Over the past few years, many media outlets, financial analysts, and market think-tanks have all placed the blame of the deaths of multiple industries on the shoulders of one group: millennials.
Yes, the same group of people that these same organizations see as children-masquerading-as-adults are now being held responsible for multiple economic woes and the slow, steady decline of commercialism, and thus, the catastrophic collapse of the world economy.
A bleak outlook, but is it really accurate? Short answer: nope. Long answer: well…
To answer this question, the Federal Reserve launched a landmark study to analyze if these nefarious millennials really are to blame for the slowdown of economic growth, and what they found was that millennials aren’t “killing” anything, they’re just broke.
Dealt a Bad Hand
Launched in November of 2018, the Federal Reserve’s study took an extensive look at the spending habits of millennials and compared it various factors such as economic conditions, geo-politics, and others. What they found was that millennials are significantly more disadvantaged and, for lack of a better term, poorer, than previous generations. The Federal Reserve concludes that this is because the millennial entered working-age around 2007 to 2009. Unless you’ve been living under a rock since 2006, you would know that this was the height of the Great Recession, the same recession caused by a subprime mortgage crisis that, quite frankly, millennials would have been too young to take part of.
This means that millennials entered their working adulthood with significantly less, well, everything: wealth, assets, earnings, buying power, and more of nasty things like student debt, a weak economy, and unstable politics (although, to be fair with the last one, didn’t we all?). Besides these, the millennial generation also faces more financial difficulties in the form of higher health care expenses, even higher student debts, and a languishing economy that shifts the burden of higher prices on consumers.
So it makes sense that millennials will spend less, frankly because there’s less to spend and less to spend on. The study also led other analysts to debunk the myth that millennials are lazy; they work the same amount of time and the same intensity of work as previous generations, yet earn around 20% less than Baby Boomers did at their age. Industry-killers, millennials are not.
It Keeps Getting Worse
With stagnant salaries, a crippled economy, entire industries folding in on itself, and less perks than previous generations, it’s no wonder millennials have learned how to adapt and improvise in what is basically a post-apocalyptic world (sans armored cars battling for supremacy in the desert).
Suddenly, the “middle-class life” became out of reach, with the number of opportunities to break through getting fewer and fewer. Things that older generations valued, like housing, education, and even health care, had to be redefined by millennials, the metrics of success recalibrated to fit this broke, new world.
Now, don’t get them wrong, the Federal Reserve study wasn’t trying to blame any generation, it really was just a study of the causes of this relative poverty on a generation that had just barely started “adulting”. They found that, after the Great Recession that started in ’08, the government tried to address the situation by implementing laws and policies that benefited the rich, rather than everyone else, in the hopes that it will create a trickle-down economy that would eventually reach all socio-economic classes.
It did not.
Instead, it created malcontent, anger, and even direct opposition: the Occupy protests were a mostly millennial-driven movement that sought to address the inequalities that the government and the “1%ers” have created through what-they-perceived-to-be selfish policies.
And it made sense: even with government bailouts, many corporations were still not in a hiring mood, and in fact, laid off even more people. This created a jobseeker market that was populated by either fresh graduates or experienced employees.
The Federal Reserve study, however, does give a glimmer of hope; the study concludes that, while millennials were dealt a pretty crappy hand, lasting effects on their preferences and spending habits remain to be seen. But anyone on social media can tell you that millennials are getting it pretty badly: in between comparing their lives to their Gen X or Baby Boomer parents, a constant struggle just to make ends meet thanks in no part through their own failings, and oblivious rich friends flaunting their wealth on social media, it’s not a fun time to be an adult, really.
Despite not being a millennial, even I was insulted by all these think-pieces from rich economists blaming millennials and their avocado toast breakfasts for their generation’s lack of funds to buy a new house or start a family. “Financial irresponsibility!” they cried, “they need to grow up!”
But the truth of the matter is, most millennials can barely find a job, let alone worry about getting married, having children, or putting a mortgage on their first house, which probably explains a lot about their spending habits. Rather than spend on things like this, millennials would rather share their resources, hence the birth of services like ride-sharing apps, AirBnB, heck, even websites like TripAdvisor or Yelp! just so people would have reliable reviews of establishments before they patronized their products or services. Anything to save money, really.
But They’re Thriving
The Federal Reserve study concludes that, no, millennials aren’t killing industries; those industries were already dying thanks to various financial and legal factors, and previous generations basically left millennials at the scene of the crime with a smoking gun.
Despite all this talk of economic stagnation, it’s not all bad news. They say necessity is the mother of all invention, and millennials put it to the test. From creating digital solutions to streamline their start-up business’ processes to adapting sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices to help save the planet and their expenses, millennials have found a way not just to survive, but to thrive.
In my opinion, this created a very distinct, very hardy, and very intelligent generation that didn’t let the circumstances of their upbringing take them down. Instead of balking at everything around them and languishing in despair, millennials seem to have put on a brave face and stood their ground, forcing industries to adapt to them rather than the other way around. So don’t worry too much about millennials, those kids are doing alright.