In 2008, as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fought for the Democratic presidential nomination, many baby boomer women did not understand how a majority of their millennial daughters and granddaughters could support a man against the first woman in history with a realistic chance of winning the White House.
In reality, the readiness of these young women to base their votes on something other than the sex of the candidates was a sign of their strength and self-determination. Bolstered by legislation such as Title IX, which required equality of the sexes in the administration of public education, those boomers created a cohort of high-achieving, confident young women.
Already millennial women are taking their rightful place among America’s leaders. Soon they will begin to help redefine what it means to be an effective leader in the 21st century.
Millennials have overwhelmingly turned their backs on conventional notions about the place of women in society, making their generation the most gender neutral, if not female driven, in U.S. history.
A 2009 Pew survey indicated that 84 percent of millennials disagreed that “women should return to their traditional roles in society,” with two-thirds (67 percent) completely disagreeing with the idea. Last fall 82 percent of Millennials told Pew that the trend toward more women in the American workforce has been a “change for the better.”
Their generation is the first in U.S. history in which women are more likely to attend college and professional school than are men. Women are also more likely to receive bachelor’s degrees than men. By 2016, they are projected to earn 64 percent of associate’s degrees, 60 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 63 percent of master’s degrees, and 56 percent of doctorates. But despite of their greater representation in the student body, the number of women holding college student government office continues to lag behind men. “At the 50 colleges ranked highest by U.S. News & World Report, less than a third of student presidents are women.”
In the end, however, the greatest contribution of Millennial women to American leadership may not be simply in holding formal positions, but in helping to redefine its very nature.
In 1964, Warren Bennis and Philip Slater, argued that corporate leadership characteristics would have to be altered to survive in a period of increasing social change in their Harvard Business Review article titled, “Democracy is Inevitable.” They cited five traits that would define corporate success in the future:
- Full and free communication, regardless of rank and power.
- A reliance on consensus to manage conflict.
- Influence based on competence and knowledge, not personal whims or prerogatives of power.
- An atmosphere that encourages emotional expressions as well as task-oriented acts.
- A human bias, willing to cope and mediate conflict between the organization and the individual.
In the intervening fifty years, Boomer parents have raised a generation of women whose attitudes and beliefs are best suited to exercising the style of leadership Bennis accurately predicted would come to dominate organizations in the future.
As social media technology constantly drives down the cost of communicating and increases the freedom and flexibility of each worker, hierarchical top down, command and control organizations are being increasingly supplanted by horizontal structures in which effective leadership depends on creating trust, coordinating innovation, cultivating creativity, and building consensus.
Warren Bennis has called Mike and Morley's book, Millennial Momentum, "Extremely useful, readable and important...the only recent book I have been eager to blurb, it's THAT good."
Members of the Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) differ sharply with older generations on what constitutes success in life. Consider the Life is good Playmakers, the nonprofit organization of the Life is good Company, where Steve Gross holds the title of Chief Playmaker.
“Play is serious business,” says Gross, a social worker who is on a mission is to help kids overcome life-threatening challenges. ““Millions of our nation’s youngest children have experienced profound trauma in its many forms, including domestic violence, abuse, neglect, natural disasters, and severe poverty.”
So last summer, Gross and his band of millennials jumped into their lime-green cars and traveled 1,200 miles in 30 days to spread the power of joy and optimism to thousands of children from Boston to New Orleans. Click here to read more.
The Playmakers are part of a GenY trend.
While all generations are about equally likely to name “being a good parent” and “having a successful marriage” as important markers of success, young people are much more likely also to mention doing work that benefits society and having a high-paying job as important life achievements.
True to their penchant for multitasking and their ability to reconcile conflicting viewpoints, many Millennials do not see any contradiction in seeking to achieve both goals simultaneously.
In fact, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, showed that twice as many respondents under 35 years old (15%) named “being successful in a high-paying career or profession” one of the most important things in life, compared to only 7 percent among those 35 and older.
An even greater percentage of young people (22%) said “having a job/career that benefits society” was one of the most important things in life; by contrast, only 14 percent of older respondents mentioned that as one of their life’s goals. Furthermore, almost two-thirds of 18- to 34-year-olds were confident they would achieve their goals, with young African-Americans expressing the most optimism (70%).
These attitudes were most prominent among the very youngest adults. More than three-quarters (76%) of 18- to 24-year-olds said getting a high-paying career or profession was one of the most important things or a very important thing to accomplish, while only about half (51%) of 25- to 34-year-olds rated this measure of success so highly.
Having a job or career that benefits society was even more important to 18- to 24-year-olds (79%), a belief shared by a smaller, but still impressive, two-thirds of those 25-34.
The most recent Higher Education Research Institute’s annual survey of incoming college freshmen confirms that this attitude continues to permeate the Millennial Generation.
Almost 80 percent cited being financially well-off as an essential or very important objective in life. Seventy percent also named helping others who are in difficulty as a life goal. Raising a family, mentioned by 73 percent, was the only other objective to reach this level of importance.
Are you surprised?
Older generations, particularly Generation X (born 1965-1981), reading these results will immediately argue that Millennials are naive in thinking they can both serve society and score big in the personal income sweepstakes.
For those who view Millennials through the lens of their own generational filters, Millennial Generation attitudes toward success appear to be filled with impossible demands and unrealistic expectations.
But as brilliantly documented in James Marshall Reilly’s book,Shake the World: It’s Not About Finding a Job, It’s About Creating a Life, Millennials are busy changing how we think about earning a living in a way that makes attaining both goals simultaneously completely realistic.
Whether its Blake Mycoskie creating the company TOMS shoes, which gives a pair of shoes to needy children around the world for every pair his company sells, or Elizabeth McKee Gore, the executive director of Global Partnerships for the United Nations Foundation, who first rose to prominence when she started the Great American Bake Sale to fight world hunger—Millennials are beginning to transform the very nature of capitalism and what it means to live and work within that system.
Reilly predicts the generation will create an economic future “based on a goods-and-services substitution model in which traditional, everyday purchases yield philanthropic and humanitarian dividends.”
The Bottom Line
Whether the future plays out exactly the way Reilly (pictured right) envisions or not, it is clear that Millennials’ penchant for doing well by doing good will have a major impact on America’s economic structure.
At a time when Millennials cite the State Department more often than Disney as an “ideal employer,” and they name Teach for America as a more desired place to work than Electronic Arts, the need is clear for every company in America to respond to the desire of Millennials to contribute to society even as they earn a paycheck.
The growth of corporate social entrepreneurship and “philanthrocapitalism” will, in the years ahead, enable Millennials to have successful careers and, at the same time, make the world a better place.
Two Oscar favorites this year focus on the role of strong, young Millennial Generation daughters trying to heal the wounds of their Boomer parents’ marriages in two widely separated, very different cultures. Both films use the relationship of father and daughter — not mother and daughter — to bring a contemporary sensibility to the challenges of marriage.
A Separation shows the difficulties of family life in urban Iran, while the other, The Descendants, takes place in the idyllic setting of suburban Hawaii. Despite these differences in settings, by resting their dramatic tension on this often unexplored family relationship, both movies signal the coming of age of the Millennial Generation and the increasing centrality of its attitudes and beliefs in American life.
Boomers (born 1946-1964) brought the nation’s divorce rate to a historic high of one out of every two marriages. Most of their children have grown up living in single-parent home or at least are friends with someone who has. As a result, 50% of Millennials (born 1982-2003) say that “being a good parent” is their single highest priority in life. Couple that attitude with the relative dominance of females within the generation and you have the perfect recipe for the plot of The Descendants.
In the film, one of George Clooney’s two daughters, is played by Shailene Woodley, the star of ABC Family’s “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” a program whose popularity among Millennials has resulted in an unprecedented five-year run on the channel. The Descendants begins in earnest when Woodley informs Clooney of his wife’s — her mother’s — infidelity, and then, using all of her generation’s philosophy on “how to handle stuff,” helps guide her father’s ultimate reconciliation with his life’s decisions and with those of the people around him.
While generational birth years and characteristics don’t readily translate across the boundaries of culture and religion, the importance of children in Iran, a country in which 70% of the population is under 30, comes across very clearly in A Separation, the odds-on favorite for best foreign film at this year’s Academy Awards. Eleven-year-old Termeh is the one thing that is holding her parent’s dysfunctional family together. Both of Termeh’s parents demonstrate the personal stubbornness and unwillingness to compromise that Americans recognize in our own Boomer Generation’s behavior and attitudes. Even when her parents give up all hope of saving their marriage, they still leave it up to Termeh, the only person in the film with any wisdom, to determine her own custodial rights.
Two other Oscar contenders, Martin Scorcese’s masterpiece, Hugo and Incredibly Close and Extremely Loud, featuring Tom Hanks, also have strong performances by Millennial-aged actors. But the very similar plot lines of these two movies do not have a Millennial Generation point of view about families and the role of women. Even though Hugo is set in a Depression-era Paris train station, andIncredibly Close in post 9/11 New York, in each film a son tries to figure out a mystery his dead father has left behind.
A son attempting to understand his father and live up to his father’s expectations, however, is a time-worn plot, more typical of an earlier era. Despite the technical brilliance of Hugo, neither film is expected to garner top honors from the Academy. Instead, just as “Modern Family” and its diverse ensemble cast has recently dominated the Emmys for TV sitcoms, the Oscars are much more likely to look with favor on this year’s two films that have Millennial daughters and Boomer dads at the core of their story lines and casts.
In so doing, Hollywood will take a major step toward recognizing an emerging generation whose size and unity of belief is likely to dominate American society and culture for decades to come. By 2020, more than one of three American adults will be a Millennial, a cohort in which two-thirds agree on the answers to almost every question in most surveys. Now if the industry could only figure out a way of attracting Millennials to movie theaters as well as including them in its scripts, Hollywood would have an even brighter story to tell about its own future.
The debate over legislation to stop online piracy revealed not only the threat that a new generation of consumers presents to the entertainment industry’s traditional business model, but the equally shaky future of the way Congress currently conducts its business. The high tech, Internet-based companies that Hollywood most fears used their clout with America’s most coveted customers, young Millennials, to stop a rush to pass the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and its Senate twin, Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).
The success of the Wikipedia-led Internet blackout demonstrated the way Congress goes about its business is as susceptible as the entertainment industry’s business model is to disruption from the energy and attitudes of a new, digitally native generation, Millennials (born 1982-2003). The film and television industry’s foundation, built on the notion that content will triumph ṻber alles, was shown to be just as prone to destruction by the Napster virus as its cousin in the recording industry was a decade ago. It turns out that consumers like companies that distribute content, such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon, more than they like the companies who produce and package the content and insist on being paid for it.
But the fact that many in Congress suddenly abandoned their support of SOPA or PIPA in the face of this consumer revolt also sent a clear warning to those pushing the bills, using traditional methods of high-priced lobbying and closed-door decision making, that their way of doing business is equally in jeopardy. Wikipedia’s blackout Facebook page was liked or shared around 1.2 million times on the Wednesday that the site was unavailable to potential visitors. A petition organized by Google in opposition gained over seven million signatures. When Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) announced on Facebook that he was withdrawing his support for PIPA, his action generated 4,700 likes. Between midnight and 4 p.m. on the day of the “blackout bomb”, Twitter recorded over 2.4 million tweets on the subject. The Internet community’s insistence on a more open decision making process forced the Congress to ultimately abandon its confrontational, large-contributor approach to the problem. If Congress actually learns a larger lesson from this experience and adopts a process that incorporates the Millennial Generation’s desire for win-win solutions derived from bottom up participation designed to forge a consensus, it might finally reverse the continuing decline in popularity with their customers — the American electorate.
Today, all national surveys show approval of Congress at historically low levels. Since the Republic was conceived, communication technologies have evolved to reduce the time and distance that separate Congress from the public, but most of Congress’s procedures and practices have remained trapped in a time warp of its own traditions. Creating a new connection between citizens and their representatives by using Millennials’ favorite technologies to build a more transparent, open and participatory legislative process is the essential first step in reversing this decline in Congress’s credibility
This alternative approach to the legislative process was actually utilized by Democrat Senator Ron Wyden (Oregon) and Republican U.S. Representative Darrell Issa (California) in drafting theiralternative to SOPA/PIPA. The two lawmakers published a draft of their approach last year on the web at www.KeepTheWebOpen.com and asked for comments from interested parties. Based on the suggestions of those who visited the site, they proposed a bi-partisan alternative — the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act, or OPEN Act — that uses a scalpel instead of a sledgehammer to address the problem. It empowers the U.S. International Trade Commission to cut off the money supply of the several dozen foreign piracy sites that do most of the damage to content creators.
Although Internet companies and online activists liked both the process and the outcome, organizations such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) continued to insist that the danger presented by those sites to their business model is so great that they can’t wait for the niceties of legalities and due process that the Wyden/Issa solution would involve. The fact that the entertainment industry’s solution is perceived to be so threatening to the freedom of users of the Internet that it united libertarians on both the left and right in opposition to SOPA/PIPA has not dissuaded those wedded to the old ways of doing business in Congress that they need to change their tactics. Their stubbornness is reminiscent of the attempt by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to halt the proliferation of peer-to-peer music sharing sites by suing its teenage customers, before RIAA finally gave up and acquiesced in a new business model for the industry built around Apple’s iPod.
It’s time for Congressional leaders to use the learning experience of the SOPA/PIPA debate to throw off their generational blinders and find a way to concede power gracefully to a new generation with new ideas. To restore its credibility, Congress will have to use new tools to fully involve Millennials and older generations in the decision-making process. It should make a new bargain with the American people, built on an increased level of citizen participation in the process of governing, rather than upon the current trade of access and constituency service in return for campaign contributions.
Only when Congress embraces this new way of doing business will the legitimacy of the country’s legislative process begin to be restored and Congress’s approval ratings start to rise again. Until then the electoral fate of Senators and U.S. Representatives will be as uncertain and as subject to disruption as the future of the entertainment moguls they sought to please by backing SOPA/PIPA.
In 1987, as the oldest members of the Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) were entering kindergarten, the groundbreaking television show, Thirtysomething, began its Emmy-award-winning, four-year run.
The one-hour drama focused on eight Baby Boomers struggling with the conflicting demands of work and family as the generation known for its rebelliousness attempted to settle into the culture and routine of suburban life.
January 2012 marks the date that these “first Millennials” will be 30 years old. For the next two decades, America’s most populous and diverse generation, defined in its teens and 20s by its penchant for social networking and sharing, will enter the phase of life when the choices dramatized in “Thirtysomething” will become central to their generation’s persona.
But, the world Millennial families will be entering is considerably different than the go-go 80s that the Boomers portrayed in “Thirtysomething” enjoyed.
The most obvious dissimilarity between the young Boomers of the 1980s and today’s Millennials is the vastly different economic circumstances that the two generations have experienced.
In one respect, those turning 30 in 2012 are considered the “lucky ones” by their peers. Many of them graduated college and began searching for work before the Great Recession started, enabling these first Millennials to enjoy much higher levels of employment and better paying jobs than those who came later.
Nevertheless, many of the oldest Millennials feel the same burden of college debt and diminished economic prospects as their younger peers. A recent Pew Research study found the average net worth of households headed by those under 35 fell from $11,521 in 1984 to just $3,662 in 2009, a drop of 68 percent. These are hardly the assets required to buy a home or undertake raising a family.
It is not surprising, therefore, that another Pew study found most Millennials postponing marriage until later in life than earlier generations.
The median age of first marriages has never been higher for brides (26.5 years) and grooms (28.7), according to U.S. Census data.
“Thirtysomething’s” focus on the difficulties of married life and the burdens of work among young Boomers made sense in the 1980s when a large majority of American adults were married, and unemployment was lower than it is now.
To be realistic, a show about today’s thirtysomething Millennials would have to include the travails of living in their parents’ house and trying to make ends meet on a part-time job.
Still, those Millennials who can afford it, and some who can’t, will inevitably provide the impetus for family formation in America as they enter their 30s.
A majority of Millennials (52%) consider being a good parent the most important priority in their life. Owning their own home (30%) and having a successful marriage (20%) also rank high on their list of key lifestyle goals and values.
When they do raise a family, in whatever diverse living arrangements they may choose, the greatest number will want to settle in the suburbs. According to a survey by communication research firm Frank N. Magid Associates, 43 percent of Millennials consider the suburbs their “ideal place” to live while cities, small towns, and rural America were each chosen by only 17 percent.
The Bottom Line
Given these Millennial residential preferences and the cohort’s restricted economic circumstances, the current trend toward three generations living under the same roof is also likely to continue.
Because of their size and uniformity of belief, the Millennials will remake America in their image in the coming decades. They have already begun to do so in politics and technology.
Starting in 2012, their influence will begin to be felt in the institution most central to the country’s social and economic life—America’s families. How Millennial families are formed and how they decide to live will determine what it means to be thirtysomething for the first half of the 21st century.
In the end, the Democrats’ biggest Millennial concern is not likely to be the generation’s partisanship or opinions on issues, but its political engagement.
The headline of a December 15 press release from the Harvard Institute of Politics trumpeted, “More Millennials Predict Obama Will Lose Bid for Re-election Than Win, Harvard Poll Finds.” The article elaborated that among all the 18-29-year-olds, opinion on this question is actually quite evenly divided into almost equal thirds: 36% believe that the president will lose in 2012; 30% think he will win; and 32% are not sure. Not surprisingly, conservative media and politicians jumped on the story with particular vigor and glee.
The headline was certainly provocative, but it hardly told the complete story about the Harvard poll’s results, to say nothing of Millennial political attitudes and preferences, entering 2012. The problem is that asking Millennials which candidate they expect to win an election may measure their awareness of the conventional wisdom that says President Obama is in deep trouble and that next year’s election is the Republicans to lose, but it says very little about how Millennials are actually going to vote in 2012. When Harvard asked that question directly, things look different. Obama leads among Millennials by double digits against all likely Republican opponents: 11 points versus Mitt Romney and 16 points versus both Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry.
The current state of Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) political opinions and behavior is, in fact, reflected far more completely and precisely by a November Pew Research survey:
“In the last four national elections generational differences have mattered more than they have in decades. According to exit polls, younger people have voted substantially more Democratic than other age groups since 2004, while older voters have cast more ballots for Republican candidates in each election since 2006. The latest national polls suggest this pattern may well continue in 2012… One of the largest factors driving the current generation gap is the arrival of diverse and Democratic-oriented Millennials… This group holds liberal attitudes on most social and governmental issues.”
In the Pew research, Millennials prefer Barack Obama over Mitt Romney (61% vs. 37%) by about the same 2:1 margin that they voted for him against John McCain in 2008 (66% vs. 32%). Even white Millennials, a cohort that has received considerable attention from commentators in recent months for their modest drift toward the GOP, are evenly divided in the 2012 voting preferences (49% each for Obama and Romney). The president’s margin among Millennials is even greater against other potential Republican nominees than it is against Romney.
Moreover, Millennials tended toward the Democrats before Barack Obama achieved national prominence. Millennials identify as Democrats over Republicans by 50% to 35%. Majorities of Millennials also hold favorable attitudes toward the Democratic Party (51%) and unfavorable attitudes toward the GOP (53%). In the policy arena, by 56% to 35%, Millennials prefer a bigger government that provides more services to a smaller government that provides fewer services. This broad belief in governmental approaches in dealing with economic and societal issues is reflected in the almost 2:1 preference of Millennials for the expansion rather than the repeal of the 2010 health care reform legislation (44% to 27%) and for increased spending to help economic recovery rather than reducing the budget deficit (55% to 41%).
Millennials also hold opinions on a range of social issues that incline the generation toward the Democratic Party and Barack Obama. A majority of Millennials (59%) support the legalization of gay marriage, while only 28% of them agree that America has gone too far in pushing for equal rights. Probably because it is the most diverse in U.S. history (about 40% are nonwhite and one in five have an immigrant parent) virtually all Millennials (81%) favor providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Of course, the Millennial Generation’s continued clear support for Barack Obama and the Democratic Party is not a sure thing. Both the president and his party must convince Millennials that they can effectively use the government to fix the problems confronting their generation and the nation. But electoral politics is a two-way street. To win Millennial support, the Republican Party has to persuade Millennials that it and its potential presidential nominees are a viable alternative. So far, there is little in the Pew research (or any other poll) to suggest that they have done much to accomplish that undertaking. If anything, the GOP’s push to the right on both economic and social issues makes that increasingly unlikely.
In the end, the Democrats’ biggest Millennial concern is not likely to be the generation’s partisanship or opinions on issues, but its political engagement. The Pew survey indicates that only 69% of Millennials claim to care a good deal about who wins the presidency in 2012. This compares with over 80% among older generations. At the same time, a recent Gallup Poll indicates that the contentious struggle for the Republican presidential nomination and the performance of the party’s leadership in Congress may have taken a toll on the Republican Party and sharply narrowed the “enthusiasm gap” between the Democrats and GOP.
As a result, the participation of Millennials is perhaps even more crucial in 2012 than it was four years earlier. In 2008, the generation comprised about 17% of the electorate and accounted for about 80% of Barack Obama’s national popular vote majority. In 2012, as increasing numbers of Millennials reach voting age, they have the potential to comprise about a quarter of the electorate. If Millennials vote in numbers proportionate to their potential, their continued support of the president, as indicated by Pew, will likely allow him to overcome any losses he suffers among older voters. If large numbers of Millennials do not vote or are prevented from doing so by efforts in states across the country to limit their turnout, the president’s reelection chances will be sharply reduced.
The answers to those questions, not any current judgments on which candidate is likely to win, will very likely determine whether Barack Obama or his eventual Republican opponent is inaugurated as president on January 20, 2013.
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.
The gap between the support Millennials have for the beliefs of the protest movement and their less than enthusiastic backing of it, suggests both the opportunity for success Occupy still has and the danger to the movement if it fails to focus its strategy on attracting Millennials to its cause.
With municipal authorities disrupting and dismantling the Occupy movement’s encampments in cities across the country, many are questioning if the movement can survive without its most visible symbol of sustainability. Now that its physical presence is under siege, the need for the movement to attract more members of the Millennial generation – and align itself with its beliefs and behaviors – becomes even more critical. Demographic figures show that any social movement or trend endorsed by America’s youngest and most populous generation – the Millennial generation (born 1982-2003) – is likely to shape or even dominate American life in the decades ahead, while any rejected by it is likely to fall by the wayside.
While the Occupy movement has had some success in appealing to Millennials, it still has more to do before it is fully embraced by the generation, as suggested by the results of a national survey conducted this month by the consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates.
Gaining widespread Millennial endorsement wouldn’t just represent a PR victory by the Occupy movement. By 2012, when more than 60 percent of this 95-million-strong generation will be 18 or older, almost 1 in 4 American adults will be a Millennial. By the end of this decade, when virtually all Millennials will have come of age, the generation will comprise more than one-third (36 percent) of US adults. Millennial approval and participation is vital to the Occupy movement’s survival going forward.
Demographically, the movement has significant Millennial representation, but it does not appear to be predominantly comprised of Millennials. A survey conducted by Fordham University professor Costas Panagopoulos indicated that the mean age of adult protesters in New York’s Zuccotti Park was 33. Since the oldest Millennial is just 29, it is obvious that a fair number of those in the park were members of older generations.
Demonstrations on or near college campuses almost certainly contain larger contingents of Millennials than those elsewhere. Still it is evident that older generations are playing a key role in the Occupy movement, particularly the anarchists and professional left wing agitators who initially energized the protests.
Attitudinally, large majorities of Millennials do concur with the Occupy movement’s view of present day America.
Eight in ten adult Millennials agree that the gap between the rich and the middle class is larger than ever. About three-quarters of Millennials say that big business and Wall Street have too much power, that taxes should be increased on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans (75 percent), and that Wall Street and the financial industry should be punished for their role in the economic recession (71 percent). Two-thirds of the generation favor increased regulation of banks and the financial industry.
Millennials also have a somewhat better assessment of the Occupy movement itself than do older generations. The strongest Millennial perception of the movement is that it is “liberal” (38 percent), not a negative term within the only generation in which liberals and progressives outnumber conservatives and moderates.
By contrast, the strongest perceptions held of the Occupy movement by Baby Boomers and senior citizen Silents is that the movement is “anti-establishment” (39 percent), “radical” (30 percent), and even “revolutionary” (25 percent).
Overall, the Millennial generation is evenly divided about the movement, with a quarter still uncertain. Even so, Millennials are more positive about Occupy than older generations, among whom 34 percent hold favorable opinions and 44 percent negative.
But despite their sympathy with the movement, Millennials are not yet ready to fully endorse the Occupy movement. This gap between the support Millennials have for the beliefs of the protest movement and their less than enthusiastic backing of it, suggests both the opportunity for success Occupy still has and the danger to the movement if it fails to focus its strategy on attracting Millennials to its cause.
One problem, according to observers ranging from newspapers to high school and college students and even to the “belly of the beast,” Wall Street itself, is that the Occupy movement lacks strong leaders who can guide and personalize it. A large majority of the public at large and Millennials in particular (67 percent each) agrees with this assessment.
Most of the major social movements of the 20th century had charismatic leaders, such as Martin Luther King, Jr.(civil rights) and Gloria Steinem (women’s liberation), who played this key role. But in the social network-driven 21st century, movements appear, by design, to be “leaderless,” and lacking in clear structure. They are horizontal rather than vertical.
A far more important concern is that about 7 in 10 Millennials cannot figure out just what the Occupy movement is and what its goals really are. In only a few scattered locations, such as college campuses in California where there was a call for tuition relief, did Occupy protestors cite definite actionable objectives or make specific demands. In contrast to the tea party’s clear and consistent opposition to tax increases or “big government” programs like “Obamacare,” the goals of the Occupy movement often seem unvoiced and inchoate.
Unlike the ideologically driven Boomer Generation, which was content to use teach-ins and other talk-a-thon strategies to endlessly discuss, if not actually advance, its causes, Millennials bring a strong dose of pragmatism to their desire to change the world and would be more likely to participate in Occupy activities if they were more action-oriented.
In the end, if the Occupy movement is to become Millennial and really effect change, it must do more than simply inspire sympathy and sentiment. It must move beyond being a protest movement and become a political movement, one with specific goals that engages and alters the political process. Only by using these and other tactics to attract the Millennial Generation will the Occupy movement break out of its original, limited conception as simply being a way to express unhappiness with current economic conditions. To fully achieve its potential, even without a permanent, physical presence in urban America, it must take the steps necessary to become a decisive, action-oriented voice within an emerging and powerful generation.
The New York Times reports that many in the vanguard of the MyBarackObama.com phenomenon of the 2008 election are too worried about their economic prospects to expend the same energy on behalf of President Obama’s 2012 election campaign. Although the article also points out that there is an enormous outpouring of fresh blood now working on the Obama campaign from Millennials too young to have been eligible to vote in 2008, the report nevertheless highlights a critical issue for the Obama campaign’s plan to win re-election.
President Obama will be re-elected if he can engage and turn out America’s youngest generation, Millennials (born 1982-2003), who still support him by overwhelming margins. In fact, the most recent Pew research shows a 20 point margin in Obama’s favor between the voting preferences of Americans, 18-29, and those over age 65, the widest generational gap their research has ever measured.
It is certainly true that, despite the president’s personal popularity, economic concerns are weighing down his reelection chances. Moreover, there is scant likelihood that economic circumstances in 2012 will be dramatically different than they are now. So contrary to conventional wisdom, the economy, stupid, is not likely to hurt the president’s chances more than it has to date. Its effect is already built into the poll’s numbers, which show Obama beating his most likely—and strongest—potential opponent, Mitt Romney, by six percentage points in the most recent Battleground survey.
Nor are the often cited independents likely to be the group of voters whose opinion ultimately decides the election. Surveys show that true independents, those who do not lean to either party in their partisan identification, make up at most 10% of all eligible voters. And this group tends to be the least informed portion of the electorate and therefore the least likely to vote.
Instead, the candidate and party that do the best job of turning out their base vote will be victorious a year from now. Right now, “the GOP benefits from a continuing intensity gap, with 79 percent of Republicans saying they are extremely likely to vote next November, compared with 65 percent of Democrats.” And much of that gap comes from the current lack of attention and enthusiasm among Millennials as the recent Pew research documents.
In 2008, young Millennials provided more than 80% of Obama’s winning margin. In 2012 there will be 16 million more of them eligible to vote, making them almost one-quarter of the eligible electorate. With all polls showing Millennials prefer Obama over any of his potential rivals, including Mitt Romney, by the same 2:1 margin that they voted for him in 2008, there is only one clear, winning strategy for the President’s re-elect campaign to pursue.
Just as they have been doing with their recent focus on jobs and student loan burdens, the Obama campaign will need to engage Millennials with the same focus and superior outreach that they did in 2008. If it is successful in getting America’s newest generation to the polls in November, 2012 President Obama will win re-election and continue to usher in a new, Millennial era, in American politics.
In his usual ill-timed way, as “Occupy” protests started to spread across the country, columnist and author Tom Friedman used his appearance on MTV to tell ”young people [that they] need to be paying attention right now because we’re messing with your future.” This was only the most recent occasion when Friedman suggested that today’s young people—the Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003)—are somehow too quiet, inattentive, or apathetic about the weighty issues that confront their generation and the nation. At least as far back as 2007, when the issue was the Iraq war, Friedman argued that Millennials should follow the example of his generation—Baby Boomers—and take to the streets to directly protest the war and confront the government that was waging it, even as Millennials were organizing to elect a presidential candidate who kept his promise to phase out America’s involvement in that conflict. Millennials are not apathetic or inattentive. Given their relatively limited employment prospects, high student loan debts and the fact that it is their generation that makes up most of America’s fighting force in Iraq and Afghanistan, it defies logic to suggest that Millennials are unaware of and do not care about what is going on around them. In 2008, Millennials, for all practical purposes, elected President Obama. Turning out in larger numbers than young people had for decades and voting for Barack Obama over John McCain by a greater than 2:1 margin (66% to 32%), their generation contributed about 80 percent of the president’s popular vote margin of victory. A recent CNN survey indicates that Obama maintains this same 2:1 lead among Millennials against all of his likely 2012 GOP opponents. (PDF) And, Millennials hold positions that are in almost total contrast to those of older generations on the range of issues that are currently the focus of debate in American politics. According to Pew Survey Research Center data, by a 54% to 39% margin Millennials favor a larger activist government that “provides more services” to a “smaller government that provides fewer services.” By 64% to 31% Millennials endorse gay marriage and by 69% to 26% they believe that immigrants strengthen rather than threaten American society and values. Of course, Friedman might argue that just because Millennials have distinctive beliefs, they don’t seem to be very busy acting on those beliefs. Actually, however, Millennials are plenty busy. Perhaps if Friedman were to meet and talk with Millennials such as Hilary Doe, who heads the Roosevelt Institute’s Campus Network efforts to develop and implement a comprehensive program to reshape all aspects of American life by 2040 detailed in their Blueprint for a Millennial America, he might think differently about the level of public advocacy among Millennials. Or maybe he should observe the Millennial Leadership Summit in November in New York City where, Mobilize.org, the organization Maya Enista leads, will provide leadership development opportunities for already successful Millennial social entrepreneurs and encourage other members of the network to further develop their leadership skills.. Maybe Friedman is missing all of this involvement and hard work because what Millennials are doing and how they go about doing it doesn’t make for “good TV” like the “in your face” protest tactics that Friedman’s Boomer Generation used almost half a century ago. But despite Boomer fixation with the technology of their youth, just because it’s not on TV, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Millennials are neither inactive nor docile, but are working hard to fix the unresponsive institutions and inequitable systems they have inherited from earlier generations. If Boomers would take the time to look in the right places they would see—and maybe even feel good about—what Millennials are doing to clean up the mess that Friedman acknowledges his generation created for its kids and grandkids.
In his usual ill-timed way, as “Occupy” protests started to spread across the country, columnist and author Tom Friedman used his appearance on MTV to tell ”young people [that they] need to be paying attention right now because we’re messing with your future.”
This was only the most recent occasion when Friedman suggested that today’s young people—the Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003)—are somehow too quiet, inattentive, or apathetic about the weighty issues that confront their generation and the nation. At least as far back as 2007, when the issue was the Iraq war, Friedman argued that Millennials should follow the example of his generation—Baby Boomers—and take to the streets to directly protest the war and confront the government that was waging it, even as Millennials were organizing to elect a presidential candidate who kept his promise to phase out America’s involvement in that conflict.
Millennials are not apathetic or inattentive. Given their relatively limited employment prospects, high student loan debts and the fact that it is their generation that makes up most of America’s fighting force in Iraq and Afghanistan, it defies logic to suggest that Millennials are unaware of and do not care about what is going on around them.
In 2008, Millennials, for all practical purposes, elected President Obama. Turning out in larger numbers than young people had for decades and voting for Barack Obama over John McCain by a greater than 2:1 margin (66% to 32%), their generation contributed about 80 percent of the president’s popular vote margin of victory. A recent CNN survey indicates that Obama maintains this same 2:1 lead among Millennials against all of his likely 2012 GOP opponents. (PDF) And, Millennials hold positions that are in almost total contrast to those of older generations on the range of issues that are currently the focus of debate in American politics. According to Pew Survey Research Center data, by a 54% to 39% margin Millennials favor a larger activist government that “provides more services” to a “smaller government that provides fewer services.” By 64% to 31% Millennials endorse gay marriage and by 69% to 26% they believe that immigrants strengthen rather than threaten American society and values.
Of course, Friedman might argue that just because Millennials have distinctive beliefs, they don’t seem to be very busy acting on those beliefs. Actually, however, Millennials are plenty busy. Perhaps if Friedman were to meet and talk with Millennials such as Hilary Doe, who heads the Roosevelt Institute’s Campus Network efforts to develop and implement a comprehensive program to reshape all aspects of American life by 2040 detailed in their Blueprint for a Millennial America, he might think differently about the level of public advocacy among Millennials. Or maybe he should observe the Millennial Leadership Summit in November in New York City where, Mobilize.org, the organization Maya Enista leads, will provide leadership development opportunities for already successful Millennial social entrepreneurs and encourage other members of the network to further develop their leadership skills..
Maybe Friedman is missing all of this involvement and hard work because what Millennials are doing and how they go about doing it doesn’t make for “good TV” like the “in your face” protest tactics that Friedman’s Boomer Generation used almost half a century ago. But despite Boomer fixation with the technology of their youth, just because it’s not on TV, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Millennials are neither inactive nor docile, but are working hard to fix the unresponsive institutions and inequitable systems they have inherited from earlier generations. If Boomers would take the time to look in the right places they would see—and maybe even feel good about—what Millennials are doing to clean up the mess that Friedman acknowledges his generation created for its kids and grandkids.