Millennials, Gen Z helped Joe Biden win. But the generation gap is huge.

David M. Shribman

PITTSBURGH – We just wrapped up a month with both an election and (virtual) Thanksgiving family reunions, so this may not come as much of a surprise:

We are in the middle of another generation gap.

Only this one is different. Really different.

This one isn’t a chasm between the WWII generation and the young rebels of the 1960s. This one is about race and social attitudes with a bit of politics and ideology. And that’s a huge generation gap.

Consider this: Every American under the age of 40 today — the majority of the country — is either a millennial or a member of Gen Z, which is the group that followed the millennials. Or this: There are more people in Millennials and Gen Z than Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and the rest of the population combined.

What about all those people who say they don’t recognize the America they see outside their quarantine windows or behind masks on the streets? They’re right. This is not your grandfather’s United States. It’s not even your parents’ United States.

For the first time in American history, more than half of those under the age of 16 belong to an ethnic or racial minority. And as white baby boomers leave the workforce – it happens every day – all labor force growth will be among racial minorities.

William Frey, perhaps the nation’s best-known demographer, spent his life collecting data like this. His book, “Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics are Remaking America” ​​(Brookings Institution Press, published 2015, updated 2018) helped introduce the notion of a “cultural generation gap” – a generational gap where the Resentment may be less among young people than among older Americans, who are professionally replaced and culturally displaced by a new rising generation.

“This gap is reflected in the negative attitudes of many older whites toward immigration, the growth of new minorities, and major government programs that address the real economic and educational needs of the younger, more diverse American population,” he writes. in his book.

The other day, Frey, 73 and a baby boomer himself, amplified these views in a phone conversation:

“We need leaders to tell older Americans that these changes will help our economic growth. Without these young people, we would face a declining labor force. This is where the future lies. The workforce is increasingly racially diverse and 10 years from now all baby boomers will be out of the workforce and we will need these people, their talents and their energies.’ ‘

Perhaps the most significant change in America’s character is the least noticed, and certainly the least appreciated. Indeed, the most profound changes in America are occurring among the young population – even as the most profound challenges in America affect the young population the most.

A study by the Urban Institute found that 57.4% of Gen Zers belonged to families that suffered coronavirus-related job losses, a rate far higher than that of working-age baby boomers (35.4%). Additionally, millennials were the only generation to fall behind financially between 2010 and 2016, according to the Federal Reserve Board of St. Louis.

Much of this has been reflected in the political life of the country.

“There is no doubt that in the last election young people voted differently from the rest of the population,” Frey said. “They are more interested in interracial marriage, gay rights, criminal justice and diversity, while older white people are unhappy with the changing demographics in the United States. They see a threat to American values ​​and American customs.

Today, there is little confusion between the two major political parties. Two shorthands prevail, though, as with all shorthands, there are variations: The Republican Party is made up of older, white, male, rural, and Southern people. The Democratic Party is a party of younger, non-white, female, urban, non-Southern people.

Joe Biden supporters listen to Biden on the campaign trail in Pittsburgh in 2019.

At the same time, huge demographic changes are taking place. “The country is heading towards California,” said Dennis J. Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University in Des Moines. “Democrats are always betting on new demographics. There may have been some slippage in the 2020 election, but it’s still clear that Democrats have greater potential among these groups. The question is whether they can discount this benefit.

The answer is for another election day.

Republicans, of course, made inroads among blacks and Hispanics in this month’s election. This was particularly the case in Florida, where Donald J. Trump won 47% of the Hispanic vote and where, in Dade County (Miami), his vote among Hispanics increased by 22 percentage points.

But the reason Joseph R. Biden Jr. is the president-elect may be the demographics Democrats are counting on. An analysis of the 2020 vote by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University found that three in five young voters backed Biden — a better showing for the Democratic nominee than Hillary Rodham Clinton did there. is four years old.

And where it really mattered was in the swing states.

Here in Pennsylvania, young voters made up about a seventh of the total electorate and backed Biden by 23 percentage points, helping him secure 20 vital electoral votes. In Arizona, young voters made up one-sixth of the electorate and backed Biden by 28 points — about the same rates as young voters recorded for Michigan’s former vice president (29 points). And in Georgia, young voters made up about a fifth of the electorate, and they sided with Biden by 15 points.

“The (new generation) divide is not the result of racist attitudes per se. This reflects the social distance between minority youth and an older population that does not feel a personal connection to young adults and children who are not “their” children and grandchildren,” Frey wrote in her book. “Yet the future well-being of older adults and the nation as a whole depends on the ability of today’s youth to succeed in tomorrow’s workforce. Young people will play a central role in contributing to the national economy and to pension and medical care programs that directly benefit the elderly population.

In summary: it may be the rebellion of young people. But the issues concern us all.

David M. Shribman is the former editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Follow him on Twitter: @ShribmanPG Email: [email protected]