NEWSWIRE: 4/9/18

  • Fully 52% of Democrats are considering purchasing from Walmart the next time they go to a department store, up from 44% five years ago. The retailer’s concerted effort to go after Amazon’s blue-zone customer base is paying dividends. (YouGov)
    • NH: Surprise, surprise. Ten years ago, Walmart was still a dirty word among blue-zone social activists who blamed the company for running neighborhood ("ma and pa") stores into bankruptcy, underpaying workers, and spreading soulless gigantism across suburban America. Amazon back then was the cool, smart, hi-tech challenger. Today, the tables are turning. Yes, the Bentonville, Arkansas-headquartered retailer remains a favorite in the red zone. Yet thanks to a carefully orchestrated campaign, its popularity has been rising swiftly in the blue zone as well: Walmart backs sustainability, is a community lifeline during emergencies, is boosting wages, and can slam Trump over culture-war issues like LGBTs and religion. Amazon, meanwhile, has become a new category-killer of jobs and of local stores--and indeed of "localism" generally.
  • Fully 50% of Boomer renters and 31% of Xer renters do not think they will ever buy a home in the future—up from 42% and 28%, respectively, who said the same six months ago. This change represents a historic shift in preferences as older generations are starting to prioritize convenience, affordability, and flexibility over ownership. (Freddie Mac)
    • NH: With its latest survey showing data from February 2018, this report presents a profoundly downbeat outlook for single-family home demand. Yes, the numbers do show improvement in the economic mood among all generations since 2016--though (as consumer confidence data also indicate) more among Gen Xers and Boomers than among Millennials. The problem is, none of this sunnier disposition is translating into more willingness to own a home. The share of every generation saying it "wants" to own a home (and is either working toward that goal or feels it is unaffordable) is declining. For Millennials, more than ever, the turn-off obstacle (especially in the West) is affordability: In 2016, 59% of all Millennials said they were continuing to rent for "financial reasons"; last February, that share had risen to 74%. For Gen Xers and Boomers, a rapidly growing share say "I have no interest in ever owning a home"--apparently, regardless of the price. This growth overwhelms the modest decline in those who say that "cannot afford" to own a home.
  • The Lowe’s UpSkill Project teaches Millennials valuable DIY skills with the help of trained home remodeling professionals. The program is a perfect fit for young homeowners who want to update their living quarters without spending a fortune. (Forbes)
    • NH: UpSkill is a great branding idea, explicitly tailored to attract Millennial customers who (says Lowe's) comprise over 60% of the program's participants. It appeals to the Millennial attraction to mentorship and to pay-it-forward teamwork. And it addresses the obvious fact that few Millennials have learned many hands-on practical skills from their parents or teachers. Home Depot is behind the curve here. Their most recognizable motto, "You can do it. We can help," is more Xer than Millennial. The Millennial wants real person-to-person coaching and doesn't mind being beholden to others. The Xer always wants to be reminded that, sure, I can do it.
  • Contributor Devorah Blanchor asks Gen Xers to share stories of activism, only to discover that they don’t really have any. For the generation that frowned upon “caring,” the closest many Xers got to challenging the status quo was wearing “flannel plaid shirts.” (The New York Times)
    • NH: For Xers looking back at their youth, this is LOL funny. My favorite responses. BRETT: "The thing about pessimism is that it doesn’t really leave much room for stuff like volunteering or going to meetings. CLAIRE: "'Caring' was actually frowned upon." Or this one: MEGAN: "The first Starbucks opened up in my town on March 20, 1991. I will never forget that day. It made me feel like I was part of something bigger."
  • Contributor Bob Cook writes that Millennials are bad news for youth sports. He makes a solid point: Having already brought down youth sport participation rates themselves, Millennials are poised to do further damage by dint of their lower birthrates. (Forbes)
  • The average Wall Street bonus hit $184,220 in 2017, the highest figure since 2006. While the return to pre-recession levels seems like a reason to break out the champagne, it doesn’t mean Wall Street is back entirely: Employment in the New York securities industry is still 6% smaller than it was in 2006. (Quartz)
  • Utah has become the first state to pass a law that allows children to play outside without adult supervision. While G.I. and Silent Generation parents certainly didn’t face child neglect charges when they let their children roam outdoors from dawn to dusk, today’s “free range” parents have to think twice if they want to let kids be kids. (USA Today)
    • NH: Everyone acknowledges that Lenore Skenazy, the charismatic leader of the "free-range kids" movement, is motivating this new legislative push. Utah is first, but surely other states will follow. Oddly, the impetus behind these laws is not so much to set kids free, as simply to shelter them (and their parents) from the trauma of being thrown into social services just because they've been left alone for an hour. During the American High, every kid routinely spent much of the day playing without direct parental supervision. Today, this is a right that must be spelled out and codified in law. And it is first being implemented in states (like Utah) where communities are strong and parents can be expected to look out for other people's children. We long ago predicted that, as we moved from Millennial to Homelander children, sheltering kids would involve less moral panic and hysteria and more settled public opinion and institutional habit. We are on that course.
  • In the midst of a brick-and-mortar toy retail slowdown, Build-A-Bear just reported its fourth straight year of profitability. The most important value generator for in-person retail is a shopping experience that cannot be replicated—and Build-A-Bear’s one-of-a-kind process checks the box. (Time)
    • NH: Yes, the success of Build-A-Bear is partly due to the firm's rigorous attention to the store as an upscale "experience." (By contrast, Toys R Us was always a dreary downmarket hassle.) Yet it is also due the firm's amazing success in appealing to older generations. Who, at any age, does not want a big cuddly creature, presented in the midst of friends and family, to celebrate an important life event--like a birthday, or marriage, or anniversary, or whatever? That, at least, is this firm's empathic, age-of-Oprah message. And it works. Shrewdly, the firm thereby avoids the dolorous demographics of the shrinking kid market.
  • Millennials are killing yet another frivolous household object: the top sheet. While this particular piece of bedding is designed to keep quilts and duvet covers clean, Millennials aren’t losing any sleep throwing out yet another “household staple” that previous generations haven’t been able to do without. (USA Today)
  • Boomers are fueling a surge in joint replacements—and doctors are having trouble managing their patients’ high expectations. It’s hardly a surprise that this forever-young generation clings to the idea that “bionic limbs” will enable them to jump right back into their active pre-surgery lifestyles. (The Boston Globe)
    • NH: The explosive growth of joint replacement surgery (we must be at roughly $30 billion annually by now) should remind us that soaring health care costs are driven not just by new technologies, but also by the rising standard by which new generations define "health." The Boomers' parents never dreamed of running marathons at age 70. Yes, they all joined AARP, had plenty of political clout, and demanded that no one touch "their" Medicare. But they were modest in their expectations of what doctors could do. The political clout of Boomers has yet to really be tested. But no one can doubt their boundless expectations. One or the other must break. I don't think it will be their expectations. I'm betting it will be their political clout.


      The Booming Senior Workforce. Unlike previous generations of elders, Boomers aren't fading quietly into retirement. Two decades ago, according to the St. Louis Fed, less than one-third of the 55+ were employed or looking for work—but today that share is over 40 percent. Companies have been forced to accommodate this growing contingent of senior workers with new programs, job opportunities, and perks for the elderly. Goldman Sachs offers a 10-week "Returnship" program that trains and mentors seasoned veterans who have been out of work for at least two years. FCCI, a property and casualty insurance provider, promises to pay 100 percent of its workers' short- and long-term disability expenditures. What's going on? Growing senior workforce attachment is partly economic: With life expectancy on the rise, many Boomers have discovered that they don't have enough money saved away for retirement after all. Also at play are new attitudes that Boomers have brought into old age. At the end of the day, many workaholic Boomers simply can't imagine a life without work.