Sunday, October 11, 2015

Why won't millenials buy cars and houses?

I watch a lot of NASA TV. At least once a week there will be an interview with an astronaut and somebody will ask them when they first wanted to be an astronaut and what did they do to become one. Some wanted to be astronauts since childhood. I am surprised that children plan for careers like that. I'm surprised at the children in the audience who are already thinking about it and ask the question.

I don't remember ever having career goals as a kid. What I wanted to be when I grew up was a grown up. I really didn't like being a kid at all. I found it limited my ability to get things done. I liked to make things. I didn't play pretend with other kids, or do any sports. I read books and learned to sew and knit and do cross stitch. I worked all year making elaborate Christmas gifts for my relatives. I didn't think about what job I would have as an adult, but I did desperately yearn to not be stuck doing kid stuff anymore. I made my dad take me to the drivers license office the first day they were open after my 16th birthday to take my driving test even though I had never driven his car before. I mostly did my learner's permit driving in my grandmother's stick shift Toyota pickup. But I was willing to embrace anxiety and take a stranger for a ride in an automatic transmission Delta 88 so I could get that badge of adulthood. Even though I slammed my clutch foot on the brake at least once I still passed.

I heard that some of my cousin's kids just breezed past their 16th birthday without going for their driving test like it didn't even matter. I was stunned. This is how it is now. It's a trend. (Study source: AAA Foundation for Highway Safety)
Delay in licensure was found to be widespread: only 44 percent of respondents reported that they obtained a driver’s license within one year of the minimum age for licensing in their state, and only 54 percent reported that they obtained a license before turning 18
I worked during high school doing data entry and office work. I had my most responsible job of my life at age 19 as a sophomore at Georgia Tech. I was the Features Editor of the school newspaper with responsibility for a large staff. I determined what people had to do and how much they got paid. I worked 40 hours a week and was a full time student. I got my first F in Calculus IV. And I still wasn't thinking about what I wanted to do for a career.

One of my nieces finished her first year in college and went back to her Mother's house for the summer. She said she didn't want to get a job because if her friends texted about doing something she didn't want to have to say, "No, I can't, I have to go to work." I had a hard time wrapping my head around that. I'm not sure if it's because I didn't have texting at her age, or because I didn't have any friends in the town where I lived during my sophomore summer. The summer of 1986 I went to work from 9 to 5 every day and did electrical riser diagrams in AutoCAD. Only one project would fit on the computer at a time because the hard drive was only 40 Mb. I had to copy the drawings onto 5 1/2" floppies and clean off the hard drive for the next job. I made $4 an hour and my boss charged architects $40 an hour for the work I did.

I bought my first new car in 1989. I'd had 5 new cars by the time I was 32. I bought my first house at 25. I was doing what I always wanted to do, be a grown up. And I still hadn't picked a career. I was a 1099 contractor in electronics development. Between projects I would renovate my house. I loved being a grown up. I got my own way and I got to make things. It was all I ever wanted.

It is a well established fact that I am weird. Which is why I am embarrassed that it constantly surprises me to realize things that are totally normal for other people that I never even thought about. It has slowly dawned on me in the last week that a lot of people still cling to aspects of being children. Evidence: all the full grown adults on Twitter changing their names to Halloween puns. This is probably why so many people have children. They liked being children, they wouldn't mind being reminded of it. Not me. No way. I want very much to not relive that 17 year prison sentence of other people telling me what to do.

Is that why millenials don't buy cars and houses? They don't want to be grown ups? They like to be kids even more than people nearer my age who still buy houses and cars despite having Halloween pun names on Twitter? Kids today have even less motivation to be grown ups? Why was I so desperate to be a grown up? Because being a kid SUCKED. But now young people clearly are not as fundamentally frustrated by their teenage lifestyle as I was. The other analysis points to the internet as the reason for this contentment.

This sounds right to me. I mean, I lived in this exact same spot as a teenager and I HATED it. It was a long distance phone call from my house to the kids in my class at school, not that I really wanted to talk to any of them. I wanted to go to college with people I liked and never have to come back here. Yet here I am, happily typing this essay in the Spartan I rebuilt on the burnt out slab of my childhood home in the woods. Because internet. I can connect with people, get the materials I need to make things with online shopping, all without going in my car. The same car I have had since my first internet service provider, Mindspring, went public in 1996.

The point of the other analysis online seems to be what to do about this. How about accept it? Adapt to it. Car makers want to figure out a way to get people to run through 5 new cars in 10 years like I did in my 20s? How about stopping to ask if that's even a good thing? If 20 somethings don't need cars make something they do need. The internet could use a lot of work. If Ford wanted to run a fiber optic cable to my house I would be cool with giving them $50 a month instead of Windstream. But I'm not buying a Fiesta.

Why don't millenials want your giant subdivision houses? Well, that's just the economy, stupid. They do want paid-for tiny houses. That's another thing I know about. But I have to go make something now and don't feel like thinking about this anymore.