The Cheapest Generation: Why Aren’t Millennials Buying Cars or Houses?
What if Millennials’ aversion to car-buying isn’t a temporary side effect of the recession, but part of a permanent generational shift in tastes and spending habits? It’s a question that applies not only to cars, but to several other traditional categories of big spending—most notably, housing. And its answer has large implications for the future shape of the economy—and for the speed of recovery.
Read more. [Image: Kagan McLeod]
It’s safe to say that a decent number of Tumblr users are a part of the Millennial generation. So, tell us: Do you own a car or house? If not, why?
IT’S BECAUSE THEY HAVE NO DISPOSABLE INCOME YOU THUNDERING IDIOTS. Fucking preference has nothing to do with it. 50% of college graduates have no job! They all have the most student loan debt ever! What are you asking this question for?!
Also: housing is a good bit more expensive now.
My parents got a 15-year mortgage on a new house in the mid-70s. The house was $32,000. Average home price in that area now? $190,000.
So, home prices went up. Food prices went up. Health care prices went WAY UP. Rent prices went up. Higher education went up so damn high that some of us forgo that all together. Energy prices went up. Car prices went up.
Prices of prices went up.
We also pay cell phone bills, internet bills, data plans, text plans, online subscriptions, cable/satellite tv, netflix, DVR subscriptions — bills that didn’t even exist 30-40 years ago. We also use computers and smartphones and microwaves and other consumer electronics that didn’t exist 20-50 years ago.
We need medications and doctors and contact lenses and tampons and maxi pads and other things that cost money just to be alive and keep us healthy.
Most of us can’t afford to:
- Get married and have a “Traditional” big wedding
- Buy a house
- Buy a new car
- PLAN to have children
- Take two, consecutive weeks of vacation.
Jobs that paid 50k in the late 1990s now pay between 30-35. Interest rates that favor consumers have gone down.
So I say, no. We are not choosing not to buy homes. We’re not choosing to take the bus in cities where there’s no good public transit. WE ARE NOT CHOOSING TO LIVE WHAT SOCIETY DEEMS AS AN UNDESIRABLE LIFESTYLE.
Don’t even get me started on the fact that these two people in the picture are young white hipsters. Young black and brown folks have been forgoing homeownership and buying new cars for decades, this shit isn’t new, pal. You’re just acting like this shit is new because it’s hitting white folks.
anyway, my point is: We are fucking broke.
read the commentary above ^^
I have so many thinks and feels about this, I can’t even.
I’m 30; my husband is 37. I’m currently at the age at which my parents were when I formed sufficient first memories of them to know approximately where they stood financially - which means I can compare where I am today.
In a word: ouch.
When my parents were 30, they owned a 12-room Queen Anne they’d bought on a land contract for $30,000. My mother was a healthcare office manager; my father was a stay-at-home dad who also cultivated the Queen Anne’s 1.5-acre lot for CSA purposes. (Turns out CSAs were an idea 30 years ahead of their time then - whoops.)
They paid for food, housing, utilities, two vehicles and their upkeep, medical care, education, toddler-raising expenses, retirement, and a speculative business venture out of a single income earned by a woman with only a high-school education. They didn’t have much left after that - I still remember thrift-store clothes - but they had everything covered. That year, my mother was able to take several weeks off work for major surgery and to address other chronic health problems.
When my parents were 37, they owned forty-plus acres of land and two houses with a collective purchase price of about $90,000 (today collectively worth about $270,000). My mother was still a healthcare office manager with no college education; my father shuffled huge racks of data tapes (remember those?) in a bank vault for less than my mother made. They still only had one kid, but they also had food, housing, utilities, three vehicles and their upkeep, medical care, education, kid-raising expenses, $10,000 in cash savings, and significant retirement accounts out of their two incomes. That year, my mother was able to take several weeks off work for (more) major surgery and to address other (ongoing) chronic health problems.
By the time I went to college, my parents were able to pay for all my undergrad costs not covered by grants/scholarships. They bought me a vehicle - the vehicle I still drive. They had paid off their mortgages, and they had over $1 million in retirement.
Meanwhile, in the next generation….
My husband and I have two bachelor’s degrees, a master’s, and a J.D. between us. We have no children. We have two cars, one of which will not last another year and which we cannot afford to replace with a comparable vehicle once it dies. We have $5,000 in retirement and $5,000 in cash savings.
We have over $100,000 in student loan debt, which we were encouraged to take out (him for all six years of school, me for law school) because we were promised it would lead to jobs that would allow us to pay the debt back while also paying our other basic living costs. It has not done so.
Income-based repayment on our federal loans reduces our monthly student-loan debt, but it doesn’t eliminate it, because I also have significant private loans, taken out to pay for a Top-6 law school education that has never turned into a job. (The attorney-to-job ratio in the U.S. is currently 100:1, which means my degree won’t find a position that pays its own loans anytime soon.) We now have to pay on my private student loans even when it means taking food out of our own mouths - and some months, it does. There is no income-based repayment on private student loans, and they cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.
We rent. We have been utterly unable to qualify for a mortgage from any lender. We cannot begin to imagine being able to afford children.
I work more than full-time running my own business; my husband works one full-time and one part-time job, teaching special ed and running programs for a performing arts association. We have food, utilities, and medical expenses covered most months, but not all months.
Even in “good” months, there’s often no money left for things like new shoes (we both need them desperately), much less dinner and a movie. In bad months, we have to dip into that $5,000 in cash savings - which is pitifully inadequate and which has been wiped out entirely more than once when a “bad month” involved a broken bone or a household appliance that stopped working.
We’ve both worked for pay since we were teens, my husband from the early 1990s and me from the mid-1990s. We had savings; we had a mortgage; we had retirement accounts - until 2009, when the housing crash and the resulting recession wiped it all out. We both started from scratch in 2009, literally living with our parents, with six-figure student loan debt. The fact that we have any savings at all is, frankly, astonishing. Even more astonishing is the fact that we have health insurance - which costs us some $10,000 per year, but without which I would be unable to work at all.
And I cannot begin to guess how many of the opportunities we’ve had to get here - “here,” where paying the bills from earnings accrued by our own labor is a luck-based crapshoot - had to do with both of us being white, or straight, or cis, or middle-class, or college-educated, or apparently-able-bodied. I cannot begin to guess how many of the opportunities we’ve had to almost but not quite make it are due not to the quality of our own work, but to social privileges beyond our control. Because if we have the invisible “leg up” that comes with being the “good” “default” “all-American” “kids next door” couple, and we can’t make ends meet working 120 hours a week between us, what the hell is hell like for people who didn’t start off standing on the privilege crate?
This is not a lifestyle we would choose, given a better alternative. Our choice, if we had one, would be to live like our parents: to be able to pay the basic expenses of family-unit living from the income earned in one 40-hour work week. Our choice would be to have food, shelter, medical care, transportation, and a retirement account, all at the same time, all 12 months of the year. Our choice would be to have earned, through our own labor, sufficient financial security that one bout of bronchitis or run-in with a deer won’t wipe out everything we’ve managed to save.
We don’t want much else. We don’t need much else. All we want is what our parents had: work that provides sufficient pay and benefits to allow us to support ourselves today and during our retirement.
But that is increasingly not a choice available to America’s middle class - and that is the result of thirty years of “trickle-down” policies that have so far only managed to trickle up instead.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
I’m not replying to the others, so much as answering the question.
I am 32, which makes me part of that gray area generation that depending on who you ask is Gen X or a millennial. I tend to identify more the the latter than the former because of where I am in life ATM, and my siblings are firmly Gen Y, so I kind of feel like my sibs and I are all one generation. IMO, my generation is somewhat narcissistic, but we also deal with challenges that our parents’ generation didn’t. So it goes, our children will deal with things we didn’t. I don’t know what kind of world we’ll leave them, but I hope it’s better than what our parents (the baby boomers) are doing/have done to us. Many corporations, gov’ts, and other power-having groups are still very much run by baby boomers, so I think we probably haven’t really made much of a mark on the world yet. I, personally, do have a car. It’s necessary, as I wouldn’t be able to get to work without it. I don’t have a house because a, bad credit b, I move around too much and don’t want to be tied to a house and c, I’m planning on trying to go as jobless as possible in the next couple of years to focus on finishing my last two years of school. That’s before becoming completely jobless and going to med school, from which I will emerge with crushing loan debt (doctors and loan debt is an entirely different, and somewhat specialized, issue.). My car is a 2012 Honda civic, which I purchased new after getting in an accident last year. I chose to buy it because the loan term was 5 years, but was a brand new Honda and it’s likely that it will last me much longer than the loan term. It’s a pretty reliable car. Also it’s rather zippy (at least 0-60.). ;)
I work currently in computer support, and I have for 10 years, and I make about 47k. I am not married, and I live alone, so my personal expenses are much higher than most people in my age category (which, single expense vs. married expense is also a different issue.). I do have student loan debt (about 15k so far), but I am still in school so I don’t have to pay it yet. I live in one of the most expensive areas in the nation (DC metro area, just outside the loop.), and so that 47k gets me a $1150/month 700-800ish sq ft apartment in a just-this-side-of-bad neighborhood. I have a phone with a data plan, I have netflix, I have a credit card (that has about $500 in debt on it, but I don’t use it and have been steadily paying it down.), I have no land line, I have cable & internet, and I spring for HBO cause I really like Game of Thrones. Someone up there complained about that stuff in comparison to their parents’ generation, but listen man, those are luxuries, so you don’t get to complain about them as if you NEED them cause you don’t. I don’t NEED the Netflix, or WoW, or the data plan on my phone, or the HBO, or the TV (I’d say that internet is probably a necessity though for someone who exists in a modernish sphere. A phone definitely, but you don’t NEED a data plan.), or the sub sample services I subscribe to for makeup either. If I gave that stuff up I probably could afford more in rent, which would allow me to move farther out from here and closer to my job and have a <40 min commute. Sometimes I think about buying a house just because a lot of times (where I live - and this is HIGHLY geographically dependent.) you can find a mortgage for way cheaper than you can rent. Especially as fewer and fewer of us choose to buy houses, that’s more demand for rental properties, so the price goes up. The housing market collapse wasn’t good for those of us who choose to rent, either. For example, I could move to Baltimore and buy a row house in a decent neighborhood and probably pay less on it than I pay to rent…but I don’t want to own a house. I think the car thing is probably both monetary AND cultural, because I think we’re also a lot more aware of the impact of our transportation choices on the environment.
I think it sucks that we can’t have the same things that our parents had, and I do think they did a LOT to screw that up for us. They’re still screwing us over (it ain’t Gen Y who’s in congress trying to have reproductive rights stripped from women, or deregulating banks, or refusing to change the tax codes. That’s still the baby boomers, and a bit of the beginning of Gen X.), but I also think that the situation we’re in is temporary. I think that’s part of the reason I’m not as seething with rage as those people above me. The other part is that I grew up on the lowest end of middle class. The only reason I don’t say that we were poor is because we had a house (a small one, in a bad neighborhood) and we had two cars (though old and much patched, and always second hand.), we had clothes (twice a year: summer and school we got them.), and we had food (through my mom’s extremely skilled use of sales, coupons, and generic brands.). A lot of people didn’t. Working hard to make ends just barely meet is completely and utterly normal for me, it doesn’t seem weird at all. The fact that I have HBO, netflix, a new car, and can go buy nail polish when i want without really thinking about my budget puts me ahead of where I was growing up. I am actually better off now than my parents were when I was growing up, so I guess I just feel a lot less rage.
But, for those who didn’t grow up like I did, or who are filled with rage over our generation’s lot: remember how this feels, remember how angry you are that you can’t have the same things your parents did, and when the power inevitably shifts to us - fix it.