Millennial themed content is kind of like the minstrel show of the new Millennium.
It’s blatantly offensive to a protected class through sweeping stereotypes for the purposes of entertaining the masses who largely distrust this largely marginalized group, who find great pleasure in the overt, exaggerated and hyperbolized presentation of perceived Gen Y foibles.
In fact, this cottage industry of discriminatory ageism disguised as some sort of “best practice” or workforce strategy, which is akin to cryptozoology or phrenology in terms of the validity of a field that is at best, the collision of pseudoscience and pop culture.
At its worst, it’s unadulterated ageism, and often pundits and practitioners don’t even bother hiding their bias or completely irrational (and illegal) beliefs on gender theory. This has become almost as cliche as me writing a post decrying this specious and silly phenomenon. Hell, at this point, the spurious study of “Millennials” is almost a generation old itself.
The World Is Yours: Millennials Falling and the Rise of “Gen Z.”
But, it seems, there’s good news, as studies and surveys increasingly turn their speculative gaze and ridiculous statistics from my generation to “Gen Z,” which, of course, is pretty much the same exact thing as “Gen Y,” but with a different age bracket and some slightly differentiated talking points.
This makes sense, given the negligible difference between these two cohorts really only exists for the purposes of consulting services and content marketing.
Monster, in what might be one of their final PR pushes before going into hiding in the Secret Annex that is Randstad Global, in fact just released a comprehensive study, involving a lot of survey design, administration and data interpretation, which is pricy and involved pretty much no matter what.
And for all the resources invested in this report, the key findings about these enigmatic workers of the future were, well, basically a combination of common sense and stating the obvious. Exhibit A, the title of this fascinating bit of fake news, entitled: Move Over, Millennials! Gen Z Is About To Hit the Workforce, which basically means, “same shit, different demographic.”
Click here for the full version, but the first bold faced conclusion in the report is that “Gen Z Is Motivated – By Money And Ambition.”
Well, thanks for that one, Captain Obvious. Apparently this huge finding confirms that, unlike generations before them, those crazy kids you’re going to have to manage in the indeterminate future go to work for a paycheck, would like that paycheck to be bigger, and actually have some professional goals beyond, you know, hoping shit works out.
The solution here: pay employees fairly and develop them. Yeah, I know. Gen Z is f-ing ridiculous, am I right? And, obviously, outliers that necessitate the publication of even more insights into stuff that anyone who follows either logic or personal observation could tell you without hiring a couple data scientists and retaining an Omnicom subsidiary to package a priori BS with a pretty little bow.
The report, in order primarily to justify the existence of such a ridiculous manufactured news item based on a hypothesis clearly created by creatives instead of people who actually work for a living, did outline some perceived differences between Gen Y and Gen Z that the data supposedly supported.
You know, because they’re like, totally not the same thing and it’s not just a question of career maturity and age, because that would make for a shitty marketing campaign and probably not a great play for consulting services.
Street Dreams: Moving From Ping Pong Tables to Picket Fences.
In this report, Monster found “an unexpected twist,” which is that they differ from Gen Y workers “by valuing benefits and security that have traditionally been associated with Boomers and members of Gen X.”
Get ready for a generation of workers who actually care about stability instead of, you know, solipsism. In Monster’s words: “Forget Ping Pong – Gen Z Wants A White Picket Fence.”
That’s right. They could give two shits about table tennis – unlike Gen Y, who will obviously only work at places where they can play ping pong on company tables that are in no way props for the Potemkin Village that is startup culture.
Gen Y, apparently, just wanted beanbags, maybe free lunch Fridays and to move up or out every six months. Their successors, however, actually would like to have some modicum of a predictable, steady and otherwise materially oriented existence which separates work from life, and subsidized health insurance.
Since Gen Z hasn’t really hit the workforce yet, this is all guesswork (although that will be the case even post facto), but accepting the survey and results as at least statistically valid (if not completely necessary), then this trend is actually not only a headline, but further evidence that age ain’t nothing but a number, and our circumstances determine our expectations.
For Gen Z, those circumstances are far more favorable than their Gen Y counterparts, and the fact that they apparently have some sort of hope of things like job stability, affordable home ownership or expect benefits from an employer is a really, really good sign that things have turned around.
Because even holding these as false hopes would have been, for Gen Y, anyway, a complete and utter disdain for the macroeconomic realities and personal hardships so many of us have faced every day of our careers, the majority of which have transpired after the Recession.
In fact, for a whole cohort of workers (myself included), it’s not that we didn’t want these things, as I’ve written about relatively extensively; it’s that the circumstances and timing preempted that vision of normalcy now slowly returning to the ranks of the emerging workforce.
And if home ownership levels among first time buyers actually start ticking up again, it’ll be a really encouraging sign that maybe, just maybe, we’re almost back to normal.
But for Millennials, there is no normal, only a lot of instability and insolvency. We watched the real estate market precipitate the downfall of the economy, changing the course of our lives and careers, but as that market recovers, our ability to participate in that market becomes an even more distant fantasy. Maybe Gen Z will be luckier, but for now, we remain a generation of renters priced out of the same lifestyle we grew up with by circumstances over which we had no control.
The hurdle of homeownership seems far too steep for many to overcome, and most Millennials seem content to continue renting for the foreseeable future.
Life’s A Bitch: Pricing Millennials Out of the Market.
It’s not like the housing market is necessary malicious at the moment; in fact, while the Economist recently reported that home values in the United States have reportedly increased around 60% since the depths of the Recession, the ostensibly good news for Millennials is that prices are still down an estimated 20% from 2008.
In theory, this means that this cohort of first time homebuyers would enjoy comparatively lower prices (and economic barriers to entry) while simultaneously avoiding the burdens of depreciation or debt driving the existing market downward.
The reality, of course, is a little different.
Price inflation has well outpaced wage stagnation, meaning individual purchasing parity has actually diminished. Property values might be down, but cost of living, conversely, is up; further, a recent survey showed 4 in 5 Gen Y workers had any savings at all, and approximately 3 in 5 report living paycheck to paycheck (68% said an unexpected $1000 expense would be “financially devastating,” underscoring this phenomenon).
For those Millennial outliers who actually are actively participating in some sort of structured long term savings strategy, a study by Apartment List estimates it would take them a full decade (10.2 years, to be exact) simply to stash away enough savings for the standard 20% downpayment.
This preempts most from obtaining approvals for loans like mortgages (even with favorable interest rates), not to mention making a downpayment on an actual property. According to a study by Apartment List, in fact, it would take those Gen Y outliers who actually do have savings a full decade (10.2 years, to be exact) simply to stash away enough to afford the standard 20% downpayment.
Of course, by then, most will be at an age where they’d be better advised to allocate those savings towards retirement, instead. Rent, it seems, is hard enough, which is why so many Millennials have been forced to move home with their parents, a phenomenon too many American households are too familiar with these days.
The Pew Research study estimates that this number peaked at 36% of millennials living with their parents in 2016, a staggeringly high figure that has shifted the “American Dream” of home ownership for millions of Millennials from that of moving up to simply moving out of Mom and Dad’s.
Home ownership in the US at an all time low of 66%, compared with an all time high of over 95% occupancy in rental properties in 2016, according to a recent PwC report. This has actually inflated the price (and availability) of even apartments well out of reach of many Millennials.
Exacerbating this trend is the fact that since the recession, the market for entry level properties has plummeted, too – with a survey by the National Association of Homebuilders showing that less than 15% of new construction starts since 2008 have been for properties classified as “starter homes,” compared to well above 30% of new homes built in the preceding decade.
Those inexpensive, entry level homes that do hit the market tend to be bought up by experienced investors and either turned into rental properties, “flipped” for a sound short term profit or, most commonly, serve simply as investment vehicles for foreign investors who see US real estate as a sound investment.
Taking advantage of a weak dollar and real estate market to snap up around 2 in 5 of all residential property sales in the US in 2015, foreign investors have more or less replaced first time homebuyers as the most active participants in the low end of the real estate market (in addition to their dominance of the high end, too).
It Ain’t Hard To Tell: Millennials, Mortgages and Foreclosing on the Future.
This confluence of circumstances means too many Millennials, simply face an insurmountable wall in a market that does little to nothing to accommodate an entire generation of prospective homebuyers.
According to G.U. Kreuger, a housing economist at CALPERS, the nation’s largest public pension fund and institutional investor, writing in Mother Jones Magazine:
“This is the first time in the supply history of housing where, for whatever reason, a giant new generation is not being served … To me, it’s incomprehensible.”
That makes two of us, brother. The even more incomprehensible thing is, it doesn’t look like there’s any end (at least in the foreseeable future) for what’s quickly transforming into one of the most endemic problems confronting an entire generation – my generation – of workers whose future was mortgaged to preempt us from a future mortgage.
This isn’t a shift in personal values. Just economic ones. So, next time you’re ready to bitch about the lack of stability or long term loyalty among the Gen Y workforce, remember that without a place to call home, putting down roots is damn near impossible. The good news is that’s a perfect fit for the “gig economy” creating further economic instability and uncertainty for the emerging workforce of today (and tomorrow).
Turns out, for Gen Y workers, our generational “entitlement” apparently doesn’t entitle us to a damn thing except getting screwed over.
The lack of home ownership so endemic to an entire generation, of course, means that Millennials’ perceived job hopping, the proliferation of home decor and accoutrements in most offices – looking at you, Ping Pong tables – and that whole “entitlement” myth are, in fact, driven at least in part by the precipitous decline in home ownership rates among this generation of workers.
When you don’t have a home, you have no incentive to put down roots, and flexibility is the tradeoff for not having any real stability whatsoever in the age of the gig economy, so obviously this lack of security at home is going to translate to many of the negative manifestations employers seem to be seeing among Gen Y workers at the office.
The difficulties many Millennials face by being priced out of the housing market could likely be easily overcome, particularly when it comes to things like cost of living increases, corporate subsidies and incentives designed to transform a generation of irresponsible renters living month to month into homeowners who are also willing to put down roots at the office, too.
The time is right for employers to help lead this transformation – and help eliminate the fundamental reason retention has become so damn difficult these last few years.
When you have a 30 year mortgage, you start thinking about tenure a little bit differently. When you have to pay worry about ensuring the ROI of your property through improvements and upkeep over the long term, it kind of changes your outlook on things. There seems to be no way to easily overcome this challenge and create some modicum of parity between generations at work and their respective attitudes, values and beliefs.
Because there’s no need for a lost generation if we can help this one find its way.
By Matt Charney
Matt serves as Chief Content Officer and Global Thought Leadership Head for Allegis Global Solutions and is a partner for RecruitingDaily the industry leading online publication for Recruiting and HR Tech. With a unique background that includes HR, blogging and social media, Matt Charney is a key influencer in recruiting and a self-described “kick-butt marketing and communications professional.”
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