This moment was inevitable. The march of time guaranteed it.
Baby boomers are beginning to hand over their keys to the control of American culture to the younger generations. Not willingly, of course. But you can't fight the numbers, at least not for long.
A couple weeks ago, the U.S. Census bureau released figures showing that millennials and even younger whippersnappers now make up more than half of the nation's population. The under-40 population reached 166 million in July, outnumbering the 162 million boomers, Gen Xers and older folks. Dominance will soon belong to the young, at least statistically.
That may be a galling thought for many of us of a certain age, considering our time spent crafting the well-oiled machine that is 2020 America.
Indeed, this year of uncertainty is delivering a demographic reality check, along with many other upheavals.
The term "millennials" is a good starting point. They're adults, not children. Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, according to most demographers. That means the oldest millennials are turning 39 this year, and the youngest are 24 and moving past college age.
They're also shouldering significant worries and financial hardships in the pandemic. Millennials and Gen Zers (ages 23 and younger) fill a majority of the essential worker jobs in the staggered economy. They're trucking our food on the interstates, stocking shelves and scanning groceries at supermarkets, treating the ill in hospitals and clinics, installing air conditioners, replacing the water pumps on our SUVs, roofing our houses and responding to our 911 calls.
Even with that, millennials' livelihoods are getting hammered by the impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Pandemic-driven shutdowns and downsizing had cost 4.8 million millennials their jobs between February and July, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, cited in a Wall Street Journal report. Millennials' unemployment rate of 12.5 percent exceeds that of Gen Xers and boomers, too.
Those same folks had their launch into adulthood stunted by the Great Recession more than a decade ago. Simultaneously, the cost of a college education had tripled in the decade before they enrolled, so many are still paying off tuition debts.
Instead of getting derisive labels from their elders, millennials actually deserve to be called resilient.
And courageous. Say what?
Yes, we also rely on millennials and their younger cohorts for our national defense. Of the 1,304,418 active duty personnel in the U.S. armed services in 2018, a whopping 1,200,715 were under age 40.
In an interview last year, retired Navy Admiral William H. McRaven discussed the stereotypes of millennials. McRaven served alongside many as the former head of Joint Special Operations and architect of the raid that killed terrorist kingpin Osama Bin Laden.
"I am probably the biggest fan of the millennials you'll ever meet," McRaven said in the interview, recounted by the online publication Military.com. "[Critics] talk about millennials being soft and pampered and entitled, well I'm quick to say, then you've never seen them in a firefight in Afghanistan."
"This is a fabulous generation," the admiral added, "and anybody that worries about the future of the U.S., I don't think you need to worry."
In 2020, some millennials indeed may be among the people who've gone unmasked to parties and beaches, where no social distancing happened. Such negligence continues to be America's most fixable mistake in the battle to contain the highly contagious and potentially deadly virus. But there's plenty of blame to go around for lax mask wearing — or outright defiance of posted signs and the governor's mandate — through all adult age groups. A walk through any dollar store or gas station in Terre Haute will verify that.
This fall, millennials voices will be heard louder than ever in the Nov. 3 election. Signs of that age group's growing participation in voting and running for office emerged in the 2018 midterm election. The turnout by millennials nearly doubled between the 2014 and 2018 elections. They're expected to comprise 27 percent of the electorate in November, according to the Pew Research Center.
Millennials are winning elections, too. In 2018, their numbers in the U.S. House of Representatives grew from five to 26. Their slice of Congress will likely grow even more in 2020. They're still an overwhelming minority, despite their dominance in the overall population. Folks born before 1965 make up 62.5 percent of the House, for now. That imbalance is destined to change.
That should inspire, not anger older generations. Disdain for others based on their age is silly. We all pass through every age bracket, if we live long enough. Our sons, daughters and grandchildren have experiences, education, talent and ideas that could help bring a better, more prosperous, peaceful way of life.
Their time is arriving. That's a good thing.
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or email@example.com.