergenerational Dilemma” that clearly express the organization’s concerns.
Perhaps American Millennials will not form groups that are so explicitly focused on their own cohort or take to the streets as boomers did five decades ago. But that does not mean that they will do nothing.
Unlike many European countries with small youth populations, Millennials have the numbers to produce more equitable public policies. At 95 million, Millennials are the largest American generation ever.
By 2020 they will comprise more than one in three eligible voters. Sooner or later, those numbers, and the unity of belief that the millennial generation has so far brought to politics, will allow the generation to reshape the United States, first as voters and then as the nation’s leaders.
The way in which boomers and seniors react to the growing presence of Millennials, and the younger generation’s distinctive beliefs, will determine how difficult the transition from the old to the new America will be.
One of the distinctive traits of Millennials (born roughly 1982-2003) is a constant feeling of being pressured. Thanks to their parents setting high expectations for them, Millennials consider life a series of hoops to be jumped through.
At each stage of their young lives, from kindergarten to college, the pressure to succeed has made them a risk averse, anxious generation, even as they remain optimistic about their ultimate success.
As a result, almost half of Millennials (45%) report feeling nervous due to stress at least monthly, and more than half (52%) say that their stress levels have increased over the last five years. But Millennials are also demonstrating a much healthier approach to dealing with this problem than older generations, reinforcing their reputation as the best-behaved American generation in decades.
Stress Response From Different Generations
The latest report from the American Psychological Association on Stress in America reveals very distinctive patterns in how different generations handle stress.
It explains that Boomers and senior citizens are much more likely than Millennials to “get in touch with their inner self” in order to deal with stress, either through prayer, or reading, or telling others their feelings rather than “keeping them bottled up” inside.
Meanwhile, members of Generation X, which is generally the most stressed generation of all, tend to engage in the most self-destructive behaviors when under stress. They are twice as likely as Millennials to say they deal with stress by smoking and twice as likely as Boomers to say they use alcohol.
Millennials, on the other hand, are more likely than any other generation to deal with stress using non-traditional means. Sixty percent say they listen to music to relieve stress, while less than half of older generations do so. Under stress, almost half (44%) of Millennials play video games or surf the Net. The only generation that comes close to Millennials in the use of these techniques is Generation X (36%). Millennials are also twice as likely as other generations to do yoga or meditate to try and relieve stress.
Some of the differences in how generations think about stress is a reflection of their age, rather than their generational type. As people get older, for instance, their assessment of their stress levels declines. Members of the Silent Generation, now over 65, report lower stress levels than any other generation.
Boomers’ assessment of their stress levels has declined steadily over the last five years, from an average score of 6.5 on a 10-point scale in 2007 to only 4.9 last year.
At the same time, Millennials’ perception of how stressed they are as compared to what they believe would be a healthy level of stress is almost as high as their stressed-out Generation X older siblings.
There are also clear age differences in how well people deal with stress. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that adults under 30, the current age bracket of Millennials, are twice as likely to consider suicide as those over 30. While only 1 percent of Millennials actually kill themselves, their rate of suicide is still five times greater than older generations.
Similarly, the problem of binge drinking is much more prevalent among those between the ages of 18 and 25 than it is among older members of the population, predominantly because the perception that such behavior carries great risk goes up dramatically for those 26 and older.
Still, these types of destructive behavior occur less frequently among Millennials than they did within older generations when those older generations were the age that Millennials are today.
The Bottom Line
In some ways, stress is like the weather—everyone talks about it but few do anything about it.
Only 32 percent of Millennials think they are very good or excellent at managing stress, numbers roughly comparable to other generations. The provision of Obamacare to keep those under 26 on their parents’ health insurance should make it easier for Millennials to gain treatment for the most serious effects of feeling pressured.
But having been taught since they were toddlers always to do their best in order to succeed, Millennials will have to develop lifelong healthy habits to deal with the stress they feel. When they do, they will look back with satisfaction on having thrived in the hyperactive world they helped create.
With President Obama’s speech in Osawatomie, Kansas channeling Teddy Roosevelt and decrying the growing economic inequality and lack of upward mobility in America, the issue has finally arrived at the center of this year’s campaign debates. While most discussions of this growing inequality focus on the gap between America’s poorest and richest citizens, a recent report by the Pew Foundation highlights how the same economic trends over the last two and a half decades have also widened the wealth gap between the oldest and youngest Americans to the highest levels in history.
In a time of great political unrest and economic anxiety, this inter-generational wealth gap has the potential to throw gasoline on an already white hot fire. Only by understanding the sources of this increasing disparity can the country develop policies that will help to close the gap and create a fairer, less economically stratified society.
Drawing on data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), Pew documents the tectonic shifts that have occurred in households’ net worth based upon age between 1985 and 2009. During this time, the average net worth of households headed by those under 35 fell from $11,521 to just $3,662, a drop of 68%. During the same period, the net wealth of households, as measured by adding up the value of all assets owned minus liabilities such as mortgages or credit card debt associated with those assets, headed by those over 65 increased by 42%, from $120,457 to $170,494 (all figures are expressed in 2010 dollars).
Of course younger households have always been less wealthy than older ones, since the heads of those households haven’t had a lifetime to acquire wealth. In 1984, this effect of age on household wealth meant that senior citizen households had, on average, ten times the wealth of those headed by people younger than 35. However, the enormous generational shift in household wealth that occurred in the intervening twenty-five years meant that, by 2009, the net worth of senior citizen households was 47 times greater than younger households. The resulting disparities in economic well-being are reflected in each generation’s perception of its own economic situation.
Those Americans over 65 in 2009 are members of what generational historians call the Silent Generation. Only 25% of Silents expressed any dissatisfaction with their personal financial situation that year, a percentage that did not increase in the next two years of the Great Recession.
By contrast, 36% of people under 35 in 2009 – mostly members of the Millennial Generation – expressed dissatisfaction with their individual finances in 2009, a number that rose to 39% in 2011. But the biggest jump in dissatisfaction with personal finances between 2009 and 2011 occurred among the next older cohort, who are considered to be members of Generation X. In 2009, only 30% of Xers felt dissatisfied, a number that shot up to 42% in 2011. Finally, 32% of the Baby Boom generation, born from 1946 to 1964 and approaching their retirement years in 2009, were dissatisfied with their personal financial situation, a number that rose only to 39% by 2011.
One of the reasons behind this disparity of financial and economic concern among generations lies with the different impact the nation’s housing market has had on each generation between 1985 and 2009. The great housing price collapse that began in 2008 had little impact on Millennials, only 18% of whom currently own their own home. By comparison, 57% of Gen Xers own their own home. Three-fourths of them bought after 2000 when housing prices began to soar. As a result, about one in five members of Gen X now say their home mortgage is under water, with the balance owed greater than the value of the house. By comparison, only 13% of Boomers and a miniscule 4% of Silents, most of whom bought homes well before the crash, report having under water mortgages. In fact, if it weren’t for the overall rise in housing prices since 1984 that Silents were able to take advantage of, that generation’s net worth would have fallen by a third in the twenty-five years since, instead of rising by 42%. Clearly, to improve Gen X’s attitudes toward the economy and reduce the inter-generational wealth gap, something must be done to fix the nation’s housing market.
For older generations – Boomers facing retirement and Silents already enjoying their new life – housing is not an especially large concern. Retirement savings based on stock market valuations and/or interest rates and the certainty of pension payments are clearly a much bigger issue with these generations. Almost two-thirds of Boomers believe they may have to defer their retirement beyond 65 because of the decline in their savings and net worth, with about one in four now expecting to work until at least 70. While the stock market has almost fully recovered from the 2008 crash, for those counting on a more interest-oriented set of retirement payouts from bonds or CDs, years of rock bottom interest rates, designed by the Federal Reserve to stimulate the housing market and help the economy recover, have made these investments problematic at best. In some ways, economic policies that are designed to help Gen X with their housing challenges offer older generations scant comfort, and in certain instances actually exacerbate their concerns over their personal finances.
Millennials diminished sense of economic opportunity remains focused almost entirely on the job market. About two-thirds of Millennials are employed but only slightly half of those are working full-time. Almost two-thirds of Millennials without a job are looking for work. Unemployment among 16-24 year olds rose to 19.1% by the fourth quarter of 2009, a full eight points higher than in 2007 before the crash. For all other generations, unemployment has gone up on average by only 5 points during the same time period. It seems too obvious to be worth stating, but the best way to increase Millennials’ wealth is to create an economy where they can all find jobs.
Anxiety that the nation’s economy is only working for the wealthiest drives much of the overall feeling of fear, uncertainty and doubt that pervades the nation’s political debate. But an examination of household wealth suggests the remedy to this disease varies by generation.
Senior citizens turned out in record numbers in the 2010 election to decry the policies of the Obama administration, but it would appear from both the economic and attitudinal data that most of them are more interested in fighting to hang on to what they have or in resisting other societal changes than in expressing any dissatisfaction with their own personal financial situation. Boomers complain about what has happened to their plans for retirement, but it is hard to see how fixing entitlements by raising the retirement age, or cutting the overly generous pensions of public employees will do anything to impact their own retirement prospects directly. To really close the generational wealth gap, policies should be adopted which raise the economic well being of America’s two youngest generations, rather than focusing on those who are already relatively better off.
To bring up the least wealthy of the nation’s households to levels closer to those more fortunate would require taking much more aggressive steps than Washington has so far been willing to consider. This might require expanding the scope and size of government, something older generations especially are steadfastly resisting. This inter-generational debate over the nation’s “civic ethos,” driven by the differing economic circumstances of each generation, will be and ought to be the fundamental issue of the campaign – precisely where President Obama’s speech in Osawatomie, Kansas placed it.