Fulfilling Generation Y: Does Wanting Less Mean Having More?

Feature / April 12, 2012
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It’s no longer breaking news that the country’s economy is suffering, and a slew of reports released in the past several months are showing that 20somethings might just be responsible.

The generation that claims an average of $45,000 in debt, according to PCN’s survey released in March, is no longer retail’s “golden ticket.”

But, are we, as a culture, striving for middle class because we’re no longer enchanted with being rich, or is middle class simply the best we can hope for?

According to WSL/Strategic Retail’s “How America Shops-MegaTrends Report Moving on 2012,” roughly a quarter of the youth market—18-34 year olds—are in financial turmoil.

Which, not surprisingly, means that the 20somethings of today are shopping less, and as a result, they are negatively affecting chains like Urban Outfitters, and the Gap.

“The youth market, which has traditionally been known for its enthusiastic spending of discretionary income, has virtually dried up,” Candace Corlett, president of WSL, said in the company’s press release.

While money is obviously a factor, could this disregard for excessive spending also be Generation Y’s way of rebelling against what is expected of us?

“I think it’s more difficult for our generation because we’ve not only watched our friends lose their jobs, but also our parents,” says Lindsay Summers, the Immigration Program Analyst at the Department of Labor, to Meets Obsession. “We’ve seen them lose their savings and have to compete with 22 year olds for entry-level admin jobs. It’s a different world out there, and while we’re still dreaming and striving to be better than what we believe we are, we’re doing it a little less innocently.”


Photo: Sarah Wassel

This lack of spending is scaring even the harder to reach luxury market, because—according to Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing in an interview with Business Weekly— “A 25 year old who shops at the Gap would traditionally shop at Tiffany & Co, Nordstrom or Saks Inc. decades later.” It seems to be more indicative of something besides the inability for Generation Y to spend excessively. “We have a group of people who are seeking only to live within their means,” Danziger summed up.

According to Tatum Fraites, a management consultant with Accenture, Generation Y is gravitating towards jobs that help make a difference in society. “I’m seeing more and more young professionals wanting to do something meaningful,” Fraites told Meets Obsession. “Unfortunately, or fortunately, those mover-and-shaker societal jobs usually are coupled with high morals and low pay checks. So even if one doesn’t ‘strive’ for middle class, they may end up there.”

One such non-profit worker openly admits she’s not aiming for upper class status. “It’s important to me that I have a job I enjoy, and in seeking a partner, it is a deal breaker that they have the same.” Adrienne Elias works for an HIV Support Services program in San Francisco.

In fact, many of today’s 20somethings seem to want freedom, happiness and the ability to travel, over fancy cars and big houses. “Most folks I know aren’t really looking big picture. They’re striving to get through the day as fulfilled and understood as possible,” says Summers.

It doesn’t help that upper class is becoming less and less attainable, either. WSL’s report showed that people earning six-figure incomes claimed that they could only afford the “basics.” This mindset has made defining middle class increasingly more complicated.

“I don’t think ‘middle class’ is a very descriptive term,” Ben Veater-Fuchs, a Management Consultant from one of the largest accounting firms in the US, told Meets Obsession. “It’s too vague, and has a different meaning for everyone. People who consider themselves middle class are reporting incomes that range from $25,000 to $100,000.”

“I come from a place where ‘middle class status’ was having more than one TV in your house and ‘upper class’ meant being able to have a nice celebratory dinner out at Red Lobster,” adds Summers. Maybe defining it isn’t important. What’s important for the majority of the Generation Y kids seems to be freedom.

“All I want is the ability to go as I please and to see as much of the world as possible. If I can do that while working at Wendy’s and living in a group-house then so be it. Getting by is success. Doing it without selling-out is success. Doing it while selling out and buying your not so financially endowed friends drinks at the bar is success.”


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Sarah Marloff
Sarah Marloff




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April 12, 2012