Millennials are inheriting a bleak fiscal future. Not only is America $18 trillion in debt, but when future spending obligations on entitlements are compared with future tax obligations, the so-called fiscal gap is $205 trillion. This is 12 times GDP and 16 times official debt held by the public.
Paying off the federal fiscal gap would require an immediate increase of 57 percent in all federal taxes, or cuts of 37 percent in all federal spending except interest payments on the debt. Of course, no one is proposing this. Instead, the debt grows from year to year, gradually stifling productive investment.
How can we change Washington’s direction in order to paint a brighter future for America’s next generation?
Perhaps the easiest way to begin digging out of this debt is regulatory reform, which would spur substantial economic growth. America’s regulatory state has expanded steadily since the 1970s. In 1975, the Code of Federal Regulations was 71,224 pages. By 2013, the number of pages had grown to more than 175,000. The sheer quantity of government red tape makes it impossible for ordinary Americans to know whether they are breaking the law while working to start or maintain a business.
Americans are moving from obeying laws passed by elected bodies to regulations promulgated by unelected bureaucrats. These pages of regulations contain over one million commands—a 30 percent increase in federal regulatory restrictions from 1997—most of which were promulgated outside Congress. In 2013, the number of regulations issued by agencies was 56 times the number of laws passed by Congress and signed by the president. Apparently gridlock does not slow down regulators.
Commands from Washington bureaucrats have real-world effects. It is impossible to calculate their full costs. Wayne Crews of the Competitive Enterprise estimates the annual cost of regulatory compliance and lost economic growth at over $1.9 trillion, nearly $6,000 for every person living in the United States, but this is probably an underestimate.
As Michael Mandel and Diana Carew of the Progressive Policy Institute argue, steadily-increasing regulations impose “an unintended but significant cost to businesses and to economic growth.” A multitude of overlapping and outdated regulations create confusion for small business owners who lack armies of lawyers and cannot be sure that they are complying with the law.
Additionally, entrepreneurs are focused on bringing their ideas and skills to market, and want to use all their available, and often limited, resources to do so. Forcing potential or current small-business owners to spend time and money on regulatory compliance that they could use for expanding their businesses inflicts substantial costs on the overall economy.
We all want a life more that’s more balanced between work and fun. But millennials, more than any other age group, are the unhappiest when they don’t get it.
Nearly one-third of millennials say managing their work, family, and personal responsibilities has become more difficult in the past five years. And nearly half—47%—are working more hours, compared with 38% of Generation X and 28% of baby boom workers, according to a recent survey by Ernst & Young’s Global Generation Research.
More than other generations, millennials want flexibility in terms of where and how they work and are the most willing to take a pay cut, pass up a promotion, or even relocate to manage work-life demands better, according to the survey.
But employers don’t make it easy. Nearly one in six young workers surveyed by EY say they suffer negative consequences for choosing a flexible schedule.
Why should employers care about millennials want? This group—age 18 to 34—now officially outnumber Generation X as the most populous group in the workforce and are on track to surpass baby boomers soon. As employers try to attract and retain the best and the brightest, knowing what’s important to them is, well, important. Turnover among millennials tends to be higher than other work cohorts, and high turnover is costly to companies.
The E&Y survey further illuminates why this generation is more adamant about wanting flexibility. Millennials are hitting the time of their lives when they marry, buy homes, and have kids at the same time the demands of work are escalating.
“Earlier generations were probably too afraid to ask for flexibility. The mindset was that work comes first,” says Rose Ernst, national director of G10 Associates program, which works with companies to hire and retain college graduates and Generation Y workers. But many millennials grew up with parents who got laid off or whose careers suffered during recessions despite putting in long hours in the office. Meanwhile, technology has evolved so it’s easier to work from anywhere.
Every time the Social Security Administration releases the list of most popular baby names in the U.S. for the prior year, observers of the human species try to figure out what the significance of the most popular names are. This is not so surprising since we are the only species on the planet that gets to name its offspring (as far as we know.) Some of these explanations are more speculative than others, but none feels completely right.
Now that this year’s list is out, name-watchers have noted that J-names are getting unpopular while names starting with vowels are hot. Names that end in a plosive (Pete, Jack, Kate) are less popular than names that end in a fricative or a vowel. People seem to be losing interest in New Testament names (Mary is thin on the ground and Michael, who had a 45-year reign as male baby name No. 1, is trending down.) But Old Testament names (Noah, Jacob, Ethan, Abigail and Daniel) are enjoying a spike.
Now comes Goldman Sachs, pointing out in a study of Millennials, that even the most popular names these days aren’t anywhere near as popular as those of yore. Twenty five years ago, 3% of American babies were called Michael, and 2.3% were called Jessica. But Michael and Jessica, who are now of childbearing age, are giving their kids names that fewer kids share. The most popular names in 2014, Noah and Emma, accounted for only 1% of babies each. The report points out that you’d need to add all the Noahs, Jacobs, Liams and Masons together to get the percentage of Michaels there were in 1980.
“We turn to the history of baby names to possibly provide a window into evaluating parents’ expression towards brands,” says the Goldman Sachs report, which identifies two main reasons for the wider spread of baby-naming: “greater diversity among parents and … an appetite for more differentiated and unique brands (which we believe names are).”
That’s right: parents want to give their kids a different name not so they can call it out on the playground and not have five kids look at them, and not so that Olivia (second most popular girl’s name) will be the only Liv in her class, and not so that if she loses her towel at camp everybody will know whose it is, but because they want their kid to have a unique brand. Millennials are disruptive; they prefer small brands. And they don’t want their kid associated with any monolithic name that might dominate the cut-throat baby name market. (Tip: get in early and invest in Gannon and Aranza now.)
Goldman Sachs somewhat gingerly admits it doesn’t know everything about Millennial parents: “…their attitude towards parenthood strikes us as being more idealistic and aspirational,” than their forebears, the report notes. “Having said this, we acknowledge that we are still in the infancy of this theme and are likely to be introduced to changes in values, companies and business models as it develops.”
Just to prove disruption isn’t limited to Millennials, this Gen Xer has put both her kids names in this story. See if you can spot them (hint; they’re lower case.)