Tag Archives: middle class

Millennials vs. Baby Boomers

31The radio world was all a buzz this week when it was announced that Millennials now out-number Baby Boomers.

Well la-te-da.

Let me tell you why that doesn’t really matter.

William Francis Sutton’s Advice to Radio Operators & Advertisers

Sutton was famous for making money, lots of money. Actually, he didn’t really make money as much as he stole money. Sutton stole an estimated $2 Million over his forty year career. And while he denies he originated it, Sutton’s Law states that when diagnosing, one should first consider the obvious. So when Willie Sutton was asked by a reporter why he robbed banks all his life, he replied “because that’s where the money is.”

Boomers Are Where the Money Is

When the Boomers were growing up, rates of productivity and hourly compensation rose in lock-step. Productivity rose 96.7% and hourly compensation rose 91.3%. That changed in 1973. While productivity continued its upward slope, compensation flat-lined; productivity was rising around 75% in the period of 1973 to 2013, wages went up a mere 9%.

Worse, today a college education not only doesn’t guarantee increased earnings, it is more like an economic boat anchor that saddles a Millennial with student loan debt of tens of thousands of dollars as they begin to enter the workforce. Paul Campos wrote in the New York Times that “if over the past three decades car prices had gone up as fast as tuition; the average car would cost more than $80,000.”

Unlike us Baby Boomers, Millennials have come of age at the very moment when economic opportunities are few and far between.

Trading Places in Income

Trading places: The income of younger working-aged families was falling long before the Great Recession and has now been surpassed by the rising incomes of families well into retirement age. (Median Income for Younger and Older Families in Inflation- Adjusted Dollars)

 

Stagnant Income

The average middle-class family today makes the same household income as it did thirty-six years ago. The problem is that today’s heads of household weren’t even born yet. We’re talking about different people. So the advantage of a middle-class family today over one three decades ago has evaporated. That’s if they can even be considered “middle-class” as 61% of Americans considered “middle-class” in 1971 comprise less than 50% of those families today.

Vastly Different Economic Trajectories

In the more recent economic history of America, each new generation would far surpass that of their parents’ in material standard of living. Millennials, and Generation X’ers who came before them, “are falling farther and farther behind their parents’ generation in most measures of economic well-being.” This represents a change being experienced by today’s living generations that is unprecedented in America’s history.

Millennials Number 75.4 Million vs. Baby Boomers at 74.9 Million

Here’s why radio and advertisers shouldn’t be freaking out over the headline that Millennials now out-number Baby Boomers. There may be more of them, but when it comes to discretionary income – the money that buys stuff – Boomers are still your “bank.” Don’t take your eye off the ball.

If Willie Sutton were operating a media company or an advertising agency, he’d be focused on putting his marketing investment where the best R.O.I. (Return On Investment) is, radio and its #1 reach that delivers 93% of Americans every week. It’s the traditional mass media that Boomers grew up with and still use in great numbers. Radio still delivers.

The “Music of YOUR Life” is Now The Rolling Stones

Back in the 1980s, I managed one of the first Al Ham “Music of YOUR Life” radio stations. Next to Rush Limbaugh, this big band based music format was one of two formats that were attracting people back to AM radio. I remember joking that one day, when we Boomers were their age, the music of our life would replace the sounds of Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller.

That day is here!

And there’s money to be made.

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The Day the “Dumbest Idea” Invaded the Radio Industry

shareholder valueLast week I wrote about killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. It was my way of comparing the Aesop fable to the world of American radio. It got a lot of discussion. But I felt that while I touched on how radio operators twenty years ago wanted to harvest all the golden eggs immediately versus waiting to get one each day, by virtue of a last minute insertion into the Telcom Act of 1996 that basically removed the ownership caps on radio, there was – as Paul Harvey used to intone – ‘the rest of the story’ to be told.

The rest of the story involves “the dumbest idea.” I grew up about a decade after World War Two ended. This was the period when America enjoyed an extended period of economic growth and a shared prosperity. By “shared prosperity” I mean it was a time when the workers who produced a product or service shared in the profits produced by the company. Managers and workers would see their income grow together. As everyone’s pay increased, there was more discretionary income to spend. This was the rise of the middle class in America. All boats were rising with the economic tide.

In 1968, I started on-the-air at one of my hometown radio stations while in the 10th grade in high school. I was paid the minimum wage; $1.60 per hour. Did you know that 1968 was the year when someone making the minimum wage had the most buying power for that rate of pay? The equivalent in 2012 dollars is $10.34 per hour. So what happened?

Somewhere in the 1970s things changed. Firms began to focus on themselves. The productivity gains produced by the workers were no longer shared with the workers. Since no one complained, this new way of doing business continued.

The 1980s really saw this new operational style take hold. And as it did, incomes for the middle class stagnated. When the middle class incomes stop growing, the ramifications on the rest of the economy are magnified. Workers no longer have discretionary income to spend. This was initially covered up by women entering the workforce producing two wage-earner incomes. Then when that ran its course, credit cards, second mortgages would keep the party going under false pretenses.

Today we are in a vicious cycle of decline.

What changed in the 1970s was a new idea about what metric should be used to measure the success of a business. Before this new idea was born, Peter Drucker’s measure was the rule. The purpose of a business, said Drucker, was to create a customer. But that went out with leisure suits, the new crop of business wizards would proclaim. What replaced it was something that even GE’s Jack Welch has called “the dumbest idea in the world.”

What was this dumb idea? Increasing shareholder value.

In an effort to offset declining profits and performance, a new operating modus operandi was conceived that the purpose of a corporation is to maximize shareholder value. To make sure the captains of industry got the message, boards of directors would change their compensation packages to cause these business leaders to focus on increasing the company’s stock price. What could possibly go wrong?

Everything!

The concept was embraced by both America’s business schools as well as industry. Unfortunately, the new policy not only didn’t solve the problem it was supposed to address but by unintended consequences created a myriad of new problems no one foresaw.

Tell me if any of these “unintended consequences” sound familiar to you: short-term decision making, relentless cost cutting, staff reductions (RIFs), less investment in the business, virtually no innovation, low workforce morale, no raises in pay, reduced benefits, non-stop mergers, increased debt, lost ability to compete, declining R.O.I., and economic stagnation. I’m sure you can add to this list based on your own experiences. For a more detailed look at this, you should read Steve Denning’s “Why ‘The System’ Is Rigged And The U.S. Electorate Is Angry,” the inspiration behind today’s blog post.

So twenty years ago, in 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Telcom Act of 1996. This would bring “the dumbest idea in the world” to the radio industry. Wall Street jumped into the new shiny investment opportunity; radio. Everything that every other industry was experiencing from this new operational style was now rearing its ugly head in the broadcasting industry. All with the same negative impacts.

Not all organizations adopted this dumb idea of operating. They stuck with Drucker’s rule. And it’s the same with the radio industry. The smaller radio operations do operate differently. Their success has others sitting up and taking notice.

However, most organizations – and not just in broadcasting – are still in denial. The evaporating middle class is not good for an industry that lives off of advertising. Advertising is pitched to the masses who are the consumers that drive over seventy percent of the American economy. I wrote about the future of ad supported media last year after I read Thomas Piketty’s book “Capital in the 21st Century.” You can read that blog post here.

Based on the tumultuous presidential election season we’ve seen so far, it would appear that the American society has awakened and is now “as mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.” Cue Howard Beal here.

Steve Denning writes: “We are now at an ‘emperor has no clothes’ moment.” It’s now clear that this way is not working and is not only leading to systemic value destruction but an economy that no longer works for the middle class.

If we’ve ever needed real leadership in America, it’s now — and from all directions.

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