Americans in their late teens and 20s offer President-elect Barack Obama an extraordinary chance to capitalize on a demographic golden goose. They are the leading edge of the Millennial Generation, also called Generation Y or Generation Next, and are now coming of age. They're enrolled in college and starting careers, developing relationships and thinking about marriage and family. These young adults, 40% of whom are 18 and over, are in the formative stages of their lives. And there are a lot of them: 91 million people born in the 1980s and 1990s – a group bigger than the Baby Boomers.
That is a startling statistic: 91 million young adults are a larger group than Boomers.
The Millennials are on the move, and like their Boomer parents will be an unstoppable force in American economic and social life for decades. Obama is the first president with a real opportunity to address the needs of this increasingly powerful group.
2 of 3 voted for Obama.
Done right, the incoming administration can take steps to give the Millennials a head start in life, earn their unswerving loyalty, and restore the economy – all in four years. "The message to President Obama would be: You have a group of people absolutely committed to making America better," said Morley Winograd, a fellow at NDN, a Washington-based progressive think tank and the author with Michael Hais of "Millennial Makeover."
Quite optimistic. But the numbers, the demographics, are surprisingly positive, whether he's a one-term president or more significantly, if he serves a second term.
How? Encourage home ownership, get people enthusiastic about the future, and watch.
"The sheer size of this age cohort moving into the workforce gives this potential," said Christian Schneider, a portfolio manager at RCM, a unit of Allianz Global Investors, who focuses on demographics. "It's a great positive for the United States."
From the ashes of this recession will arise a brighter future. Inspired leadership can make things happen. make people want to make things happen. Some factors are in favor of economic recovery and growth.
It gets better. The U.S. labor force is shrinking. The massive Boomer generation is beginning to retire, most Millennials are still too young to replace them, and there aren't enough workers in Generation X, which is sandwiched between them.
The U.S. had to create some 200,000 jobs a month at its peak just to absorb the new Baby-Boom workers, according to Hokenson, the demographer, who recently published a study on how U.S. population trends over the next four- to eight years could shape Obama's presidency.
In contrast, the number of new entrants into the labor force is forecast to average just 73,000 a month through 2012 – similar to America in the 1950s and early 1960s, Hokenson said.
Even if the economic recovery is modest, Hokenson noted, the nation's unemployment rate can be expected to decline faster than most people now think.
"It's a workers' paradise," he said. "That's what's possible, based on the demographics."
It isn't all nirvana from here, of course.
To be sure, demographics don't always play out as predicted. Immigration, for instance, will influence the job market, though it's unclear to what extent. And circumstances often get in the way. People are already afraid to buy homes, and if the credit crisis deepens few will be brave enough to catch this falling knife, regardless of the incentives. Moreover, with their savings decimated, many Boomers will have to delay retirement, so perhaps the workforce won't shrink as quickly.