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FocusOn Millenials

By Emmy Favilla and Megan Paolone

This piece is being published jointly with BuzzFeed.

 Millennial. It’s a word that conjures the image of a crop-topped twentysomething attached to a smartphone. They sit at brunch with a table of other millennials on their phones, placing filters on their expertly curated selfies and perfectly lit photos of avocado toast, and they walk around texting friends rather than taking in the beauty of the world around them. (And, like, they never talk on the phone.)

Marketers and advertisers have wholeheartedly embraced this word—and, often, this stereotype—in their quest to control the millennial wallet. Their overeagerness has prompted predictable eyerolls among millions of actual, diverse, individual millennials. Here at BuzzFeed back in 2013, we tried to draw the line, establishing an internal policy that were we to use this word, “it should have real or implied quotation marks, or appear as a term of art, and with kind of a wink,” as Editor in Chief Ben Smith wrote in an email to our editorial staff in December 2013. And about two months later when we published our style guide, we made the ban public:

millennials (avoid using this term when possible; otherwise, generally use twentysomethings, twenty- and thirtysomethings, or teens and young adults, depending on context)

Millennial wasn’t always so fraught. It was coined in 1991 by historians Neil Howe and William Strauss in their book Generations. They just needed a word, and this seemed apt, as the oldest of the generation would graduate high school in 2000. And of course rabid marketing firms almost instantaneously latched on to the term, succinct in its description of the generation larger than any other demographic, comprising 80 million people in the US and consuming information and products in vastly new ways. By 2001, Ad Age had declared, “The Millennials are here…Naturally, the most pressing question on Madison Avenue is not how they will change the world, but how will we market to them?”

And it didn’t take very long for the word to become a sort of a slur, perpetuated by the media and often based on research that doesn’t actually exist. That image, believed by boomers and millennials alike, was of a lazy and coddled generation full of special snowflakes, obsessed with finding ~fulfilling~ jobs, goddammit. (Because WHY would anyone want a job that they enjoy?!) Chances are, you too have found millennial a cringeworthy buzzword or a dismissive way to refer to an increasingly technology-reliant generation. Search the term on Amazon, for instance, and you’re met with a slew of slightly disparaging book titles, like Not Everybody Gets a Trophy: How to Manage the Millennials, or When Millennials Take Over: Preparing for the Ridiculously Optimistic Future of Business. (As of March 2015, there were more millennials in the US workforce than Gen Xers or baby boomers, according to the Pew Research Center.)

The only people who didn’t immediately adopt millennial were…millennials themselves. Many (particularly, perhaps, those on the older end of the millennial spectrum) rejected the term and its associations with entitlement, narcissism, and short attention spans—along with a general distaste for being squeezed into tiny little boxes by the marketing industry.

As we liked to muse around the newsroom, sipping our pamplemousse LaCroix, it’s reductive and unproductive to think of a generation defined by its diversity as a singular, homogeneous entity. The term, we argued, was much like the word hipster—one that loosely connects people who share vaguely similar cultural interests slightly outside the mainstream—except one is either objectively a millennial or not, and they will be for the rest of their lives. (Fear of commitment: another millennial stereotype!)

And so at first millennial existed largely as a way for “olds” to refer to the younger generation. We spat it out ironically and rolled our eyes at its use. But perhaps every label used to describe the current coming-of-age generation has always leaned toward the pejorative, in a get-off-of-my-lawn kind of way. In fact, a 2015 Pew study found that while 60 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds don’t consider themselves a millennial, this rejection of a generational label isn’t unique—only 58 percent of Gen Xers identify as such, and 82 percent of the so-called silent generation don’t love their name either.

Over the last few years, though, the ground has gradually shifted despite our efforts to stand strong—as evidenced by a host of published stories bearing some iteration of the title “No, ‘millennial’ is not a dirty word,” as well as an entry for millennial in the Merriam-Webster dictionary online. In May 2015, even Smith acknowledged that “maybe this is a losing battle, but let’s not surrender yet,” citing a Public Religion Research Institute study. BuzzFeed News tech reporter Joseph Bernstein called our guideline “prescriptive and slightly dogmatic” when we pushed back on his use of the term—even though we’d admitted our alternative was “slightly clumsier.” We were stuck with a laughable number of imprecise, ever-changing words for this age group. And so we revised our entry in November 2015 to get a little more specific, making a note to avoid the term “except when referring specifically to demographics.” This is how it’s remained for the last year and a half or so.

It seems that millennials have now reclaimed millennial. Pretty soon, we were saying it grudgingly, ironically, with a bit of a wink of self-deprecation. (Yes, this is a thing we have done, and will probably continue to do, on BuzzFeed, in individualistic defiance of our style guide.)

And today we are today flying the white flag, announcing our surrender to the term’s unironic usage and acknowledging its journey from cheesy marketing buzzword we tried desperately to combat to just another everyday descriptive word in our vernacular. (But please make sure you use two n’s and lowercase it, per BuzzFeed style.)

By Steve Odland,
CEO, Committee for Economic Development of the Conference Board

A young man takes a selfie with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders
Al Drago | CQ Roll Call | Getty Images A young man takes a selfie with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders in the background after an event at the University of Northern Iowa, in Cedar Falls, Jan. 24, 2016.

Throughout our history, hard work, risk-taking, and trust in our free-market capitalist system have propelled our nation and millions of people up the economic ladder. But now nearly four in ten Americans believe that hard work and determination are no guarantee of success. Even worse, millennials now view socialism more positively than capitalism.

What has undermined faith in our economic system and the very values needed to sustain it?

Much of the blame goes to crony capitalism, which is when government provides special favors to some people or businesses, and picks winners and losers in the marketplace. Cronyism certainly predates capitalism itself, as past rulers rewarded family and friends for eons. But it’s unfortunate that cronyism remains alive and well in a democratic society that trumpets the values of the free market. From tax breaks to no-bid contracts, crony deals wreak havoc on markets and capitalism both ethically and economically.

 

Crony capitalism creates an uneven playing field and benefits the few over the many. It could be a favor in the regulatory code, or a tax exemption that gives a company or industry – almost inevitably incumbents who already are successful – a leg up. Cronyism also diminishes innovation. When a company can prosper on a subsidy rather than by winning in the marketplace, complacency sets in and breakthroughs plummet. All this places limits on our quality of life.

In a free-market, capitalist system, businesses should compete unassisted, and be rewarded only if their goods and services successfully meet consumer demands. Merit and fairness triumph over favoritism. But crony capitalism distorts this arrangement, often driven by our money-lubricated political campaigns. It erodes trust in our economic system, our government, and our businesses. A sustainable capitalism – one that fosters equal opportunity and rewards risk-taking and innovation – is what we all should seek. Fortunately, it is within reach.

Sustainable capitalism starts with reforming the federal tax and regulatory codes. Together, they have helped create the breeding ground for crony capitalism. When tax and regulatory complexity increase, so does the breadth and scope of government. And a more-involved, far-reaching government inherently has more channels of influence, providing more opportunities for people to exert influence for their own benefit.

Simplifying the corporate code is imperative. Closing loopholes and removing tax expenditures across the board will allow the overall corporate tax rate to be lowered. Besides removing opportunities for crony deals, this will have the added benefit of putting U.S. corporations on par with their global competitors. The burden must also be lightened on small businesses, given they employ over half of the private sector workforce yet can devote up to or more than half of their income to taxes – not to mention the effort just to comply with the complex system. Companies of all sectors and sizes should be on equal footing.

Streamlining regulation also is important. In 2015 the federal regulatory code clocked in at a record 81,611 pages, which spans 14 miles if laid out page by page. Many rules – from those covering energy to healthcare to campaign finance – are not reviewed to check if they achieve their objectives, or if economic change has proven them unnecessary.

It comes as no surprise that crony capitalism has sparked debate within both parties this election season. After all, taxpayers ultimately bear the brunt of cronyism, regardless of where they live, what they believe, or for whom they vote. Now, the issue must move off the backburner and into the spotlight. Candidates need to be discussing what we risk losing if our system is left to fester.

We risk losing the system that has created the greatest wealth and prosperity ever known to mankind, the one that has allowed us to project democracy and freedom around the world, and lift millions of people out of poverty. It is a system to be nurtured and protected from threats, and cronyism is a huge threat.

A sustainable capitalism requires a system free from the barnacles of favoritism and cronyism. Businesses and government together should stop this favoritism and work to re-level the playing field. Our economic system and way of life depend on it.

Steve Odland, is the former CEO of Office Depot and AutoZone.

By Karla Fernandez Parker, Managing Director, Sensis TX

The Wall Street Journal recently published a telling article about the world’s shrinking economy called “Population’s Flagging Growth Undermines Global Economy.”

There are three big takeaways:

  1. There will be a worldwide labor shortage within the next 50 years.
  2. Life expectancy across all populations in the world, including for lower-income individuals, is rising at a much more rapid rate than births.
  3. Fertility rates for all countries and across all incomes are drastically declining.

How will a dramatic decrease in workers support this massive, increased aged population? This forecast is not just for countries like Japan and Germany where we’ve been expecting it, but also for countries like China and Brazil.

In essence, two trends will converge and negatively affect future growth: 1) There will be fewer workers to produce and buy products and services coupled with 2) more older people who will have limited production capacity coupled with limited spending power. It’s hard to imagine that Black Friday 2035 will look anything like it does today.

This brings us to the headline of this article: U.S. growth will be dependent on multicultural Millennials and Gen Z. They are the workers the U.S. will need to grow. Hispanic Millennials (individuals ages 18 – 34) are on average six years younger than their non-Hispanic white cohorts and have higher fertility rates. Gen Zs (individuals ages 4 – 18) are the largest cohort the U.S. has seen since the Baby Boomers and also the most ethnically diverse. Among both generations, Hispanic, African-American, Asian and mixed-race populations make up 40% and almost 50% of Millennials and Gen Z, respectively.

The growth of the U.S. will depend heavily on how we invest in these two generational cohorts. Just like what the GI Bill did for the parents of the Baby Boomers to produce these children and a stable, growing economy, we need to ask how are we going to invest in these groups so that they are educated and prepared for this new global economy to turn the tide. I believe that the future of our work force and our ability to “make things” again in the U.S. will be entirely dependent on career laddering – going to back to school in small stints to continue to advance with the advent of new technologies – and trade careers, which will teach an upcoming workforce how to make things again.

While career colleges have come under federal scrutiny regarding student debt vs. income payout in the short term, this conversation needs to go beyond the short term and scrutinize the education system as a whole. Are high school programs and four-year degrees aligning with the magnitude of the future spending trends and soft economy for durable goods in the next 20 to 50 years? With the right foresight for a well-trained and technically savvy workforce, this gloomy horizon could well turn into solid U.S. growth and a burgeoning middle class again.

What are they like and how do they differ from other Hispanics or other Gen Yrs?

Latinos will account for more than 80% of the growth in the population of 18- to 29-year-olds over the next few years and this makes them a key demographic for marketers targeting young consumers. However, marketers need to develop their marketing strategies taking into account the rapid changes under way in the composition of the population of the Hispanic youth.

In 2015, a total of 22.7MM Hispanic Americans – that is a 42% of the total U.S. Hispanic population – are Millennials. This represents 27% of all U.S. Gen Yrs.

A pretty impressive number when compared to a total of 10.8MM Gen Xrs, and 7.4MM Latino Boomers.

Now, let’s take a look at the 2010 Census data compiled by the Pew Hispanic Center:

  • 58% of Latinos in the 20- to 29-year-old age group are U.S.-born,
  • 81% of Latinos in the 15- to 19-year-old age group are U.S.-born, and
  • 95% of those in the 10- to 14-year-old age segment are U.S.-born

Thus, within a few more years, U.S.-born Latinos will dominate the 18- to 29-year-old age segment within the Hispanic population.

Don’t take these numbers lightly just because they were gathered in 2010. It is only less than 5 years ago and all you need to do to comprehend the magnitude of this impact is subtract 5 years to each segment and the percentage of U.S. Born Hispanics dominates even more.

What are Hispanic Millennials like?

Unlike their immigrant parents who tried to be less visible, Hispanic millennials want to “stand out and be noticed.” They still embrace parts of their culture—mostly family, music and food— and they have incorporated American values such as open-mindedness, especially in their relationships. Hispanic Millennials are abandoning class hierarchies and embracing working class moral standards. They want to become heroes, healers, rescuers as well as small business owners.

The proportion of foreign-born/U.S.-born population has been rapidly changing among young Latinos and this has had a significant impact on the media usage habits of Hispanic Millennials, who for the most part are now the children, grandchildren or even great-grandchildren and beyond of Latino immigrants. A phenomenal 73% of 18- to 29-year-old Latinos watched English-only television or a combination of English and Spanish language television in the past seven days. Only 4% watched Spanish-language television alone.

Hispanic millennials are nearly 66 percent more likely to connect via mobile than non-Hispanic whites. And they are nearly twice as likely to own a tablet such as an iPad. Online, Hispanic millennials are just as likely as other millennials to be heavy Facebook users but they are almost twice as likely to use YouTube.

When Millennial Latinos read magazines or visit websites, English predominates even more. They are more likely to read English-language magazines alone then they are to look into a combination of English and Spanish magazines (28% vs. 21%). When going online, 18- to 29-year-old Latinos are even more likely to choose to visit English-language websites alone rather than both English- and Spanish-language sites (38% vs. 25%).

Still, Hispanic millennials are maintaining close ties with their cultural heritage. The Pew Hispanic found that among the U.S.-born children of Hispanic immigrants, country of origin is still important. As far as self-identification, 33 percent of second generation Latinos use American first, 21 percent refer to themselves first by the terms Hispanic or Latino, and 41 percent refer to themselves first by the country of origin of their parents.

While Hispanic millennials may want to make it on their own, they are more likely to still be living in their parents’ home. More millennials are doing this due to the economy and delayed marriage and children trends. But Latinos are “the” most likely to live in a multi-generation home.

They feel like a generation and have great expectations for themselves. They are also aware of their future family obligations and the difficulties they will face to be able to support their parents and grand-parents.

Unlike their Gen Y counterparts who have been told over and over again that they are special, and expect the world to treat them that way, Hispanic Millennials see themselves as part of their families, communities and not separated from the rest.

As a result, marketers in both the Latino and youth markets have had to revamp their marketing strategies about how to reach this key demographic.