Millennials in Siuslaw — Part II

Millennials struggle, triumph in a post-recession world

(Editor’s Note: This is part two of a series looking at trends surrounding millennials and their needs as they decide to stay in, come to or leave the Siuslaw region. Find Part I here.)

Geraldine Lucio wants to be lazy.

The 30-year-old, who owns and operates the Old Town Barber Shop, thought her life would slow down from the hustle and bustle of Austin, Texas, when she moved to Florence three years ago. At least, that was the plan.

“I like to be lazy, but in reality, I do too much,” she said. “I’m all over the place. The first year I moved here I didn’t have a day off.”

Her business began to take off right from the get go.

“People started coming in before I had signs up,” she said. “I came from a pretty trendy city, so I was different. I was a different barber than the person who’s been here for 30 years. So that was desirable for people, I guess.”

But it wasn’t just barbering that kept Lucio busy. Looking to get to know people and help the community, she began volunteering in town, joining as an active member of the Elks, becoming a volleyball coach for the middle school and donating her shop to local musicians and actors looking for an intimate space to perform. Every time somebody asked her to do something, she was there.

“I don’t think I’ve ever volunteered so much,” she said. “It just seems like everybody here is willing to give to somebody else. And they need volunteers to do that.”

This was on top of getting her pilot’s license, honing her fishing skills and swapping haircuts for golf lessons.

Its only now that she’s beginning to say no to people, not because she hates volunteering, but out of sheer exhaustion.

Lucio’s work ethic flies in the face of the popular theory that millennials are lazy. UK newspaper The Daily Mail recently published an article titled, “Millennials Are Entitled, Narcissistic and Lazy.” The article doesn’t blame the cohort, instead pointing the finger at an “every child wins a prize” culture their parents reportedly raised them in.

However, recent surveys put these claims in doubt. Personal finance website found that a quarter of 18-to-25-year-olds reported not using their paid vacation days.

This year, the Boston Globe reported that nearly half of millennials consider themselves “‘work martyrs’ — dedicated, indispensable and racked with guilt if they take time off.”

With job-related emails flooding inboxes through all hours of the day, the Globe reported that analysts aren’t talking about the boomer concept of “work-life balance” anymore, but “work-life blending.”

(image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

But still, the lazy stigma remains. Baby boomer managers often complain about millennial attitudes at work; they’re not motivated and they can’t pay attention.

While the millennials interviewed for this series didn’t fully refute that characterization outright, they found a complicated economic and social landscape that, to them, bred the stigma.

25-year-old Dan Lokic, who just arrived in Florence this summer as the city’s management analyst, believed motivation was a huge factor in millennial satisfaction at the workplace.

“I think millennials are much more likely to be opinionated at work,” he said. “If they’re working in a job that they don’t like, it’s going to be a lot more evident than if a baby boomer was doing that. I think that’s because a lot of millennials are passionate about certain things. If they’re in a job where they don’t feel that passion, like a cashier, they think, ‘This sucks,’ and quit.”

Baby boomers, he argued, would be more willing to suffer through a job they didn’t like because the pay was good and lifetime benefits made quitting difficult.

However, those benefits have dried up in recent years.

Wages for millennials are at historical lows. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, full-time workers age 18 to 34 made $35,845 in 1980. For the period of 2009-13, they made just $33,883. The figures were not adjusted for inflation.

In addition, long-term benefits are evaporating. CNN recently reported that only four percent of employers offer pension plans, compared to 60 percent in 1980. Instead, the country has moved to 401(k)s, which can be transferred from job to job.

“In the past, the trend was you find a company and you stick with it for quite a while until you retire,” Lokic said. “Now you’re seeing a workforce where millennials hop around. And that’s the new norm.”

But instead of complaining about the norm, millennials are embracing it.

“I don’t have a pension, but there’s people with a million dollars in the bank who worked themselves to death and didn’t enjoy any of it,” Lucio said. “I enjoy my life and I do what I want and how I want it. I’m very happy. I’m an entrepreneur and I own my business, so I won’t follow rules from anybody.”

She came to this outlook from her past work experiences.

“I had corporate jobs and it was all scripted. You have to do this and sit in this box for so many hours a day. And then you get to leave for a 45-minute lunch. And you have to clock back in.

“I hated myself. I didn’t want to do what other people wanted me to do. I wanted to be free and do what made my heart happy. I was making a lot of money and it was great, but I wasn’t doing things I loved. I was getting overweight. It wasn’t fun for me,” she said.

That’s not to say that she’s a flake when it comes to work.

“I was raised to value work and that nothing is being handed to you,” she said.

When she was 18, her dad gave her two choices: Work or go to college. She chose college for a while, but she didn’t find it interesting. Her father, grandfather and brother were barbers and were perfectly happy, so she went to trade school to follow in their footsteps. She hasn’t looked back since.

A 2016 study by Deloitte University Press found that only 16 percent of millennials see themselves with their current employers a decade from now, but the reasons didn’t always mirror Lucio’s experiences.

Only 28 percent felt that current organizations were making full use of the skills they had to offer. Millennials were also hungry for advancement, with six in 10 bemoaning the fact that their leadership skills were not being fully developed. Millennials believed businesses were not doing enough to bridge the gap to ensure a new generation of leaders was being created.

Lokic is part of the millennial generation that took a more a traditional route, getting a master’s degree in Regional Planning. He’s made the traditional nine to five work for himself, and has seen ways managers can make jobs better for millennials.

He said, “The first way to make them stay is to ask them, ‘What would make you stay?’ Maybe if a millennial isn’t doing the type of work they like doing, a manager should ask, ‘What do you want to work on? What do you enjoy doing?’

“I think if an employer works with an employee and tries to help them, they’re more willing to stay with you and give you good and hard work. I wouldn’t necessarily accommodate everything they want, because they’re working for a specific purpose. But just being flexible and being understanding of millennial needs and wants is important. It doesn’t mean you need to kiss up to them.”

He pointed out that benefits, such as flexible scheduling or the opportunity to work at home, are important factors in retaining millennials.

But keeping millennials in the workforce only happens when they have available jobs, which is something the Siuslaw region has been having difficulties with.

A report by Leland Consulting Group, which was issued by the Florence Urban Renewal Agency in November 2015, found that the Great Recession hit the Siuslaw region harder than the rest of the state.

In 2013, job growth for Oregon raised 5.2 percent, while it decreased 7.7 percent in Florence.

Despite an area population of over 10,000 people, only 2,600 full time workers were employed in the city.

While the numbers would be traditionally considered stark, and all the millennials interviewed for this article believed more job opportunities were important, they weren’t panicking.

27-year-old Brynne Sapp, who works as a part time gymnastics instructor for Coastal Fitness, believed the millennials were able to find their own way.

“I feel like more and more young people are moving here as there are more options available here for us to make a living. Working online is a big one. Who wouldn’t want to do that? Have your work at home, on your computer, and be able to live in this beautiful place in this sweet community,” she said.

“I know people here who have jobs that are mostly online. I have one friend who writes for WebMd and National Geographic. My friend Kelly does a line of skin care products out in Ada. She makes them all herself and does them online. I think to be successful in a place like this you have to be creative.”

Many community leaders are looking at bringing back blue-collar work to the area, but generally millennials haven’t warmed up to these types of positions.

“I think that physical labor is less and less the form of work we want,” Sapp said.

Lokic believes that this may have to do with how millennials were raised.

“I think part of it has to do with the idea that you have to go to college out of school and that’s something that has been ingrained in younger people’s minds the last 20 or 30 years. After high school, you go to college and get a degree.

“Now we’ve seen this big push back to promoting these blue-collar opportunities with trade schools, but when all you hear is ‘Go to college, go to college,’ eventually you’re going to say, ‘Okay, I shouldn’t be doing this, I should be going to college,’” he said.

Statistically, millennials are the most educated generation ever, with 40 percent of all 25 to 29-year-olds holding a bachelor’s degree, compared to 26 percent of boomers at the same age, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center study.

Lokic found a deep satisfaction in city planning and his degree, but if he wasn’t doing that, and his parents had pushed more blue-collar work, he would have become a carpenter.

This is not to say that blue-collar millennials are perpetually unhappy. Tanner Burnem, 19, doesn’t have his dream job, but he’s not deterred.

Burnem, who grew up in Florence, works at the Florence Pharmacy as a technician.

“My job is nice,” he said. “It’s really fun, actually. When I first pictured the job I thought, ugh, pharmacy technician. That’s going to be really lame and boring. I was just going to be one of those guys who is yelled at by angry customers, and it turns out I am one of those who guys who gets yelled at by angry customers, but my coworkers are nice and we have fun and a good laugh.”

When asked if he could make pharmacies a career, he wasn’t sure.

“I guess I’m not passionate about it, but I certainly could. I could decide to heck with it, this is what I want to do. Options are open. If something else crashes through the door, I might take it.”

The “up for anything” attitude regarding work is prevalent throughout the generation. In some instances, there’s almost too much opportunity.

While Sapp is currently working at Coastal Fitness, she’s had a wide variety of jobs and volunteer opportunities throughout her life.

“I think millennials have been raised in a different reality. I think we’ve been given a lot of options. Times are changing. There is a lot of pressure to be successful and everyone wants to be, but there’s so many options laid before us. In older generations, success may mean getting married, having kids, raising family, buying a house and having a good job with good pay, but success means something different to this generation.”

For Sapp, success is finding something she loves doing.

“There are lots of things I love and am passionate about and would want to pursue. It just depends on what comes first. There are too many things I want to do to stick with just one. To love life is to love many things. I think at this age I’ve been given the luxury of having some freedom in finding what it is I really want to do,” she said.

Sapp is getting to the point where she feels she needs to start making more stable career choices, using her past experience as a roadmap.

“Personally, working with kids and doing gymnastics, I don’t do it for the money, I do it because I love it,” she said. “It gives me a sense of purpose. I’ve considered options like physical therapy. Just learning about the body or getting into that area because I want to learn. I would be excited for that, absolutely. It’s a goal I would consider.”

One of Sapp’s biggest concerns in Florence, and the U.S. as a whole, is wages.

“It can be hard to make that happen and succeed and not just be paddling to stay above water,” she said.

Burnem is having difficulties with this as well. At 19 years old, he’s already married with one child. His wife, Hanna, is the co-owner of Lovejoy’s Restaurant and Tearoom in Historic Old Town, but only pulls in an average of $500 a month. Burnem only makes $1,300 a month at the pharmacy.

While this low paycheck may be adequate if he was living with family, he opted for his own place because he felt it was important to raise their son, Harvey, in their own home. The rent is $850 a month, nearly half their monthly salary.

This discrepancy isn’t new in Florence, which is currently in a housing crisis.

“Rentals are a big problem right now,” Sapp said. “People are having a hard time finding prices that are reasonable.”

The City of Florence is looking into ways of fixing this issue (see Siuslaw News Sept. 30, “City Works to Bring ‘Hope for Housing’ to Florence”), but development can take time.

Burnem’s spirits weren’t dampened, despite his tough economic outlook.

Burnem, like so many other millennials, has learned from the mistakes of the baby boomers.

A 2016 study by Northwestern Mutual Planning and Progress founds that 58 percent of millennials consider themselves “highly disciplined” or “disciplined” financial planners. They are saving more than any other generation, either through 401(k)’s or putting money aside on their own.

Burnem buys nothing with credit cards, instead putting away cash in envelopes for emergencies, a practice his wife started.

“If an emergency happens, we have savings and an emergency folder. If something happens, we have enough money to solve it or fix it.”

And, like most millennials, he’s optimistic about the future.

In a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, seven in 10 of all Americans felt millennials have it harder than previous generations in starting out, but millennials aren’t deterred.

In a 2016 study by Northwestern Mutual Planning and Progress, 86 percent of millennials are confident they will achieve their financial goals.

Even during the Great Recession, a 2013 Gallup poll found that 80 percent of millennials believe their standard of living was getting better.

It’s not the size of his house or the amount of possessions he owns that makes Burnem happy, a sentiment held by every millennial interviewed for this article. It’s what you do with your life that counts.

“We’re still happy,” Burnem said. “We don’t need much. We don’t have Wi-Fi, but we just go to the library, rent something, and come back,” he said.

“I mean, how can we not be happy?”

In the final part of this series on millennials, the Siuslaw News will look at community spaces, relationships and social factors surrounding this unique age group.

Note: This is part 2 of a 3 part series. Find additional installments in the Special Series Archive, located here.