There is no doubt that the baby boom generation has fueled the housing market for over four decades. That’s right, our vision of the American Dream was shaped by those who are said to have been born between 1946 and 1964. Success was measured against a standard of working at one job or career for a lifetime, buying a suburban house to raise a family, and do it all on a single income.
As time passed and the economy changed, single income families became passé. Many struggled to keep up with the Jones’ and maintain the American Dream. The Dream became twisted into maintaining a lifestyle at all costs, even by financing it with their home’s equity.
In fact this meme was used in a Lending Tree commercial that ran prior to the housing bust. The commercial starts with the character “Stanley Johnson” introducing himself, and then posing with his family proclaiming they are great. The scene pans out to show his home as he continues to describe his four bedroom home being located in a great community. He then shows off his new car. And is proud to point out he is a member of the local club. He rhetorically asks with a smile while grilling in the backyard, “How do I do it?… I’m in debt up to my eyeballs…” And the commercial ends with “Stanley” mowing the lawn as he proclaims, “Somebody help me…”
At the time when the commercial ran, cash-out refinancing was popular. But in retrospect, the dark comedy seems prophetic of what went wrong with the American Dream. And as some have wondered if the American Dream died with the housing bust, it is becoming apparent that the dream is being redefined by Millennials (those born between 1980 to 2000) – and it may not be exactly what you think.
Millennials have been blamed for holding back a strong housing recovery by delaying household formation and not buying homes. But Brena Swanson of HousingWire proclaimed that to be old news in her April 28th article (Hey Millennials — You know nothing about housing finance; housingwire.com). She reported that many housing economists have declared 2015 as the year of the Millennial. Furthermore, she reported that by the end of 2015, Millennials are expected to be the largest home buying group; which may be derived from recent polls indicating that they believe it’s a good time to buy a home.
But don’t blame Millennials if 2015 doesn’t turn out they way housing economists expect. Why should the problems of a housing market be attributed to a generation who refuses to walk lockstep with older generations? Gen-X blogger, Jeremy Vohwinkle, pegged it in 2007 when he wrote about the problems with the housing market being rooted in an antiquated vision of the American Dream (The Real Estate Generation Gap: The Baby Boomers Are Trying to Sell, but Who’s Buying?; genxfinance.com). He proclaimed that the Baby Boom real estate cycle (starter home, upgrade to large home, downsize to retirement home) is not what younger generations want.
So, it’s not that the American Dream is dead, as some have thought; it is just being reinterpreted, most likely being restored to its original intentions. And rather than keeping up with the Jones’, it appears to be that the American Dream for Millennials is focused on increasing their quality of life – and whatever that brings with it.
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