Mind & Spirit

Janine’s Journal: Millennials & Milestones

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It’s been a big year for NWQ’s editorial team! Read about the writers and graphic artists who work at our relentlessly positive publication.

Graphic Artist/Photographer Samantha Ryan with fiance Chris Behling.

Graphic Artist/Photographer Samantha Ryan with fiance Chris Behling.

My husband says I worry too much and I know he’s right. I lay awake at night pondering things like the decline of our democracy if something isn’t done soon to restore a vigorous free press. Or the fate of the EPA. Or the plight of the polar bear. Did you know that fewer than 100,000 giraffes exist on the planet now?

I try counting sheep, but that only makes me think about factory farms and the demise of bees and the fact that Monsanto has monopolized our seed supply. (Whatever happened to anti-trust laws?)

No, the space between my ears is not always a fun or peaceful place. It’s all part of being a writer and perhaps a too-close observer of our complicated, messy, frustrating world. But I’m aware of my tendency to overthink things, so I take action. I turn my thoughts to concepts that are “true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable and excellent,” to paraphrase Philippians 4:8. And I count my blessings. There are many.

Among them is the knowledge that our world will soon be run by the millennial generation born between 1980 and 2000. Along with having four millennial children, I’m very fortunate to work closely with several such young adults here at the magazine, in our Editorial and Graphics departments.

Millennials come in all viewpoints, of course, but there are generalizations made about them based on research. They’re heavily studied because they’ll soon be the biggest segment of money-spenders in the nation.

Millennials are skeptical of big companies, thanks to the 2008 economic collapse and numerous Wall Street scandals that played out as they were coming of age. They believe companies have an obligation to treat their workers well and to be socially responsible, concerned with more than profit alone.

Millennials believe in science and the absolute importance of protecting our environment. They also think the government should be better at solving problems for people; about 80 percent support universal health care, according to a survey reported in Forbes Magazine.

Millennials are far more tolerant of people who are different from them. They’re the most diverse group of Americans in history and see diversity as a strength. Only about 61 percent of them are non-Hispanic whites, compared to 73 percent of my Boomer generation, according to research by Goldman Sachs.

Millennials are cautious about commitment – whether that means home-buying, marrying or having babies. They want to do all that, but not yet. The median marriage age in 2010 was 30, compared to 23 in 1970. This is partly related to the huge college loan debts many of them carry.

Millennials are the first “digital natives,” growing up with laptops, cellphones and other technology in hand. They’re highly networked, socially. They’re also more apt to exercise and eat well, and less apt to smoke.

Sadly, only about half of the millennials eligible to vote did so in the 2016 election. This is lower than other age groups, which average 58 percent voter participation. You need to work on that one, millennials, cuz you’ll be in charge of the whole ship before long and it won’t steer itself.

Millennials want access to things, but not necessarily the burden of ownership, hence the rise of the sharing economy. Owning a fancy car means very little to this generation, but sharing a car makes good sense.

To a person, the millennials in my life are charming people who make the world better. They’re bright, caring and very engaged with life. They’re hard workers but not obsessive workers. A healthy work/life balance seems to come more naturally to them than it did to me at their age.

They’re also well educated. I’m thankful that our publisher Bill Hughes believes in the importance of hiring properly educated editors and graphic artists. It’s a big commitment on his part and I believe it’s reflected in the quality of our magazines.

In our department, several millennials saw major milestones in 2016. Chris Linden and wife Rachel welcomed their first baby, as did Jermaine Pigee and wife Kate. In fact, Jermaine’s daughter arrived the week he began working here. Talk about an exciting week! Both of these families also bought their first homes in 2016.

Jermaine recalls graduating from NIU in 2007 and landing his first job only to be laid off, along with most of his newsroom, when the 2008 recession hit.

“I was 24 and out of a job and that was a terrible economy to try to start your adult life in,” he says. “Getting married or buying a house was the last thing on my mind.” He met Kate in college and the couple waited seven years before getting married.

In another 2016 milestone, Samantha Ryan became engaged to Chris Behling. Suddenly the NWQ Wedding Guides we publish are much more interesting to Sam! But she says the heavy college debt she and Chris carry puts a damper on her planning. “That’s what makes it so hard to ever get ahead and save money. I’ll be paying these loans off ‘til I die. I loved college, but I do wonder if it will ever really pay off.”

The singles in our department, Lindsey Gapen and Blake Nunes (my son), are each enjoying footloose-and-fancy-free post-college years marked by lots of get-togethers with friends & family. Since moving to Rockford from Naperville, Lindsey has played on community league soccer, softball and volleyball teams. She mentors middle school children through a program at St. Rita’s Church and takes part in IGNITE Rockford and Rockford Young Professionals.

“Most of my friends are very interested in travel, hanging out with friends, doing some volunteer work and saving up some money,” she says. “They’re in no hurry to settle down yet.”

My daughter Rebecca agrees the college loans are difficult but says she wouldn’t give up her college years for anything. She’s a social media specialist at Alpine Bank. I’m not sure what that means or what she does all day, but she loves it. Her job title would have mystified me even more when I was 25. We didn’t have Internet, much less social media. I’ve learned many computer programs over the course of my career, but they never came easily to me. Millennials are unfazed by the pace of change in technology because it’s all they’ve ever known. Unlike me, they seem to roll with the punches.

As a tail-end Boomer, I’m sure there are things my generation is better at than the millennials – picking up dirty clothes and making the bed come to mind. But it sure is fun to observe the very special qualities that define a new generation and will, not too long from now, define a new America.

Millennials, you’re the new and improved version of humankind – People 5.0, so to speak. Knowing you’ll soon run the world helps me to sleep well.

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