Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The things you think are precious I can't understand

Steely Dan immortalized that lyric, in Reelin' in the Years in 1972. It struck me as I was considering some perspectives recently. The stanza from the song goes like this:

Your everlasting summer 
You can see it fading fast 
So you grab a piece of something 
That you think is gonna last 
You wouldn't know a diamond 
If you held it in your hand 
The things you think are precious 
I can't understand

The song conveys various messages, and the rhythm is catchy. It seems to me that the song is about how different people have differing perspectives on things. What one values, another does not. More than that though, can we understand someone else valuing something which we do not?

The world is changing around us. Cities are declaring bankruptcy (everyone knows of Detroit, but there are others), employees are renegotiating benefits, the economy struggles along. Sure there is good economic news some months and bad news other months, but employment and the future remain a concern of Americans according to a recent Gallup poll

I got to thinking about this recently when I read a news item about the next generation, the "millenials." As an aging "baby-boomer" I guess my perspectives are flavored by another age. We "boomers" are quickly going to fade from the fore and become relics of the past, just as our predecessors did. Our kids, the "Millenials," are the future. And, according to Time, they do not necessarily have the same values that we are accustomed to. Theirs is a different perspective, which will drive our economy. In fact, according to Time, "by 2017 Millennials will have more buying power than any other generation."

Some definition for perspective. According to the Pew Foundation, the following are relevant for consideration today, the "Silent Generation (born 1928-1945)," the "Boomers (born 1946 – 1964)," then "Generation X (1965 – 1976)" and the "Millennial Generation (born 1977 – 1992)." So, these "Millennials" are in the age range of 22 to 37. They are in their prime. They are wrapping-up their education, starting lives away from home, starting families, developing carreers, and more. 

According to the article 10 Things Millennials Won't Spend Money On in Time, the Millenials are not consuming pay television (cable), stocks (fears from growing up in the "great recession"), mass-produced beer, cars, homes, "bulk warehouse goods" (think Costco or Sam's), weddings, and health insurance. They are also less likely to be interested in having children, and are less likely to rely on friend or family recommendations for purchases.   

There has been economic growth in this country as our population has grown.  But the latest Census notes that there is a "fertility gap" between the volume of births and deaths in this country. Time reports that death rates are increasing among our aging population and birth rates are not. The population is still growing, just not like it once was. 

What affects will come from the combination of slower growth and Millennial purchasing preferences? These articles suggest that there is already change in what is consumed, that is what is seen as desirable. Will telecommuting and the Internet affect transportation purchases, commercial space needs, or other market segments? Will Amazon and other non-traditional retailers result in decreased desire for shopping areas and malls? 

No one knows the answers to all of this. There are many variables that will likely influence how change will hit us and our economy in years to come. I think we can say that we do know two things for sure. First, change is inevitable, we will have to adapt as it occurs. Second, it turns out that trends and desires are not the same across the generations. The things one generation values may be unimportant to the generation that precedes or follows. 

We will watch our economy deal with the changes and the varied values as purchasing power evolves to each next generation. It has the potential to change much about the society in which we live and work. It may change where and how Americans work and bring challenges to workers' compensation as we know it. 

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