The families that raised Baby Boomers and sacrificed in wars, built America’s urban industrial complex, built suburbs, and enjoyed the “Father Knows Best” life style begun in the 1950s, have given way to the Baby Boom family. Once again, Baby Boomers lead the way.
Today’s families have significant needs and the children of the Baby Boomers want even more; and they want it now. Baby Boomers may have at last reached the bottom of their idealistic barrel: America cannot continue to feed their insatiable need for “things better.” Their children may be in even bigger economic peril.
Not all families are created equal. The families of the 1950s are significantly different than the families today’s kids grow up in. Family formation, it appears, requires significant capital–more every generation. Imagine a family of two adults and three kids in the 1950s needing the equivalent of $100 sneakers and $500 cell phones. Once formed, it now seems that family sustainability is an even more onourous challenge than ever. A challenge for the former 1950s nuclear family that is troubling, perhaps impossible, for today’s young adults. The credit generation has given birth to a debt weary generation that nevertheless has become accustomed to good things. For their parents, it’s no picnic either. They still have a third of their lives to live and they want good things too. The prospect of retiring and watching their kids succeed and do better is slipping away from common sense.
Given the aftermath of the recent recession, much is being said about trends and consequences resulting from a significantly deep and long economic downturn. Looking at much of the discussions, there seems to be much ado about, presumably, middle class kids whose direct trajectory into gainful employment, family formation and independent living (from their parents) has been interrupted by an anomalous job market. Perhaps even more menacing, the current market deviation may be a long term or even permanent shift in both what it means to be middle class in American and what it takes to get there. Seen in this way, then, it is not only a temporary “kid” problem but perhaps a more significant and consequential trend affecting what is to come for the foreseeable future.
Perhaps the two cohorts that stand out are those who have been middle class for generations and are now for the first time facing the prospect of seeing their kids face economic and social challenges not experienced in recent memory–save horror tales from the Great Recession experience by the parents of today’s Baby Boomers. The second group are families who represent the first generation into the fledgeling middle class … Who thought for sure that their children would experience the stability, opportunities and support that they saw as they increasingly ensconced themselves in middle class circles… But those ladders and supports now seem less sure, scarce and apparent. This second cohort, unlike the first, did not themselves have middle class parents and, therefore, inherited very little if anything at all. Retirement, then, did not include taking care of the needs of their young well beyond young adulthood.
The aftermath of the recent recession and America’s ability to reproduce and grow its middle class now seems in question. If we can agree that that middle class is the secret ingredient of American success, then we should be deeply troubled by this …
“Though the nation is officially four years into economic recovery, a new Pew Research Center analysis of recently released Census data suggests that most Millennials (adults ages 18 to 32) are still not setting out on their own.
As of March 2013, only about one-in-three Millennials (34%) headed up their own household. This rate is unchanged from March 2012 and even lower than the level observed in the depths of the Great Recession ( in 2009, 35% of 18- to 32-year-olds headed their own households). The absence of any increase in household formation among Millennials is significant because it contributes to lackluster apartment and housing demand as well as the demand for household furnishings that goes along with independent living.”