The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 15, 2012

Other Views: Millennials, dare we say, are thrifty

Scripps Howard News Service

— The U.S. economy since the mid-20th century has always been driven by Americans willing to spend beyond their means — on a bigger house, a better car, a prestige college, a nice vacation, maybe skiing in the winter, the beach in the summer. Basically, it was the American Dream.

The spending was fueled by borrowed money and the sublime confidence of American wage earners that with regular pay increases they would ultimately be able to afford it all, plus put something aside for retirement.

That came to a harsh and abrupt halt in the Great Recession, and while the economy is steadily improving, car sales are healthy, and home sales and prices are rising in selected neighborhoods, it was clearly a traumatic event, no more so than on that group loosely defined as the “Millennial generation.”

Technically, these are people born between 1981 and 1999, but the term has come to define a state of mind as much as a certain age. And that state of mind is reflected in a recent news story that asserted, “Recent studies show Millennials are the cheapest generation.”

They are defined by high student-loan debt, high unemployment — and, if they have a job, it’s probably not particularly well-paying and offers few raises. This group’s morale is not helped by economists who say that when the economy fully recovers, the benefits will be showered not on their generation but the ones to follow.

The result is that when they leave college, they rent an apartment and stay in the city. Even if they get a good job, apparently they are content to keep living in an apartment instead of moving to a nice split-level or center-hall colonial in the suburbs. If they have a car, it’s part of a ride-share program. They save their money despite banks’ efforts to discourage them from doing so by paying ridiculously low interest rates.

Studies show that Millennials will spend on technology, but only so they can surf for cut-rate bargains and entertain themselves at home.

One reason to move to the suburbs has been to more conveniently access better schools, but the Millennials who have stayed behind have been aggressive, even belligerent, about improving their local schools, with the result that there are now long lines and residential chicanery to get into select inner-city schools.

And the Millennials seemed to have inherited their ancestors’ philosophy of consumption: Mend it; make do; or do without. Worse yet, some Millennials who went astray are moving back to the cities.

Now it seems that an entire cohort of our countrymen cannot identify the terms “turf builder,” “homeowners’ association” and “allow extra time for your commute.”

Scripps Howard News Service