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NEWSWIRE: 5/29/18

  • A new study concludes that people born in the 1980s have a median net worth 34% below expected levels, the worst shortfall of any birth cohort alive today. Facing record-high student-loan debt and stagnant wages, Millennials may become the first American generation to do significantly worse than their parents financially. (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis)
    • NH: The conclusions of this study, grounded on the lifecycle age-wealth "norm" defined over the post-1986 period, are both grim and plausible. I am familiar with the authors (the Center for Household Financial Stability at the St. Louis Fed), and in fact I contributed a similar piece on generational economic futures to the Fed Board of Governors' policy confab in D.C. in 2015. Personally, I continue to worry more about Gen Xers than Millennials because they have much less time left to make up their retirement shortfall. Two or three good economic decades--say, starting in the mid-2020s--can make up nearly all lost ground for Millennials. But that wouldn't help Gen Xers much. Let me reproduce two striking charts from the study here. The first compares the deviation-from-lifecycle-norm in wealth at every age in three different periods: 1; 2001-2007; and 2010-2016. Note that every age bracket did well in the early-00s. But only the Silent Generation (see: "The Next Big Thing: The Graying of Wealth") did well in both the early-00s and the 2010s. The second compares the deviation from the norm by age in percentage terms.

Trendspotting: Will Millennials End Up Worse Off Financially Than Their Parents? - St Louis Fed Chart 1

Trendspotting: Will Millennials End Up Worse Off Financially Than Their Parents? - St Louis Fed Chart 2

  • Brands like IKEA, Toyota, and Old Spice are turning to interactive print advertisements to win over consumers. In an age of dime-a-dozen online ads and declining brand equity, the age-old medium of print ads may provide a novel opportunity to make an impression. (Cassandra Report)
    • NH: One headwind for any growing service or communications medium--today it's digital--is that its very success tends to render older media more striking, salient, and sought-after. Which is why nothing gets someone's attention better than sending him or her a telegram. Millennials, to be sure, are the target for an onrushing tide of e-games, e-music, and e-ads. Yet this in turn explains why Millennials show such extraordinary excitement over board games, vinyl records, and, yes (as this article points out), scratch-n-sniff magazine pull-outs.
  • Jewelers like Ceremony are rebranding their engagement rings to attract Millennials who have no plans of getting married. Selling “commitment rings” geared toward anyone in a relationship of any sort is one creative way to profit off of the Millennial marriage dearth. (The New York Times)
    • NH: Here we have a fascinating--and very postmodern--idea: that we can savor a "ceremony" over nothing. The very definition of the word implies some "formal religious or public occasion" accompanied by "a ritual observance or procedure." But Madison Avenue has a wonderful idea. Why not enjoy the pomp and circumstance without the rite of passage? There is a deep generational resonance here. Many Boomer came of age desiring real marriages without the ceremony. Now many of their Millennial kids want the opposite.
  • Author Gwen Moran offers Millennials and Boomers some professional advice: Follow in the footsteps of your Gen-X coworkers. Whether it's their penchant for efficiency or resilience in the face of adversity, this generation shines in an office setting. (Fast Company)
    • NH: Moran offers a great overview of the Xer peer personality. But will Millennials follow in their footsteps? Not a chance.
  • Millennial moms are less likely than moms age 34+ to report being employed or serving as their household’s primary breadwinner. These data go against the conventional wisdom that today’s women are doing better than ever economically, and may even suggest a reversion to traditional gender roles. (Motherly)
    • NH: Back in 2011 we had already noticed a trend toward more traditional gender roles among Xer moms. This trend continues among Millennials. Yes, part of the stay-at-home gap could be explained by the fact that more of these young moms have infants and toddlers to care for--and maybe by their higher rates of residence with Mom and Dad (who pay the bills). But we see other signs of traditionalism in this survey. Millennial moms are more likely to "identify with motherhood" and say "faith" is important in their lives; they are less likely to want "government" to help moms (though they think that their community should help more). The decision among most Millennial women to delay or defer motherhood--Millennial women as a whole are more employed today than they were in 2007--pushes motherhood to a somewhat skewed and more traditional subset of this generation. For a provocative analysis of the long-term demographic implications of this rising correlation between religious faith and baby making (not just in America but throughout the world), see the book by Eric Kaufmann, Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?
  • On average, Millennial pet owners spend $1,285 a year on dogs and $915 on cats. For the generation that grew up with the understanding that pets are family too, it's hardly a surprise that they're willing to shell out extra cash for cat wine and spa treatments for dogs. (TD Ameritrade)
  • Amazon is under fire for marketing its facial-recognition software to U.S. police departments. As AI technology continues to advance, companies and consumers will have to strike a comfortable balance between privacy and the public good. (MediaPost)
    • NH: Jeff Bezos, already loathed by President Trump as owner of the "lying" Washington Post, now finds himself targeted by ACLU progressives for selling facial-recognition AI to the police. Amazon hastily defended its action: What if we prevented police from using computers just because the police might sometimes misuse computers? Sounds like a reasonable argument. On the other hand, many Americans are looking with growing unease at how China is now mobilizing such software on behalf of its "social credit system." (See: "Trendspotting: 4/3/18.")
  • Fully 53% of Millennials say they would go into credit card debt to attend a friend's wedding. While Millennials are more financially responsible than previous generations at the same age, many members of this generation are overcome by FOMO (fear of missing out) when it comes to once-in-a-lifetime experiences with friends. (TD Ameritrade)
    • NH: Nothing testifies better to the strong peer orientation of Millennials than their willingness to "invest" big bucks in friendships. Come the next crash, they may not have many assets, but heck they'll still have each other. They've already invested enough in themselves (aka student debt). And since the obvious alternatives--real estate and markets--seem both risky and pricey at the moment, they may be figuring friendship now has the best ROR.
  • Kroger plans to buy meal-kit startup Home Chef in a deal worth as much as $700 million. The deal is a good move to attract Millennials who prefer to craft a unique dining experience at home rather than going out. (MediaPost)
    • NH: The crowded meal-kit industry was already facing a shakeout even before Amazon and Walmart entered the business. Blue Apron is down 70% from its IPO last summer. For Home Chef and others, this is acquisition time. If you don't attach yourself to an established mother ship, you'd better be really good at defining a niche that others can't touch.
  • A growing number of Boomers and Millennials are giving up on homeownership and choosing to rent. Whether they are entering retirement or starting their careers, these generations enjoy the mobility, convenience, and community that rental properties have to offer. (The Washington Post)

        DID YOU KNOW?

        Social Media Loses Its Mojo. The Cambridge Analytica data scandal has called into question the sanctity of the social media sites that Americans use every day. According to a new survey, 61% of Americans today have very little to no trust that social media will protect their information, up from 53% in 2016. (Millennials have the most trust; 40% have some or a lot of trust in social media.) This lack of trust likely is one reason why just 71% of Millennials report using Facebook every day, down from 79% in 2016. In reality, Americans are growing more wary of online life in general. Fully 85% fear identity theft while on the Web, up from 75% in 2016. What’s more, 80% of Americans today are concerned about their e-mail being hacked, up from 69% in 2016. What can be done? One solution pinpointed by the public is stronger online protections: Fully 38% of Americans say that current U.S. online privacy laws are too weak and do not provide reasonable protections, up from 33% in 2016.