Millennials: The New Lost Generation

serious ethnic man working distantly on laptop sitting on staircase near calm dog
What happens when home is where you take your Zoom calls?

I was recently talking to a friend who was sharing some of his family tree discoveries after browsing various DNA websites. He said he was able to trace some familial branches all the way back to the 1300s. “You must come from royalty,” I joked. “Land,” his wife replied. “It’s all about owning land, and his family was wealthy enough to own property that really made them traceable.” In other words, having wealth is what signified that your family ever existed, but what if you don’t have wealth? Or what if you choose to spend that wealth in other ways besides property?

In this world of Zoom meetings we live in today, a world where we can be more mobile than ever before, less millennials are planting their roots in land or a home, even if they can afford it. Our identities exist in clouds or in databases, where any amateur internet sleuth could probably track me down. Perhaps even aside from the fact that millennials can’t afford homes, they are realizing that experiences are worth more than tangible things. This seems like a righteous shift from McMansions and Hummer-driving suburb dwellers, but at what economic cost? With all the expenses attached to buying and owning a home, it will be interesting to see the trajectory of coinciding industries, such as appliances, furniture, or even construction. 

In 2018, the median age of a homebuyer was 45, which is the highest age researchers have ever seen in the three decades of aggregated data, and in 2019, baby boomers owned 50% of real estate assets while millennials only owned 4%. The average age of first time mothers has risen as well, not to mention the overall drop in birth rates. Without families, homes become less necessary and less relevant to the traveling millennials who are choosing to work “portable” jobs – those that are generic enough to be functional in most places, or those jobs that simply need an internet connection 

Millennials’ lives can exist entirely on the internet whether they like it or not, and it’s become difficult to fly under the radar if you have any kind of internet presence. Though there’s more data than ever out there, it makes me wonder what that gap will look like in future family trees. Millennials may be leaving incredible traces of digital flotsam, but could lose their traceability on land records. What will that data look like 100 years from now, or 1000 years? Though millennials could start shifting into the age of “settling down,” having the option of buying a home may never become realistic until they get some help with their biggest weight: student loans.

Unfortunately (or fortunately?), we may see student loan forgiveness before we’d see the economy turn around enough to bless the Echo Boomers with the same pay and housing prices their parents had. Researchers predicted another recession prior to designer masks ever being in our imagination and long before Zoom started replacing just about every social or professional engagement. In 2019, many millennials were still recovering or had hope of recovery, but now, of course, we are seeing these predictions come true in a way we never imagined. Can millennials recover? A 2019 Atlantic article states, ”Perhaps, if wage growth suddenly and dramatically accelerates, urban cores start to build millions of new homes, and Congress announces a student-loan debt jubilee. But financial experts consider it unlikely.” 

It’s hard to say if anyone predicted what this recession would look like, and that it would hit our country’s health and economy like an exploding tank truck, but it arrived nonetheless and just in time to steamroll the most “screwed” generation again. Maybe we can put our hope in that next bunch following in our wake, aptly referred to by some as the “zoomers,” and it won’t be surprising when this generation, the eldest of which are just entering the workforce, may only know their boss from the shoulders up. 

References

AmeriTrade – Covid-19 and Retirement Survey

The Next Recession Will Destroy Millennials, August 26 2019 Annie Lowrey

Millennials are the unluckiest generation in US history June 5 2020, Andrew Van Dam

Risk of Recession and Debts of Millennial College Students 
The Financial Crisis Changed Home Buying Forever September 7 2018, Christina Rexrode and Hanna Sender