Monday, March 8, 2010

The Chump Generation

Will Millennials Become the Chump Generation?

In a 1969 Gallup poll, 74 percent of Americans believed in the generation gap. A poll last year found that 79 percent now do. Between then and now, of course, generations have shifted. Then, it was baby boomers (those now 46-64) arrayed against the World War II and Depression generations. Now it's "Millennials" (those 29 or younger) and Gen Xers (30 to 45) vying with boomers and Americans 65 and over.

Consider a study of the 50 million Millennials 18 and over by the Pew Research Center. The report found some surprising and some not-so-surprising developments. Surprising (to me): Almost two-fifths of Millennials have tattoos, up from a third among Gen Xers and from a seventh (15 percent) among boomers. Not surprising: Millennials are the first truly digital generation. Three-quarters have created a profile on Facebook or some other social networking site. Only half of Gen Xers and 30 percent of boomers have done so. A fifth of Millennials have posted videos of themselves online, far more than Gen Xers (6 percent) or boomers (2 percent).
I'm trying to imagine the 2% of Boomers who have posted video of themselves online. Actually, no I'm not.

But I am a proud member of the half of Gen Xers who have not created a profile on Facebook or some other social networking site, thank you very much. As I pointed out in my Intro class last week, I prefer the narcissism of Twitter over the others. I'm not so much interested in becoming your "friend," but if you'd like to "follow me," (or you'd like me to follow you) by all means c'mon along.

But I digress. Why the Chump Generation?
The deep slump has hit Millennials hard. According to Pew, almost two-fifths of 18- to 29-year-olds (37 percent) are unemployed or out of the labor force, "the highest share . . . in more than three decades." Only 41 percent have a full-time job, down from 50 percent in 2006. Proportionately, more Millennials have recently lost jobs (10 percent) than those over 30 (6 percent). About a third say they're receiving financial help from their families, and 13 percent of 22- to 29-year-olds have moved in with parents after living on their own.

More bad news may lie ahead. As baby boomers retire, higher federal spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid may boost Millennials' taxes and squeeze other government programs. It will be harder to start and raise families.

Millennials could become the chump generation. They could suffer for their elders' economic sins, particularly the failure to confront the predictable costs of baby boomers' retirement. This poses a question. In 2008, Millennials voted 2 to 1 for Barack Obama; in surveys, they say they're more disposed than older Americans to big and activist government. Their ardor for Obama is already cooling. Will higher taxes dim their enthusiasm for government?

Time will tell, but the squeeze on both of our generations will be enormous as the Baby Boomers begin exiting, stage right, in the next decade or so. And one thing is certain: the Boomer politicians, who now control all aspects of government in both parties, aren't going to do anything but stick us with a tab they don't want to pay themselves.

And unless you plan on walking the check, we're in for one rude surprise.

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