By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
You may have seen the series of Geico ads on television with the implied, if not direct warnings about the (inevitable?) transition we all seem to make as we become our parents.
Whether it is relationship or career advice – or almost anything else, young people don’t want to hear it. No matter how often their elders want to, or even insist on, keep on saying it.
To put it mildly, and perhaps emphasizing the blindingly obvious, this is not your father’s world.
From career tracks to saving rates, from student debt to housing prices or even job descriptions, not much from the world of the 2020s looks even remotely similar to the Boomer’s world. Or any world.
Here are only a few stupendously tone-deaf career/financial/life tidbits of advice that you may have heard. There really should be a cliché museum for some of these perhaps once-true fossilized artifacts of a long-lost civilization that some still hold a vestigial fondness for. I’ll start with some obvious ones.
Stay in one job as long as you can
The core assumption here is that the person in mind has, in fact one job. That is true for virtually no working person I know under 30. Or 40.
And, “as long as you can”? What does that even mean in the 2020s? Does it mean as long as I don’t get fired, cut or furloughed? As long as the company stays in business? As long as I can tolerate the pay, conditions or prospects for advancement?
Back in the heyday of the post-World War II economy (up until the 1980s mostly) people who switched jobs every three years or so would be seen as untrustworthy and flaky job hoppers. But in the 2020s, those who stay for more than a couple years, or state a preference to do so, are treated with suspicion.
Employers these days don’t look for loyalty; they look for people with expertise and a diverse range of skills and experiences.
Uber capitalist tool magazine, Forbes had an article a few years ago on the hazards of what used to be known as job stability (now perceived as being “stuck”).
Find a reliable job for a steady income
Economic history since 2008 should have cured anyone of this illusion.
In a recent survey, nearly 80 percent of teenagers say they want to be their own boss; 40 percent aspire to start their own business. If there is anything they don’t want, even if were possible, is a career that spans decades in the same industry.
What industry, or even more specifically what company would anyone expect to still be thriving by the end of a typical old-school career track?
Be loyal to your company and they will be loyal to you is perhaps the cynical punch line of workplace jokes. Was that prospect of mutual respect ever reciprocated by employers?
Buy the biggest house you can afford
Like the previous guideline, this one has multiple assumptions underneath it.
A generation ago, working full-time (one income per household!) presumed the ability to buy a house.
A big house was based on the assumption that a large family was in the works.
And, most of all, a house, large or small, was considered anyone’s “best” investment.
And in terms of square footage or financial return, the bigger the better.
In the 2020s however, increasing interest rates, paralyzing student debt, two-three year career tracks, a pandemic or two and monstrous mortgage payments make that “big house” a “big” financial black hole from which few ever emerge.
“Buying the biggest” – or even the most houses possible has become the mantra of Wall Street hedge funds which now own one of seven homes in America. Most of them rentals. And many of them empty. This “ownership” adds nothing to our housing inventory but it does add an average of $100,000 to the price of a home.
Over the past ten or so years, I know far more young people who have ruined their credit rating (and future home-owning prospects) by home ownership than have found themselves on a more certain financial footing.
Even Zillow found itself on the wrong end of the balance sheet because of its poorly performing housing investments.
Put everything in “the next big thing”
According to the 1960s iconic film “The Graduate”, “the next big thing” was “plastics”. In the “dot.com” boom, it was anything with a “dot.com” after it.
In the 2020s it could be cyber-currencies, NFTs, or Tik-Tok or a dozen other meta/online alphabet soup nonsense syllables (at least to Boomer ears) but, whatever they are called, and whatever utopia/dystopia they promise, step in slowly, and not after the word is out.
Gamestop stock, after all, made a pile of money, but not for the company and certainly not for the vast majority of investors.
Human beings, especially Americans it seems, love the idea of the big win, the gold rush, the mega-lottery win.
Even in the much-heralded Gold Rush, the real money to be made was in “mining the miners,” selling them needed supplies or fleecing them whenever possible.
Once you get your degree you’ll be set for life
If “set for life” means “in debt for life”.
College costs have increased geometrically in the past twenty years or so. Average pay, not so much.
Multiple degrees used to be an indicator of intelligence and ambition. In the 2020s college degrees, especially in the arts or humanities are signs of privilege – and indebtedness.
Get a second job
Or a third. Maybe with enough jobs or “side hustles” you too could make the equivalent of a high school drop-out a generation ago.
Putting money aside in a savings account is a near-sacred obligation for most Boomers.
When the dollar held its value, that was good advice.
In a time of increasing inflation, or even low interest rates, saving is the best way to ensure that your scrimping of dollars will lose value.
At 1% or so interest, why set up an interest-bearing account. To make one dollar for every one hundred over a year? It would be far better to invest in something that holds, or even better, increases in value.
Something like @$^*(~*#&%(
Boomer love advice
And what could be worse relationship advice than “If he’s mean to you, that means he likes you”. Yes, teenage boys tend to have difficulty expressing their feelings, but the bottom line is that if he is mean to you now, he’ll be even meaner as the relationship progresses. If he’s mean to you to show “affection”, that only confirms that he is a mean person. Nothing could be a brighter red flag of a disastrous, if not abusive relationship, in the future.
Not so bad intentions
There’s nothing malicious about this advice – it is firmly rooted in the Boomer’s lived experience of life/work/finances and more, as framed and defined primarily by life in the 1980s and ’90s. Those principles were true then, and, for the most part worked – at least for most of them, most of the time. Or, even if they never worked, they were still the touch-points, the unchallenged beliefs that guided a generation.