Baby Boomers are wringing their hands about the Millennials. They are lazy, don’t have a strong work ethic, live beyond their means, and are about as narcissistic as it gets. They aren’t saving any money, they’re not settling down with marriages and children, and they’re not buying homes. They seem like a lost generation, one that will never be able to take over leadership of the nation and keep America great.
Gen X-ers are echoing some of the same sentiments. When they do employ millennials, they discover that this generation does not seem to want to “play by the rules” of traditional work behaviors or adapt to the layers of management in corporate America. What these two groups, especially the Baby Boomers, really ought to be concerned with is the bind in which they have placed millennials — a bind that is threatening their financial livelihood and their futures.
Here are some worrisome statistics
A recent New York Times article summed up the plight of the millennials quite well. They are the most highly education generation (27% have a Bachelor’s or higher), yet their median annual earnings are about $2000 less than their counterparts in 1980.
Paying Their Bills and Saving for the Future
Forget it. Their net worth is less than prior generations at the same age. Millennials are dipping into their savings for any crisis. They are not participating in 401K plans or investing on their own (the crash of 2008 settled that for this generation). Their student loan debt is a whopping average of $35,000. With minimum payments, that debt will be with 71% of current college grads for years to come.
For non-college grads, the picture is even bleaker. With a permanent loss of manufacturing jobs, they have few options for employment that will keep them in a middle-class lifestyle.
Their Future Financial Prospects
Given the slow economy, the higher rate of unemployment and underemployment, stagnant wages, and student loan debt, it will be difficult for millennials to have a good lifestyle and save for their retirements. Because of the recession, they are starting at lower salaries and may never fully make that up over the course of their working lives.
Inherited Debt/Entitlement Issues
Millennials will inherit an ever-increasing burden of federal debt payments and are looking at the possibility that they may never see Social Security or Medicare when they reach retirement age. In fact, 58% of them now believe that this part of a secure retirement will be non-existent. Baby Boomers are largely to blame for this bleak prospect.
Millennial Behaviors – Consequences for the Economy
There are some long-term consequences that everyone must consider, based upon current millennial behaviors.
They are Not Making Major Purchases
Millennials are not buying homes. This is a fact that has Baby Boomers especially concerned. In Boomers’ eyes, home ownership should always be a part of the American Dream. It is an indication of individual and societal stability. Millennials would rather be far more mobile and are willing to pay high rents in urban areas for the lifestyle that is offered. With all of the student loan debt and stagnant incomes, owning a home is just not a financial burden they want. Home ownership, in fact, is down from 43.6% in 2004 to 34.8% in 2014. Furthermore, millenials are not buying cars. An urban lifestyle allows them to forego this expense. At least in the near future, this hurts all construction trades and the car industry — areas where non-college grads can still find work.
They are Putting Off Marriage and Families
While some of this may be a part of new attitudes, it is suspected that at least part of the reason for this is the financial burden that comes with a family and the uncertain financial futures that they face. The long-term impact of this gap in births could have national economic consequences in the future as well.
So, What are the Solutions for Millennials?
Perhaps the beginning of a solution lies in the admission on the part of Baby Boomers that they created much of the financial mess that millennials face today.
- They have allowed college costs to put this generation in huge debt – a debt that will be a burden for years
- They have failed to fix ailing entitlement programs
- They have allowed national debt to reach ridiculous proportions
- They have failed to reform public education to reflect the practical needs of society now and in the future
- They have allowed the economy to sputter when they didn’t have to do so.
However, Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers still have time to make important changes that can fix these problems.
Student Loan Debt
We need to erase the interest on student loans. Paying this does not put any money into an already sluggish economy. However, giving millennials more money in their pockets will. Furthermore, we need to give partial forgiveness, even though it will mean tax increases, at least for the short-term.
Ailing Entitlement Programs
The current income threshold for paying social security tax is $115,500. Raise it. There should also be means testing for seniors who are collecting social security and benefiting from Medicare. How much do these programs really benefit an individual whose retirement income is $500,000 or more? Yes, they have paid in over the years, but they have also benefited greatly from a system that allowed them to accumulate great wealth.
Reducing government expenditures along with reasonable tax increases can begin to reduce this burden. At least 20 Fortune 500 corporations are paying no tax. In fact, they are getting “refunds.” Why is that? Huge subsidies to oil companies and exceptionally profitable farming corporations continue. The nation continues to make tanks and other weaponry that is already obsolete. The waste is phenomenal, all because lobbyists control what happens in Washington.
Support Real Economic Growth
Infrastructure, alternative energy, technology, and research and development – these are the growth sectors. We need to be pouring money into these segments so that good-paying jobs and careers can be found.
Reform of Public Education, K-16
Education must reflect a society’s needs. Career training must begin in high school, and yet all of our kids are still forced to read Shakespeare. Two-year public post-secondary programs must be free and prepare students for careers that really exist, through business/school partnerships. Students who pursue a 4-year college program need to begin in their major field of study the day they walk into their first college class. They also need productivity tips for college life, so they do not waste their time. The cost must be drastically reduced, as well. Technology has definitely changed the way we learn. If an adult has a burning desire to read and study Shakespeare, they know how to do this autonomously.
Millennials are wonderful people. They value social causes, less stressful work environments, lifestyles that promote “non-work” interests, activities, hobbies, relationships, and pursuit of their passions. They don’t believe they are the “lost” generation – they believe they have “found” their priorities. Many are also not optimistic about their financial futures. Rather than condemning millennials, older generations need to seek ways to relieve them of the burdens they did not bring upon themselves.