Millennials in 'Merica: Is Clarion for them?

A briefing on the generation that ‘will change the world.'

By Samantha Beal

CLARION NEWS Writer

CLARION COUNTY

We're everywhere: in your houses, on your streets, up your politics, down your wallets. We have "man buns" and "nerd glasses" that beg to be labeled, but aren't because we don't.

We hold "interventions" and we don't judge people and we harbor an inexplicable love for quinoa and Ramen.

And the way we talk whaaaaaaat?

Example: "The rents say I need a crib so I've been looking for something with my bae that's not, like, ratchet. But he's getting salty and keeps throwing shade. I can't even. #Adulting"

Translation: "My parents say I need a house so I've been looking for a place with my boyfriend that's nice. But he's bitter about it and makes fun of me. I'm sick of it all. Is this what it means to be an adult?"

Maybe.

There's about 75 million millennials in the United States and we make up about 40 percent of the working population.

As a group, we're basically just like other people: We need to eat, sleep and breathe.

It's what we eat, when we sleep and how we breathe that's unusual.

In a 2016 report on millennials, Gallup Inc. CEO Jim Clifton went so far as to say we "will change the world decisively more than any other generation."

Yaaaas.

#ninetofive

As explained by Shannon Barrios, executive director of Clarion County Economic Development Corporation, in an email to the CLARION NEWS, understanding millennials is imperative to economic growth. This is because we're driving the job market in a new direction.

"While compensation is important, it is not the primary motivator of a millennial job seeker," Barrios explained. "In general, millennials consider a style of life first."

Trill. Most millennials try to balance social responsibility with making a living.

"When I am looking for a job, I try to look for what really interests me instead of just the salary," noted Lindsey Mays, a 21-year-old Clarion University student studying communication. "If I am going to invest my time into a company, I really want to be passionate about what I am doing."

Mays isn't alone. Millennials will give up making bank in exchange for volunteer or giveback opportunities. If we don't feel a job offers any level of personal growth, we leave. The result of this is job-hopping, the practice of spending less than two years in a particular position.

Courtney Hunsberger, a 23-year-old associate agent at Brad Johnson Agency in Shippenville, was particularly aware of this when she first applied for her job.

"I was upfront with my boss from the start," Hunsberger noted. "If I am bored, I will not last long in a job."

A longitudinal survey published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2017 says millennials job-hop at the same rate Baby Boomers did in their 20s. The difference is millennials tend to job-hop longer.

"Research varies on this, probably in part because millennials are early in their careers," added Barrios. "But some studies indicate that they tend to stay in a job less than three years."

In 2016, Gallup found millennials as a group pursue jobs for personal development, not paychecks. We want coaches instead of bosses and constant feedback instead of annual reviews.

Hunsberger values three things as an agency employee: supportive upper management, positive culture and a fast-paced environment.

"When I have an idea, I can run with it," said Hunsberger. "When I make a mistake, I am guided on how to fix it and have avoided it in the future."

Hunsberger appreciates feeling comfortable enough to ask questions and work with others as a team.

"I thrive when there are challenges in my way and new territory to explore," she added. "As an employee here (at Brad Johnson), I can stay busy enough for two people."

Miranda Spessard, the 29-year-old business manager for Pinnacle Resource Management, Inc., also values a challenging work environment, as well as independence and flexibility.

"I like being assigned tasks that challenge me and push me outside my comfort zone," Spessard noted. "As well as ones that vary from day to day."

Balancing work and life is important for Spessard, who appreciates having options like working late instead of coming to the office early.

Thirty-eight-year-old Dan Shifflet, a Clarion University math professor, also values flexibility in his work schedule.

His second favorite feature?

"Resources and support to do my job well," Shifflet noted.

Shifflet prizes having good relationships with his colleagues. Millennials like having communication channels open at all times, whether via social media or in person.

Social media is useful for finding a job, not just maintaining one. Mays, for instance, uses the professional social media network LinkedIn.

"It's really convenient," said Mays. "It gives all necessary information."

Though millennials are still young, those born in the early 1980s are already looking at retirement and have instigated the FIRE Movement: Financial Independence, Retire Early.

Some millennials aggressively save early in life by doing things like keeping the thermostat at 55 degrees in the winter and shopping only with coupons. These millennials put their extra money aside and retire in their 30s.

"I plan to retire at the youngest age I can," said Shifflet.

He's preparing for that by using a combination of a 403(b), Roth IRA and personal savings account.

Gen Xers are also counting on Social Security, but millennials can't afford that luxury. It's scheduled to run out in 2034.

"I am not factoring social security into my retirement plans for that reason," added Shifflet.

#homesweethome

Millennials are also cautious when making life-changing decisions, like getting married or buying a house.

For Hunsberger and her husband, buying a house was a big step.

"Financially, the house needed to comfortably fit in our budget while still leaving us with an adequate emergency fund," recalled Hunsberger. "Functionally, we paid attention to areas like number of bathrooms, square footage and drive distance to work."

It was only after the Hunsbergers found something that fit their finances and functions that they started looking at "extras," like a garage and dishwasher.

The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors recognizes approximately 60 percent of millennials currently looking to buy a house are more willing to spend a little money on a fixer upper than lots of money on a huge house. Gallup notes millennials in general are buying fewer homes.

Barrios explained the data is still too new on this point to draw solid conclusions. Still, there are trends associated with the millennial buying power in real estate.

"As the most educated generation, in many cases, they carry significant student debt," said Barrios. "(This) may be a factor in preventing home ownership."

The struggle is real. Gallup finds the median debt burden of millennial college graduates is $30,000. For many young people, this delays buying a car let alone a house.

Spessard and her husband actually wanted something that was as "move-in ready" as possible.

"We didn't want a major fixer-upper," Spessard clarified. "We didn't like the prospect of buying another house in five years."

"Fam" is important for millennials. We live close to and often with parents later in life. Growing up during the Great Recession and amassing student loans are often credited with the uptick in adults under 35 living at home. It's safer and cheaper to live with several other adults earning living wages.

"A large swath of millennials actually move back home for a period immediately after college," Barrios explained.

Adam Roberts, the 39-year-old chair of Clarion University's Department of Chemistry, Math and Physics, considered proximatey to relatives when he moved to Clarion with his family 14 years ago.

"I was looking for a place where I had a job offer relatively close to family in northeast Ohio," he explained.

Four years after Roberts and his wife settled in Clarion County, they looked at moving to Clarion Borough. Their three main concerns where closeness to work, a good school district and a yard for their kids.

Millennials gravitate toward urban environments, but are moving more and more to suburbs.

"They value outdoor and indoor recreation, cultural opportunities, great restaurants and cafes and diversity," said Barrios.

Spessard noted location was key to deciding which house to buy.

"We wanted to stay close to town," she added.

#youarewhatyoueat

Food is a big deal to millennials. We have an appetite for farm-to-table menus, communal dining and food trucks an eclectic range in the best cases leading to the label "foodie."

"When I eat with my friends, we tend to eat somewhere that tastes good for the price," said Mays. "We don't prefer fast food unless we are in a rush."

Specifically citing Cozumel, Sweet Basil and Pizza Pub, Mays noted she and her peers try to go to local venues that serve reasonably priced good food. Dairy Queen or Sheetz are both fly (cool, awesome, great), particularly when dessert is involved.

The National Restaurant Association asserts millennials particularly connect with brands that are woke in-tune with social grievances. Companies that market sustainability and giveback efforts go farther with us. Millennials connect with stories, not statistics.

"(They) desire walkability in their community," said Barrios.

New studies indicate millennials respond differently to alcohol, as well. Whereas binge drinking was a cultural rite of passage for many Gen Xers, millennials don't drink to get drunk.

Altogether, millennials and iGens (born between 2000-2020) drink less. When we do drink, we prefer liquor to beer and wine. We're also more likely to make purchases based on brand story, not quality.

Drinking (and eating are social events for millennials.

"When I hang out with friends it seems to revolve around food and entertainment," Mays recognized.

Though she enjoys a meal out, Mays also cooks for herself. When friends are involved, making dinner is a group event.

#friendsforever

We millennials don't hang-out the way our parents did. Dances, bowling alleys and skating rinks have all but disappeared. (Though don't be surprised if they come back in the next year or two. Retro is so in.)

But dialogue is important to us. So are healthy connections.

"We attend a lot of on-campus activities because they are free, but also really fun," said Mays. "And it's important to support our peers."

Mays maintains her relationships in different ways. For one friend, it means grabbing coffee once a week. For another, it means hitting up the gym on a regular basis.

"It helps me stay on track mentally and physically," Mays explained.

Hunsberger stays connected by socializing in a professional capacity.

"I am currently involved in Clarion Area Young Professionals," said Hunsberger. "(This) connects me to other people my age in a variety of industries."

Conversely, socializing for Roberts and Shifflet is often a family affair involving fellow parents and their children.

"We often spend an afternoon (or) evening at either our house with another family, or at another family's home," Roberts noted. "When I am able to go out with friends without children it is often to the local brewpub."

"Most of my ‘friends' are other parents with kids of the same age as mine," agreed Shifflet.

Fires, games and talk are important parts of socializing for Shifflet's family.

Living on a college budget, Mays and her friends often have a night in instead of going out. It's all gucci: Millennials usually plant themselves near high-speed internet and streaming services.

Social media is hugely important to maintaining millennial connections. Pew Research Center calculates millennials average 20 texts a day. Seventy-five percent of us have a social media profile. And funny cat videos are a great way to pass the time.

"Anything that is relatively inexpensive," added Mays.

#movingon

Gallup recognizes millennials are the least likely of all generations to feel safe and take pride in the communities in which we live. This affects how eagerly millennials get involved socially and how much we invest emotionally.

"We must understand that quality of life is a primary economic driver, much more so than it has ever been," noted Barrios.

Barrios sees Clarion's affordable living, rural setting, academic community and proximity to large East Coast cities as check-offs on the millennial must-have list. The university offers cultural diversity and Cook Forest offers nature experiences.

In other words, Clarion is on fleek.

Spessard wants to own a small business. While researching where to establish one, she found Clarion meets most of her qualifications.

"Having lived in small towns as well as a city, I find that it is much easier to forge connections and create a network in small towns," Spessard explained. "Small towns have more of a possibility to create a bigger impact."

Spessard likes Clarion's established Main Street, its position as a creative and "forward thinking" college town community and its potential to grow.

"Every city or town has areas where it can improve," Barrios recognized.

But Barrios believes while capitalizing on the area's growth opportunities, citizens must recognize and promote the advantages already available.

Millennials, after all, have two (sometimes hidden) superpowers: adaptability and empathy. Both are important for starting a new life in a new place.

"Clarion County is already a great place to live and work," concluded Barrios. "(Let's) start to brag a little."n

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