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NEWSWIRE: 1/14/19

  • Preliminary data show that the U.S. murder rate is on track for its largest one-year drop since 2013. Possible explanations include everything from stronger community intervention programs to generational change as cohorts of mild-mannered Millennials continue to age into adulthood. (The New York Times)
    • NH: The upward tick in the murder rate that started in 2015 and continued through 2016 seems to have reversed in 2018--although we won't have final numbers until the FBI's report in September. Some big declines in Chicago, Los Angeles, Columbus, and Baltimore are leading the way down. Why? Unclear. There remains little agreement on what started the up-trend to begin with. One explanation is that the violent crime resurgence coincided with the rising opioid epidemic. Another is the so-called "Ferguson effect," referring to the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014. The hypothesized "effect" could have been either to make urban police forces less likely to pursue lawbreakers in high-risk neighborhoods or to make these neighborhoods less likely to call on police to enforce laws. A third theory is that the ongoing decline in the incarceration rate is putting lawbreakers back on the streets.
    • The incarceration theory makes little sense, since the decline is mostly a delayed response to the dramatic fall in violent crime incidence. The same number of older people (Xers and Boomers) are coming out of prison; it's just that fewer young people (Millennials) are going in. The Ferguson effect is more plausible, explains the disproportionate murder rise in large cities, and fits the initial timing pretty well. Explaining the 2018 decline, on the other hand, is where the opioid story comes in handy. As we recently reported (see: "Trendspotting: 12/17/18"), opioid deaths look like they are going down in 2018--the first ebbing of the overdose epidemic that we have seen in many years.
    • The recent rise--and apparently now, a decline--in the murder rate should be put into perspective. It is not a trend, but more like a "trendlet." The violent crime rate today remains vastly lower than it was during the 35 years in which young Boomers and young Gen Xers were entering their high rage-and-mayhem phase of life. Coincidentally or not, the coming of age of first-wave Millennials coincided with perhaps the most dramatic decline in youth violence in American history. Back in 2016 and 2017, there was some talk that this good news might be coming to an end. (President Trump's inaugural address references to "American carnage" were widely regarded as a reference to a new murder wave.) Turns out such talk was premature.

Trendspotting: U.S. Murder Rate Stopped Dead in Its Tracks - Jan13 chart1

  • Late last year, the U.S. version of an upstart Chinese video-sharing app, TikTok, became the #1 monthly best-selling app on the App Store. The app, known for its “cringe videos” in which users try to stay composed during awkward moments, is a perfect fit for Homelanders who have become adept at managing and regulating their emotions. (The Guardian)
    • NH: If you have tweens--especially girls--living at home, you already know about TikTok. The secret of its popularity is ease of use: In less than a minute, you can create a hilarious (or awesome) video of yourself set to music. The biggest genre is lip-syncing fragments of a popular song. A feature called "Duets" allows you to split the screen with a friend. See these videos by Lisa and Lena, German orphan twins (now 16 years old) who have amassed over 30 million TikTok followers worldwide.
    • This is the first Chinese home-grown startup to hit it really big in the American social media scene. The origin was a Shanghai company, Musical.ly, which started out as a service to help teachers create short-form instructional videos. The education idea failed, but when the founders switched to more informal and socially viral formats like music videos, the company took off and became a huge hit in the United States and Europe. It made the selfie video a "thing." ByteDance, a Beijing company, bought Musical.ly in 2017 and rebranded the service as TikTok in 2018. The secret, again, is democratization and ease of use. If you want perfect videos, you can upload other apps (like Video Star) to edit your TikToks. ByteDance's success is a big blow to Snap and is triggering competing video initiatives from YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. (A couple of months ago, Mark Zuckerberg introduced Facebook "lasso" with little fanfare.)
    • TikTok is a good fit for the Homelander peer personality. First, it's designed more for fast-casual use within families or among small groups of friends than for global stardom. (What's appealing about Lisa and Lena is that they don't look like global stars.) Second, it has lots of privacy settings--which appeals to Homelanders and (especially) their hyper-vigilant parents. Finally, there's a refreshing earnestness about the videos, many of which (yes, often titled "cringe") show self-conscious kids trying to add a bit of style and humor to the adult scripts they are mostly imitating.
  • An infographic based on the Fed's Survey of Consumer Finances data shows that the average Millennial owed $84,600 in total debt in 2016—higher than the amount owed by an Xer in 2001 ($79,400, adjusted for inflation) or a Boomer in 1989 ($59,300). This hefty burden explains why Millennials shy away from risky ventures such as starting a business. (Howmuch.net)
    • NH: There's nothing really new in this graphic. We covered the findings of the 2016 SCF release over a year ago. (See: "The Next Big Thing: The Graying of Wealth.") Yet the text explains the Millennial predicament in part by pointing to the very low rate at which they are starting new businesses, which historically is how many Americans accumulate wealth over time. They cite a remarkable 2016 study by the Small Business Administration ("The Missing Millennial Entrepreneurs") that compares the business start-up activity of different generations. The study uses Census CPS surveys, which basically ask people if and how they have been employed during the previous week. "Self employment" correlates closely with small-business ownership.
    • We reproduce three of these charts here. The first chart shows that in 2014, self-employment has a much "older" curve than regular employment. The second shows that successive generations seem to be less self-employed at the same age--Xers less than Boomers, and Millennials less than Xers. The third shows that self-employment is falling over time for younger age brackets, but remaining steady for the 55+, suggesting that the profile of ownership is indeed aging over time.

Trendspotting: U.S. Murder Rate Stopped Dead in Its Tracks - Jan13 chart3

Trendspotting: U.S. Murder Rate Stopped Dead in Its Tracks - Jan13 chart5

Trendspotting: U.S. Murder Rate Stopped Dead in Its Tracks - Jan13 chart2

  • The XFL, a professional football league last seen in 2001, is back—with a twist. The league owned by outsized WWE personality Vince McMahon originally made headlines as a renegade, no-holds-barred alternative to the NFL—but this time around, McMahon is taking a more pragmatic approach, preaching social media and safety instead of machismo and bone-rattling hits. (The Wall Street Journal)
    • NH: Back in the late 1990s, when Gen X was still considered the rising generation, most initiatives to create a new sports franchise tried to showcase Gen-X personality traits. It would be edgy, risky, unplugged, full of attitude. The era saw the birth of the "X games," the "Winter X games," and the Xtreme Sports Channel. The no-holds-barred mixed martial arts UFC. And the frenzied "Attitude Era" of the WWE. The WWE's longtime owner and CEO, Vince McMahon, understandably believed it was high time to remake football in a similar fashion. So he created the XFL, which (he announced) would “not be a league for pantywaists or sissies.” There would be no "fair catch" or pre-reception "interference." The opening coin toss would be replaced by a "scramble." The teams would have names like the Orlando Rage, the Los Angeles Xtreme, and the Las Vegas Outlaws. This would be the NFL as re-imagined, so to speak, by bad boy Al Davis. And so the XFL began. It generated some interest, but disappeared after one season.
    • Now Vince is back. He wants to try again. But this time the new league is going to be a lot kinder and gentler. He gets it. Today we worry about CTE and frown on taunting. Today we live in the Millennial player era. That was then. But this is now.
  • A new WSJ analysis debunks the “false stereotype of two Americas” divided by income and geographic region. Contrary to popular belief, rural America tends to be just as well off as urban America in terms of median household income and income inequality; we’ve pointed out that income is actually the least reliable demographic factor for forecasting one’s political party preference. (The Wall Street Journal)
    • NH: This much-discussed op-ed by USC professor Elizabeth Currid-Halkett takes on the "hillbilly elegy" myth that somehow only poor and dysfunctional rural Americans voted for the GOP in 2018. And she destroys it. But Currid-Halkett doesn't need county-level data sources to parse out her answer. The national exit polls already show that voters were somewhat less likely than average to vote GOP under $50K--and somewhat more likely over $50K. She does not deny that the GOP voters in 2018 tended to be a lot older and more rural than Democratic voters. Nor that they tended to be less educated--a fact that reflects both their age and their region. (See: "The Next Big Thing: The 2018 Midterms: A Tale of Two Americas.")
  • Out of every ten parents of young-adult children (age 18 to 35), eight are providing them with some kind of financial support. This new Merrill Lynch-Age Wave survey reveals the full extent to which today's Boomer-age parents continue to take parenthood seriously and often jeopardize their own financial future by putting their kids' needs first. (CBS This Morning)
    • NH: Yes, 79% of these parents say they're providing their grown-up kids with financial support. More impressive is the estimate by the Merrill Lynch/Age Wave study of the aggregate transfer amount: $500 billion annually, which is more than twice what these parents are putting into their own retirement accounts. Between 20% and 30% of these parents report paying all of their kids' expenses in the following categories: food, cell phone, school, rent/mortgage, vacations. With parenting becoming such a lifelong suicide pact, it's understandable that Millennials themselves have come to see affluence as a prerequisite to having any child in the first place. Among the (mostly Boomer) parents whose oldest child was born in the 1970s, only 31% say that "finances played a role" in the decision to have a child. Among the (mostly Millennial) parents having babies today, that share has risen to 71%.

Trendspotting: U.S. Murder Rate Stopped Dead in Its Tracks - Jan13 chart9

  • Self-proclaimed “nostalgia-phobe” Joe Queenan bemoans the recycled state of American culture. One explanation for the recent proliferation of reboots and nostalgia plays is the lasting cultural influence of Boomers—which has created insatiable demand for Rocky sequels and Freddie Mercury biopics. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • American adults under 30 are most likely to say they want to live in the suburb of a big city (28%), with rural areas, big cities, and small cities in a virtual tie for second (around 17%). Big-city suburbs also exhibit the biggest gap between the share who want to live there and the share who actually do—but you’d be hard-pressed to find any pop culture that reflects the reality of city-weary Millennials longing for the ‘burbs. (Gallup)
    • NH: Among all groups, a higher share live in big cities than want to, and a higher share want to live in rural areas than live there. Clearly, this is because salaries and job opportunities are much better in cities or near cities--so many country-lovers have no choice but to live in one and dream about the other. All that said, there has always been a clear lifecycle pattern in preference: Young people generally want to move into cities and do so; and as people get older they generally want to move out (to suburbs, small towns, or rural areas) and do so. Young Millennials are even more likely than other recent generations of young adults to prefer urban living (or, once they become parents, to prefer suburbs near urban centers). Driving this preference is partly the Millennial attraction to tech and close peer communities; the increasing safety of big cities; and the rising share of nonwhites (who are much less attracted to rural America than whites at the same age).

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  • As the amount spent by travelers on experiences surges (up 21% since 2014), travel sites like TripAdvisor and Airbnb are trying to get more customers to buy experiences online. With about 80% of travel activities still being booked offline, these sites see big bucks in capturing a bigger share of a market that’s poised to keep growing. (The Wall Street Journal)
    • NH: The in-person travel agent industry is basically kept alive by the whole "experience" side of travel. A plane ticket is a commodity. But what about a three-day bicycle tour down the Loire for oenophiles? We'll find out. My guess is, older travelers still want hi-touch service. And older travelers still dominate the experience economy, especially at the high end.
  • A new Washington Post analysis gauges the emotional toll of school lockdowns. As schools have rushed to implement new safety procedures in the wake of recent shootings, young students have grown accustomed to the hopelessness and fear of a lockdown—even one in which no active shooter is present. (The Washington Post)
    • NH: More than four million schoolkids endured school lockdowns last year, most of them not knowing if this was a "test" or the real thing. The Homeland Generation is indeed the lockdown generation.

                            DID YOU KNOW?

                            What's "Adulting"? It Depends. It’s a common refrain that Millennials have a different notion than their elders of what it means to be an adult. But is this true? In the latest edition of the annual American Family Survey, respondents were asked whether they believe certain factors play into “becoming a man” or “becoming a women.” On several issues, indeed, we see a wide divergence by age. Just 40 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds say that full-time employment is necessary to become a man, compared to at least half of all older age brackets. This age group is also among the least likely (behind only 30- to 44-year-olds) to believe that moving out on your own is necessary to become a man or a woman. But in other important ways, Millennials remain traditional in their views. Young adults are actually slightly more likely than most age groups to say that getting married and having kids is necessary to become a man or a woman—which suggests that Millennials’ delayed family formation may be more a matter of circumstances than shifted priorities.