Reviving The RCYB

When I was a student at the Ohio State University in the late ’70s, one of the many political groups on campus was the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade.  You would see them out on the Oval, advocating for their communist causes and trying to recruit new members.  There weren’t many takers for what they were selling.

Apparently that view has changed.

communism-topic-gettyimages-89856241According to a recent survey, millennials — defined as those between ages 23 and 38 — look far more favorably on communism and socialism than older generations.  The results of the poll indicate that an astonishing 36 percent of millennials approve of communism, and 70 percent responded that they are extremely likely or somewhat likely to vote for a socialist in the upcoming election.  In addition, about half of millennials and members of Generation Z — those between ages 16 and 22 — have a somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable view of capitalism.  It’s not surprising, then, that 22 percent of millennials believe “society would be better if all private property was abolished,” and that 45 percent of Generation Z members and millennials believe that “all higher education should be free.”

The results of the poll, which was conducted by YouGov and released by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, are pretty amazing — until you consider the life experiences of the various generations.  When I was in college the Cold War was in full swing, the Soviet Union had just invaded Afghanistan, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was exposing the horrors of the gulags, and the world was only a decade away from the death of countless people in China’s “Cultural Revolution.”  It wasn’t difficult to form a negative view of communism.  Millennials and Generation Zers, on the other hand, grew up in a post-Soviet world where China is largely viewed as a producer of electronic gear and its repressive tendencies, whether in Hong Kong or in its treatment of ethnic minorities, are often ignored or overlooked.  How much have millennials and Generation Z been taught about the true nature of communism and its bloody history?

What will this embrace of communist and socialist ideology among young people mean for the upcoming Democratic primaries, where some candidates are advocating for policies that are openly described as socialist?  It all depends on whether those millennials and Generation Zers who want free college will register and cast their vote in a free and open election — which, incidentally, doesn’t happen in communist countries.  But then, millennials and Generation Zers may not be aware of that.

Another Potential Cultural Shift

The U.S. Census Bureau recently announced that a greater percentage of Americans are renting than at any time in the last 50 years.  According to the Bureau, in 2016 36.6 percent of the heads of households rented their place of residence — the most since 1965.  43.3 million heads of household are renters, and the percentage of renters among heads of household has increased from 31.2 percent in 2006 to 36.6 percent.

120301_24b_forrent-crop-rectangle3-largeWhy are we seeing these shifts?  The authors of the Census Bureau study attribute the movement toward renting to lingering concerns about owning a home stemming from the Great Recession, rising house prices, and young people who are so burdened by student loan debt that they simply can’t afford to purchase a home.  Millennials are the most likely to rent their place of residence:  in 2016, 65 percent of heads of household under age 35 are renters.  And there may be other factors at play, like the potential difficulties of selling a home in an economy where you might need to pick up stakes and move to another city in order to advance in your career.  Who wants to be saddled with a house, and fretting about whether you can sell it, under those circumstances?

I’ve got no doubt that these factors, and others, are contributing to the movement toward renting.  In my experience, young people these days are a lot more thoughtful and analytical about their housing decisions than was the case with people of my generation.  We were raised on concepts of the American Dream in which owning your own home was a fundamental part of the puzzle, and as a result the decision to buy a house was almost a reflexive, automatic act.  Now it seems that people generally, and young people specifically, are more carefully weighing their options and concluding that, for many, renting makes a lot more sense — whether it is because of a desire to be flexible, or because renting often allows them to live closer to their workplaces and areas that offer lots of social activities, or because living in an apartment building can provide a kind of ready-built community, or because of concerns about getting stuck with an overpriced house, or something else.  It’s one of the reasons why, in Columbus, the rental market is exceptionally hot and people are building new rental units left and right.

We may be seeing a shift in cultural norms, away from defining success as owning a tidy home in the suburbs and mowing your lawn every Saturday during the summer.  If, like me, you’re not a fan of suburban sprawl and would like to see our existing city areas revitalized, the movement toward renting is not a bad thing.

 

Cereal Killing

Cereal has been in the news a lot lately.

The Washington Post letters to the editor page has seen a significant debate back and forth on whether cereal is a good way to start the day at breakfast, or whether sugary cereals have ruined the kind of breakfast Americans used to eat.  The President of “Morning Foods” for Kellogg’s wrote in to emphasize the nutritional value of a cereal breakfast, noting that “[a] serving of cereal and a half-cup of skim milk can provide protein and four nutrients most people don’t get enough of: fiber, calcium, vitamin D and potassium. That meal is also 152 calories; a bagel with cream cheese has more than double the calories and saturated fat.”  He added that “Kellogg’s offers more than 20 cereals that provide a good source of protein when eaten with a half-cup of milk, and more than 90 percent of our cereals have 10 grams or less of sugar per 30-gram serving.”

f14cc6b5-59c8-4468-b1be-a50e3689fb18_1-303be2af9801047b84102e79b4624761I’m not sure what a “30-gram serving” is, but of course the problem with cereal is not whether you can structure a breakfast that makes sense from a nutritional standpoint.  No, the problem is moderation and portion control.  Even if people knew what a “30-gram serving” looks like, they end up eating heaping mixing bowls of cereal while they’re watching TV.  Or, at least, I do — which is why we have a longstanding rule to not have any cereal around our house.  In my case, where I’m helpless to resist the lure of Frosted Flakes and would eat a whole box if given the opportunity, total abstinence is the only practical course.

And here’s another issue for cereal manufacturers:  millennials aren’t eating it.  But their objection isn’t nutritional in nature; instead, according to survey data, many millennials apparently don’t like eating cereal for breakfast because you have to clean up after eating it.  The millennials prefer yogurt cups and breakfast sandwiches because you can just throw the remains away, whereas cereal requires that you rinse off the bowl and spoon and put them in the dishwasher.  This has caused some people to make fun of millennials as lazy, but I think millennials simply acknowledge an important point — if you don’t fully rinse off the bowl after you’ve eaten cereal, the remains of the cereal and the milk create some kind of chemical bond with the bowl, leaving the flakes seemingly welded to the sides of the bowl, that makes later clean-up an enormous hassle.  If you’re rushing to get to work in the morning, therefore, maybe cereal isn’t for you.

Poor cereal!  Caught between the Scylla of poor nutritional value and the Charybdis of too much work to consume!

A News World Without Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart, the long-time star of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, shocked his audience yesterday by announcing that he would be leaving the show this year.  In a sign of just how important Stewart and The Daily Show are to modern America, his impending departure from what is, at bottom, a consistently funny comedy show was headline news at such diverse websites as the BBC and CNN Money.

Stewart has sat at the anchor desk of The Daily Show since 1999 — an extraordinarily long tenure in the modern world.  For many young adults, he’s been an immutable part of the social landscape for as long as they can remember.  With Stewart as the motivating force, The Daily Show has launched the careers of other comedy stars, like Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert, and John Oliver, but more importantly it has become an essential cultural and political touchstone for a huge swath of the American population.  It is amazing, but true, that a large percentage of young Americans routinely get their exposure to news from The Daily Show and identify Stewart as more trusted to provide accurate information than networks like MSNBC.

Commentators may moan that such survey results are a sign of America’s illiteracy — and the growing irrelevance of broadcast and print journalism — but the reality is that people just get their news in different ways now.  Stewart and The Daily Show became trusted  because they mixed the humor with a healthy dollop of news footage, factoids, and actual interviews of Presidents, political and cultural figures, and world leaders.  And, although The Daily Show unquestionably came from a general liberal perspective, Stewart and his crew weren’t afraid to skewer racial politics, the disastrous roll-out of the healthcare.gov website, and other causes and developments on the left end of the political spectrum.

With Jon Stewart leaving The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert taking over for David Letterman, where will younger Americans turn to get their tolerable daily exposure to the world’s events?  There’s no guarantee that the new host will capture their confidence, and the risk is that they won’t turn to other sources for such information at all.  That should be a significant concern for those who have used The Daily Show to reach the Millennials.  If those Millennials (and members of the next generation, which hasn’t yet acquired a catchy title) who have some interest in politics and news aren’t watching The Daily Show, how do you engage them?  Jon Stewart’s replacement will have awfully big shoes to fill.

The Impoverished Millennials

For years, Americans have always been fervently optimistic about the financial course of their families.  Parents and grandparents were confident that the generations to come would be wealthier and better educated than they were — and for much of American history their optimism was justified by the reality.

Is that true any longer, with the so-called Millennial Generations, which consists of adults under age 35?  A troubling article in the Wall Street Journal indicates that there are disturbing signs that the Millennials are instead on track for lives of financial difficulty.

The article looks at the savings rates of Americans by generation through an analysis of consumer finances and financial accounts.  It finds that, after a brief blip of increased savings during the Great Recession, Millennials now aren’t saving much of anything.  In fact, their generational savings rate is a negative 2% — which means many of them are burning through the savings they accumulated previously, or spending their inheritances.  They are less likely to have any investments or investment accounts, which means they have no cushion to fall back on if they lose their jobs or hit another financial bump in the road.

In short, forget about saving to make a down payment on a house — these young people are hanging on by their fingernails, hoping to make their credit card and student loan payments, and eating into their seed corn savings in order to do so.

Some of this predicament clearly is the product of bad planning and poor personal financial management.  If you’re barely making your credit card payments, maybe you should skip that expensive “destination” bachelorette party with your college pals.  But some of it is larger forces — like a weak job market, student loan debt that is far greater than that carried by prior generations, and flat wage and salary growth.  The fear is that the Millennials will become trapped and never be able to break out of a cycle of debt that leaves them living hand to mouth for most of their adult lives and limits their abilities to buy homes, start families, and ultimately to retire.

It’s not a pretty picture, and we can only begin to perceive what the ripple effects of an impoverished Millennial generation might be for our country and its economy.  Perhaps we should stop worrying so much about senior citizens and start thinking about how to create more opportunities for the younger people who must carry the country forward.

The Trophy Kids Grow Up

A few weeks ago I finished a book written by Ron Alsop titled The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation is Shaking Up the Workforce. The reason I decided to read the book is typically when I get together with my older friends no matter what their occupation they have some pretty interesting stories about young adults currently entering the workplace.

As this article points out college students opinions of themselves and their employers opinions of them differ vastly. Students believe they are excellent, enthusiastic and energetic and their employers view them as entitled with outlandish expectations. Most of the book gives examples which were pretty outrageous. One story was about a college student who had just started with the company and balked at the fact that he wasn’t allowed to meet directly with the CEO of the company to discuss his ideas.

Other stories pointed to the parents of this generation who seem to be highly involved in the lives of their children. Some brought their parents to job interviews with them. Some parents would call to complain that their child didn’t get a big enough salary increase and wanted to know why.

I would not only recommend this entertaining book to an older person, but to young people as well just starting out on their career path so both can get the other side’s prospective and help bridge the generation gap at work. It did seem like the author spent a lot of time covering generation Y’s negative traits and not quite enough time on their positive ones.