Are Millennials Turning Their Backs on the American Dream?

In “Are Millennials Turning Their Backs on the American Dream?”, Joel Kotkin discusses “the perception of a majority of middle class Americans that their children will not do better than them, with as many as pessimistic about the future as are optimistic.”

After discussing the much-discussed, increasing economic disparity between the super-wealthy and everyone else, Kotkin notes:

There are many others, farther out on the green urbanist track, who believe that the entire notion of middle class upward mobility is too consumption-oriented and, well, sort of in bad taste. They maintain that millennials will not only eschew home ownership but the ownership of automobiles and practically anything else bigger than their beloved electronic gadgets.

Indeed, this transformation would be greeted with enthusiasm by many greens and traditional urbanists. The environmental magazine Grist even envisions “a hero generation” that will escape the material trap of suburban living and work that engulfed their parents. “We know the financial odds are stacked against us, and instead of trying to beat them, we’d rather give the finger to the whole rigged system,” the millennial author concludes…

…Hemmed in by college debt and a persistently weak economy, almost 40 percent of the unemployed are between 20 and 34. A smaller percentage of American males between 25 and 34—the key age for prospective families—are in the workforce than at any time since 1948.

Kotkin isn’t as pessimistic as some, seeing the millennials as moving neither in the direction of their parents (i.e., suburban home, nuclear family), nor in the direction of the radicals (e.g., non-surburban living arrangements; no marriage or family), but as charting a course in between:

[M]ost millennials clearly do not aspire to the ideal of singleness and childlessness embraced by more radical boomer enthusiasts. That said, they will not recreate the family or their residence in their parents’ image. They may, for example, be more willing to customize their residences for their own unique needs or for greater energy efficiency, and place greater emphasis on “technology capabilities” than on a larger kitchen, or some more traditional suburban accoutrements.

As they get on with life, they will also make new demands on their bosses, warn Hais and Winograd. Companies will need to accommodate as well the new familial arrangements that Millennials are likely to seek out. This means firms will need to adopt policies that favor telecommuting, flexible hours, and maternity and paternity leave that will allow for a better balance between work and personal life.

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