User Friendly Account of the Next America

For a user friendly overview of how the US is changing, The Next America by Paul Taylor, is a solid account of what is happening with Boomers, Millennials, immigrants, and a host of other social issues.

Taylor, Pew Center research director, does a masterful job of weaving a lot of Pew survey data into a compelling account of how much demographic change our nation is experiencing.  The book’s subtitle is “Boomers, Millennials and the Looming Generational Showdown.”  Showdown must have been a subtitle recommended to boost sales. Taylor doesn’t believe  Millennials will kick their Boomer parents and grandparents to the curb despite some very striking differences between the two generations.

This might be the book’s most apt quote for summing up those differences:

“Our older generation is predominantly white; our younger generation increasingly nonwhite.  They have different political philosophies, social views and policy preferences, as they made clear in 2008 and 2012, when the young-old voting gaps were the widest on record.  Many of the young are big government liberals; most of the old are small government conservatives (but hands off Social Security and Medicare!), The young are comfortable with an array of new lifestyles, family forms, and technologies that have made the start of the twenty-first century such a distinctive moment in human history; the old for the most part are disoriented by them."

I first read the book to get a comprehensive overview of future changes in the US workforce. I likely will revisit the book again for other purposes and find it an equally useful resource for  context.  This is a recounting of trends any futures scanner should already understand; however, I continue to believe people don't yet grasp how great these changes are. Through sheer accumulation of the data, Taylor helps us see the scale of this change.   

He doesn’t just delve into generational shifts; he also analyzes the racial and ethnic changes underway, including the blurring of racial identity. For example, he says that based on current mortality-fertility-immigration trends, about 90% of US labor force growth between now and mid-century will be from new immigrants and their children. An estimated 62 million Americans, or 37% of the population, will be “immigrant stock” (immigrants themselves or their US born children). He notes this is the highest share in US history. Our current intense public debate over immigration can be seen as a struggle to manage a changing American identity.     

The federal government now spends nearly $7 per capita on programs for seniors for every $1 it spends per capita on programs for children. Despite this mounting evidence of generational inequality, Taylor reassures Boomers that “lopsided majorities across all generations say the government should be mainly or partly responsible for ensuring that retired people have a minimum standard of living.”  The future of Social Security and Medicare is somewhat secure, whatever reforms may become necessary.  Seniors are resolving some of this generational inequality within their own families; two-thirds or more providing money, time or residential support to their children.

The Next America also examines the rise in economic inequality, hollowing out of the middle class, changing marriage rates and family structures, and how digital technologies are reshaping our lives.  

Futurists always caution that demographics do not determine our destiny, but these trends do give us a reliable sense of our future context. By drawing these patterns out of the data, Taylor is helping us see clearly the changes we are already experiencing.