You’ve likely read them: The not-so-nice headlines describing my generation — often referred to as Generation Y or dubbed millennials — as lazy, entitled, unemployable, immature and more.
Enter this list summing up all the things we were accused of ruining in 2012, followed by this real headline — no, I’m not exaggerating — to kick off 2013: “America Is Being Directed By Self-Absorbed Single People Who Don’t Care About The Next Generation.”
As if that weren’t enough, CNN Money has now tossed out the latest label: “mooching millennials.” What did we do wrong this time? Well, we’re ruining the housing recovery, of course.
In CNN Money‘s defense, the judgmental label was followed by a nuanced description of what exactly is going on with the 18- to 34-year-olds in question. To sum it up: Millennials aren’t moving out of mom and pop’s basement quite yet (hence, mooching). The result:
- The economy has improved over the past few years, but new households still aren’t being formed. There are 2.4 million missing households in America total — more than two years’ worth of household formation.
- That doesn’t just include the drop in first-time homebuyers — which has been well-documented — but also suggests Gen Y is renting less too.
- One reason: The portion of millennials employed hasn’t improved all that much from the bottom of the recession. Another that’s briefly mentioned: Big piles of college debt, as I’ve touched on before.
None of it is rocket science or surprising, considering I have countless friends who just graduated college and are still struggling to find full-time work in the field they studied for.
But it’s also not as bad as it seems, if you ask me.
This is true on two levels, the first being the level implied by CNN Money‘s choice of the ominous-sounding “rise” of this mooching generation, coupled with an illustration of a zombie-eyed girl playing videogames and popcorn on her parents’ couch.
See, what many call mooching, others would call responsible. If you’re a twentysomething who doesn’t yet have a stable job, weighed down by college debt, living life from your parents’ basement may actually be the best financial decision you can make, even if it’s hardly what you would prefer, and even if it leads to finger-pointing about the state of our economy.
(It’s a similar story for all the articles making a macro criticism of my generation’s longer wait to get married. From my experience, most adults seem to agree that waiting to get married is the way to go, but it begins to be viewed negatively — enter terms like “hook-up culture” and “self-absorbed” — as people generalize the overall trend.)
The even better news, though, is that — even if you want to look at us from a macro level — we can’t keep killing the economy forever. Instead, “the rise of mooching millennials” can be translated to something else a bit more optimistic: a whole lot of pent-up demand.
It’s a simple snowball effect: Millennials sitting at home will save up money, hopefully get jobs, pay down their debt and so on. When that happens — and yes, Gen-Y haters, it will — we’ll move out … and buy more stuff in the process. Enter cheers for household formation, first-time homebuyers, consumer spending and the economy in general.
Heck, if there’s anything to worry about, it’s not Generation Y, but the real moochers: Baby Boomers. As I’ve written before, the dependency ratio (dependent vs. working population) can be a solid predictor of economic growth. While many emerging nations are at the bottom of its U-shaped curve, more and more of America’s population is becoming dependent thanks to the aging Boomer population.
These conflicting demographic trends may not be a huge bullish call for the good ol’ U.S. of A., but one thing remains clear: Generation Y isn’t just mooching and ruining; we’re just waiting — partially because the economy is demanding it.
Have no fear. We’ll trickle out eventually.
As of this writing, Alyssa Oursler was not living at home, but visiting frequently for free meals.