For Millennials and Gen Z, the American Dream may require a move
In the fall of 2018, Kyle Nossaman, editor of Gear Junkie magazine, and his wife locked the door to their upscale apartment in Minneapolis and set off to explore America. Over the next year, they visited most of the lower 48 states and almost all of the national parks. They mountain biked and motorcycled, camped and hiked, visited old friends and made new ones, while still keeping their part-time jobs, while saving money along the way. And they did all of this without ever getting on the plane – because they drove and lived in their own converted school bus.
As the type of vehicle varies, more and more Americans are trying their hand at this nimble lifestyle. The RV Industry Association reported an almost 200% increase in sales from 2019. Movements like #skooliebus on Instagram (with school buses revamped into mobile homes) indicate the growing popularity of mobile and minimalist living.
Movements like #skooliebus on Instagram (with school buses redeveloped into mobile homes) underscore the growing popularity of mobile and minimalist living.
With the high cost of homes and the associated mortgage burden, home ownership can become a liability rather than an asset, as can education if graduates are in debt. And homeownership and a college education have long been major tenets of the American Dream. But what if the current best path to social and economic mobility was simply more physical mobility? It doesn’t literally mean living in a school bus or motorhome, but it does mean being able to move between regions, following jobs and opportunities.
The decade following the 2008 financial crash saw a significant influx from the Rust Belt to the south and west, but still too few Americans are moving to improve their lot. From the 1940s to the 1960s, about a fifth of Americans moved each year as the population grew and spread west. More recently, however, national migration has come to a halt, with the exception of the recent wave of affluent remote workers renovating suburban homes. Ironically, this is due to underemployment: Americans should move to places where housing, health care, and education are cheaper, but cannot afford it. As the hordes of unemployed and underemployed young people look for work again, they may have to travel to find it.
Right now, home purchases are increasing among millennials with savings. For those who are confident that they can maintain or upgrade among digital jobs from the comfort of the suburbs, this could be a good bet. But many young Americans have a cautious sixth sense about the future, precisely because they have seen the financial crisis demolish the value of their parents’ house – and are in a good position to know the current price, because about half young adults are now returning home. with their parents. As they struggle to find work and help with their parents’ mortgage payments, they can hardly be faulted for having more confidence in mobility than in ownership.
Raj Chetty of Harvard has shown that socio-economic performance improves once families move to places with better economic opportunities. Physical mobility may therefore be the best route to economic mobility. We need to invest in people, not places, enabling every American to go where they need to use their skills and earn more.
Young people have little choice but to follow the money. A software engineer with a six-figure salary and a mountain of stock options doesn’t represent the average professional. Most people have more mundane concerns, such as whether they can continue to pay for their homes and cars. If they are fortunate enough to move to a cheaper location for remote work, their human resources departments may lower their salaries according to cost of living rules to reduce costs. But as executives move to places like Austin and Denver, young people will likely gravitate behind them and end up as suburban service workers, cooking, cleaning, babysitting, exercising, etc. tutoring children and performing other duties for the newly installed class. Tinder-like apps will match young people to jobs in every zip code.
We need to invest in people, not places, enabling every American to go where they need to use their skills and earn more.
It seems the time has come for many young Americans to take a leap of faith. As of October 2020, about a third of high school graduates were not enrolled in university. And jobs are unlikely to come only to those who seek them. They would have to travel to find them.
But it does mean that we need a much more dynamic financial model around a mobile population. An unholy alliance in the housing sector has seen the NIMBY-ism of residents combined with excessive local zoning regulation and an oligopoly of building developers to deny affordable housing to those who need it, where they need it. need. Meanwhile, the real estate industry continues to pour concrete in the McMansions suburbs with seemingly little regard for good jobs or climate security in a decade.
The answer to what people will do in the future depends a lot on where they travel to do it. Our main challenge is not man against robots, but skills against geography. Even though automation eliminates jobs, the demand for human talent to modernize our infrastructure and social services remains enormous.
A mobile civilization needs competent people, whether or not they have a university degree. In fact, some of the most crucial fields facing labor shortages don’t even require a high school diploma. That’s why McKinsey’s Michael Chui argues that the solution to mass unemployment is mass redeployment.
In 2020, the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board at the White House launched a “Find Something New” campaign to get Americans to use apprenticeship as a route to high-paying jobs such as aerospace technician or wind turbine technician, maintenance of computer equipment or registered nurse. In Europe and America, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) offers an apprenticeship program to prepare recruits for jobs in land use planning, property management, land use data analysis real estate and the conservation of experiences in mixed-use spaces. Industrial 3D printing operators earn as much as the average academic. This mission of building sustainable and inclusive habitats will attract young people who are fed up with dilapidated infrastructure and who want to make useful things rather than just consume things that are not. What John Seely Brown Calls homo faber – the man who does – could take over from homo economicus.
But the American dream is not only material; rather, it is an idea that a generation can believe in. It’s more than a “what” question; it is also about knowing where and why. Young Americans should embrace mobility in all its forms as a way to answer these questions for themselves.
The move is the ultimate expression of reinvention, and perhaps the most effective too.
Excerpt from “MOVE: The Forces Uprooting Us” by Parag Khanna. Copyright © 2021 by Parag Khanna. Extracted with permission from Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc.