Millennials – Two View Points
I recently spoke about young investors’ dislike to risk taking in the stock market. I urged them to start saving for future needs and retirement by paying down credit card bills and loans. I urged them to get comfortable with investing in the stock market to beat inflation and to begin leveraging the power of compounding by starting early.
Shortly after my commentary, I came across an article titled “The Real Problem with Millennials” by CNBC’s Jake Novak. As I read the article, it initially appeared that Jake’s concern was the same as mine. People born between the early 1980s and the year 2000 who are now in the 15 to 35 age group, so called millennials or Generation Y, are missing the economic boat and are less likely than older generations to own a home or car, have a full-time job, or even use a credit card.
I attribute some of these millennial attitudes to economic realities such as:
- Deep skepticism for the stock market after having seen the dot-com bust
- The recent meltdown in 2008
- The rising cost of education that burdens students with debt before they even finish their first year of college
- Fundamental cultural shifts that have come with living and growing up in the digital age
- Alternative career choices,
- Work from home options
- Using the Internet to unleash personal creativity, greater social interaction and awareness of human rights, the environment, global issues, etc
I credit millennials for driving change through recent revolutions in Egypt and Ukraine, and ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that are completely driven by tech-savvy, socially connected, globally aware students. In a surreal way, it almost feels like these kids are re-living the 60s.
But Jake Novak sees millennial attitudes very differently from me. Through a narrow old-world lens, his article sounds more like a rant. Novak blames millennial attitudes for lower consumer consumption which he sees as a major threat to our economy. He also rants about millennials’ aversion to marriage because it poses a serious threat to Social Security and other entitlement programs that depend on future generations picking up the tab for generations that preceded them.
To Novak’s way of thinking, millennials are making excuses for not engaging with the economy. He believes they should just take the plunge on everything from marriage and home buying, to starting a business without being afraid of financial or social consequences. He also thinks millennials’ parents are to blame for raising a generation of molly-coddled kids that are just too afraid to take risks.
Heck, Novak even points to his whacko “Tattoo Index” and claims that millenials have more tattoos than preceding generations because tattoos are a convenient substitute to making other commitments. In this “commitment to tattoos”, Novak hangs his hopes that perhaps as they’ve committed to tattoos, millennials may just commit to deeper conventional economic engagement.
While I believe millennials need to be made aware of the benefits of holding a secure job, and saving and investing for the future, Novak attacks them without going deeper into what’s really behind millennial attitudes. Unfortunately, his rant does more harm than good, and is likely to backfire and make millennials defiant and defensive.
As I expected, Novak’s article prompted another CNBC contributor, Joe Skarbek, to fire back with an article titled “A message to baby boomers from a millennial: Why can’t we be friends?”
Skarbek is a gainfully employed accountant who happens to be a millennial. In his repartee, Skarbek slams baby boomers with old-world values that use the word “millennial” like it’s something to be ashamed of, or “some sort of horrid disease” as Skarbek puts it. Skarbek goes on the attack, blaming baby boomers and earlier generations for unfairly placing the burden of social security payouts on future generations and for messing up the economy and raising educational expenses to sky-high levels.
Skarbek defends his generation and talks of millennials working their butts off in college. He sees them as socially conscious people who make great employees, and is confident his generation will build and mold political, social and economic leaders that even baby boomers can be proud of.
He gives millennials credit for the significant technological advances they’ve made, with companies like Google and Facebook, with self-driving cars, with apps that have revolutionized our lives, how we buy and pay for things, arrange vacation stays and rent cars, apps that have brought about revolutions by the well-intentioned young. I wholly agree with Skarbek’s balance, positivity and willingness to reconcile as his title says, “why can’t we be friends”.
Unlike Novak’s rant, Skarbek offers suggestions so baby boomers and millennials can learn from and live happily with each other.
I side with Skarbek. I think millennials are fantastic and have already proven themselves. But I do think they’re failing on savings and investments, and this could make life financially difficult for them 30-40 years from now. So I’ll reiterate my core message to them, start saving and investing early, let compounding work for you, and don’t write off the stock market because it still is the place where you are most likely to get inflation beating returns.