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Living like There’s No Tomorrow

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Written by: Denis Story

For years, we’ve discussed millennials as if, at best, they were some sort of novelty. Or, at worst, an annoyance, a temperamental demographic that lived as cultural aliens.

(Full disclosure: Born in 1970, I sit squarely in the middle-child generation known only as X, as if we were a simple unknown in the equation sandwiched between the almighty Boomers and the up-and-coming Millenials. We might not be as revered as our elders, but we get nowhere near the attention our successors do. In short, I’ve got no dog in this fight.)

But Millenials are much more than a niche audience brokers are forced to deal with or employers have to live with. In fact, according to the latest data from the number-crunchers at Pew Research, Millenials will hit 75 million strong this year, surpassing the dwindling Boomers as this country’s largest age demographic.

In case you’re wondering, this group — loosely defined (for now) as those born between 1981 and 1997 — continues to grow because of the burgeoning young immigrant population, according to Pew. While Boomers, obviously, are starting to, well, die out.
 

We’ve already seen the impact Generation Y (see, they even have two nicknames) has had on the national stage, playing a huge part in electing Barack Obama not once, but twice. Love him or hate him, his campaign managed to speak to Millenials on their level, through late-night talk shows, social media and viral videos. The last two elections have had less to do with either the message (change) or the messenger (old white guys vs. a younger black man) than the medium itself.

And the trend is bound to continue until the Republican Party apparatus can catch up to the machine the Obama campaign managed to put together.

Hell, even Hillary — a longtime frontrunner — fell victim to Obama’s strategy. Her campaign was as old school as the Beltway itself. The best thing that could happen to the Republicans in 2016 would be for her to run. At least the playing field would be level again, demographically speaking.

But I actually didn’t mean to talk politics this time, despite the president’s penultimate State of the Union speech tonight. I honestly think it’s largely irrelevant. He’ll propose a dozen things Congress will never agree to, even if they agree with it.

Tax reform is the perfect example. All of us — even my regular online trolls — can agree our tax code is onerous to the point of parody. Its comical in its complexity while tragic in its lack of fairness. And in this era of hyper partisanship, Democrats and Republicans alike agree it needs to be fixed. Aside from giving themselves raises and days off, what else do politicians agree on these days?

But, more importantly, brokers and employers alike have to realign their thinking when it comes to Millenials. They are the new Baby Boomers. We just haven’t caught up to that yet.

How long have we catered to Boomers, politically and economically? And how much has that short-term patronization cost us as a nation in terms of long-term viability. Social Security is the world’s shakiest Ponzi scheme. Our energy policy is as antiquated as it is short-sighted. Our minimum wage, which Boomers could actually live off of back in the day, has deteriorated in real dollars as quickly as our national debt has ballooned.

Boomers — and to a lesser extent Xers — have lived like frats boys and sorority girls — leaving Millenials to clean up the house and nurse our hangovers.

No matter what Obama says, followed by the GOP’s eye-rolling retort, nothing will change. Until it has to.

I liken it to the broker community’s outrage over health care reform or even advisors’ hand-wringing over Dodd-Frank. We saw it coming. We knew “business as usual” was unsustainable. But we keep going because business was good for brokers and life was easy for carriers.

Now it’s not. The rules have changed. And instead of playing the game, we just want to pick up our ball and go home.

Sounds like a lot of Boomers I know.

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