The Effects of the Great Recession on Millennial Economic Behavior

Politics

The housing market crashed, Lehman Brothers closed its doors, and the world fell into financial chaos as millions of millennials took their first cautious steps into adulthood. Many of us were students, bearing witness to the greatest economic calamity since the 1930’s. The rest, young professionals and college graduates experiencing firsthand the realities of worldwide recession. What followed were several years of unstable job markets, coupled with higher costs of living and wage stagnation. The effects on my generation were not merely economic, but psychological. Our collective response to the uncertainty of the Great Recession was a change of values. Terms like Disrupt, Start-up Culture, and Side-Hustle have become the manifestations of our experiences.

In 2016, Simon Sinek gave a now viral lecture on millennials in the workplace. Pointing to bad parenting, social media addiction, impatience, and environment, Sinek paints a convincing and concise argument for why millennials are unhappy in their careers. What Simon neglects to mention are the many frustrations millennials have developed toward employers, particularly during the Great Recession and in the years that followed. For example, the average CEO-to-worker pay ratio for major US corporations in 2015 was 276-1; up from a 1965 ratio of 20-1. Over the past 40 years CEO pay has increased by nearly 1,000%, while worker pay has increased by a mere 10%. The rise in executive pay is a direct result of the explosive growth of American corporations. However, lower level employee compensation has remained largely unaffected by revenue growth. This disparity is only magnified by the fact that the Great Recession created years of job market instability. Millennials entered adulthood during a period of massive layoffs and financial insecurity. Adding to the problems of low pay and job loss is the fact that corporate cultures are slow to change and often seem to disregard individual concerns. While the economy has now made a full recovery from the recession of 2008, our trust in corporate culture has not.

The theory of Disruptive Innovation precedes the Great Recession and millennial culture by more than a decade. Harvard professor Clayton M. Cristensen coined the term in 1995 to describe an innovation that, through simplicity and affordability, creates a niche market which will eventually overtake an existing one. In today’s business world the term has taken on a much broader definition. Any company or entrepreneur willing to challenge conventional thought or implement innovative culture is deemed a disruptor. Millennials are overwhelmingly drawn to these modern disruptors, often developing cult like obsessions. But what are the economic and cultural factors that drive this attraction? For one, higher costs of living and lower pay have created a need for economic alternatives to everyday products. This need is driving the current explosion of direct-to-consumer business models. Most popularly implemented by Dollar Shave Club, Warby Parker and Casper Mattress, direct-to-consumer brands are using online distribution and social marketing to significantly disrupt retail industries. Social marketing is an important facet of millennial culture. We seek to connect with brands that share our values. Social media introduces avenues for brands to form these relationships. Beyond financial incentives and the convenience factor, disruptors represent a lifestyle that millennials crave; one that centers on entrepreneurship and innovation.

Compounding the effects of lower pay and career instability are substantially higher costs of living. Compared to previous generations, millennials’ are saddled with more debt and higher living expenses. What many now find upon entering the workforce is that they simply cannot afford the same quality of life that their parents enjoyed on single incomes. That reality drives our generational obsession with the “Side-Hustle”, a popular term for secondary sources of income used to supplement primary salaries. A 2016 survey by CareerBuilder found that millennials are working second jobs much more often than their older colleagues. While only 29% of workers reported having a second job, 39% of those 18-24 and 44% of those 25-34 reported earning money on the side. Those figures suggest that nearly half of the millennial group most strongly impacted by the Great Recession have turned to side-hustles to supplement their salaries. What’s more, young people who are pursuing secondary sources of income are seeking avenues that fit their values and lifestyles. Companies that focus on mobility, convenience, and flexibility have strongly benefited from the human capital that millennials offer. Firms like Uber, AirBnB, and Etsy have exploded in recent years thanks to young professionals looking for extra cash. Millennial entrepreneurs are also reshaping the business landscape; launching businesses earlier in life than previous generations. On average, millennials launch their first business at 27, compared to 35 for baby boomers. According to Forbes, these younger business owners are having noticeable impacts on business culture. As owners, millennials are able to implement the startup culture they once craved in their work environment with little or no resistance.

As of a 2016 US census report, millennials have officially surpassed baby boomers as the largest living American generation. At 75.4 million, the influence we have on business culture is much more profound than the creation of niche industries. Start-up cultures have begun to replace corporate cultures, traditional retailers are losing significant market share to direct-to-consumer brands, and social media is becoming the primary platform for marketing and the distribution of information. Our generational values, not long ago in their infancy, are becoming the guidebook for successful businesses. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, millennials are using their influence to usher in a new economy.

Hip Hop Loves Houston

Music

“Purple drink, I still sip. Purple weed, blunt still lit. 
Real n**ga, real b**ch, Purple swag, that Trill sh*t. 
Them candy cars, I’m comin’ down. That paint drip, I still tip.”

If I were teaching a class on hip hop lyrical structure, with a focus on Southeast Texas street culture, those three bars would be in bold letters on the front page of the syllabus. A picture perfect sample of Houston rap. Rhythm, rhyme and tone, they are pure h-town. Only they’re not.

A$AP Rocky raps those words in his 2011 track, “Purple Swag”.
And he’s not from Texas at all. He’s from Harlem.

Yeah… that Harlem … in New York.

Rocky’s artistic liberties in the production of “Purple Swag” (really his entire discography) as well as artistic liberties taken by other artists as Drake, Future, and Migos, have been criticized in the Houston rap scene as cultural plagiarism. They have also been praised, for helping to elevate a once obscure and disrespected subculture to mainstream recognition. What is certain is that these artists have borrowed heavily from a musical tradition that they may or may not fully understand or appreciate. So who is A$AP? A shameless hack, profiting from a culture that he knows very little about? Or is he a true fan of the art, spreading love for the music that shaped his personal aesthetic?

To understand the rise of Houston rap culture, one must understand what this culture was 20 years ago. From its earliest days in the 1980’s, and well into the late 90’s, whatever Hip Hop scene existed in Houston, existed only in Houston. This was well before the days of social media and YouTube, when music styles were much more regional; and hip hop was dominated by east and west. Southern rap was viewed by mainstream audiences and hip hop intellectuals as far too slow, simple, country. But that didn’t bother the pioneers of the Third Coast. Artists like DJ Screw, Big Moe, Scarface, and Big H.A.W.K. were not interested in national acclaim or mainstream acceptance. They steered clear of east/west hostilities and made music that fit their lifestyle, their world view. They sold it tape by tape, friend to friend, until a movement was born. Today’s hip hop charts are adorned with the lasting legacy of these and other Texas artists. Every screwed up hook and “hold up” ad lib is a testament to their influence. I speak only for myself when I say that I view these acts as tokens of respect. Art is about inspiration. Whatever inspires an artist will undoubtedly shine through in their work. But it’s not all love.

Paul Wall admits that the imitation of Houston Hip Hop, “comes with the territory.” But he believes that far too many artists are stealing from the culture without permission. Particularly when it comes to drinking lean, which he regards as the cornerstone of Houston hip hop. In his opinion, those mainstream artists rapping about lean and candy paint, are not UGK aficionados or DJ Screw fanatics. They are little more than “culture vultures”, stealing another city’s creativity.

Paul’s harsh criticism is not without merit. Rappers like Future and Migos (both from Atlanta) have practically made a career out of lean references, slow beats, and distorted vocals. Yet they do not credit the city and artists that popularized such trends. The word “trill”, which holds significant cultural importance to the Third Coast, has long been popular in Northern California. Most bay area rappers credit their region as the home of trill, a word invented in Port Arthur, Texas and popularized by UGK. This cultural appropriation is understandably frustrating to someone like Paul Wall; an OG of Houston Hip Hop. Someone who has been making trill music for longer than some young rappers have been alive. To trailblazers like him, and to the fans that have long supported their local musicians, the mainstreaming of their culture is as much as source of pride as it is a slap in the face.

To set the record straight, I am a huge A$AP Rocky fan. Mainly because he gives proper credit. Rocky is a true admirer of Houston rap and credits much of his sound and style to the artists that paved the way. I believe no one outside of Houston better represents the city and it’s music. Sadly that is not the case for most who bite Houston’s culture. It’s true that some of the world’s greatest art comes from collaboration. Imitation is a tradition as old as art itself. However, within an art form that values originality and regional pride above all else, there is no crime greater than cultural theft. Nothing could be less trill.

The Role of Bigotry in the Election of Donald Trump

Politics

August 2008, College Station, Texas. My first semester of college.

Texas A&M University, like any other American campus at the time, was on fire with political discourse. Most of the discussion on this particular campus was far from what might be considered liberal, or even progressive. This was not in the least bit shocking. After all, I was in Texas and our nation faced the very real possibility of electing a black president.

I feel I must pause now to say that I love my alma mater. I am a Fightin’ Texas Aggie. This entitles me to membership in one of the world’s most well connected and far reaching fraternities. The Aggie network. I also love my home state. To quote Peggy Hill, “I am a citizen of the Republic of Texas.” This love however, does not blur perception, nor detract from my understanding of the unfortunate racial history of both Texas A&M and Texas as a whole. Only two other states (GA, MS) are responsible for more lynchings during the years of 1882-1968. And no other state played a larger role in the systematic, and legal, lynching of Latinos. Texas A&M did not admit it’s first black student for almost a century after its establishment, and, only then, under the pressure of lawsuits and the intensifying civil rights movement. But that was then. And this was 2008. There were no cross burnings, no hate crimes. Mostly, what I witnessed was passive and casual racism. “NoBama” and “Come and Take It” were the most popular shirts on campus. This was a type of racism that isn’t; on the surface. The kind you grow up with in Texas in the 21st century. A shade of bigotry that feels at once covert and blatant. Like growing up and realizing that the N-Word and Wetback were words you heard far too often for comfort in a white suburb. And worse, that you didn’t think much of them at the time. After all, your friends can’t be racists if they’re friends with you, right?


Post civil rights racism lingers like a half-dead virus in the bloodstream of the south. Decades of progress since the early sixties have seemingly cured our nation of it’s past bigotry. But one must always look beneath the surface to find truth. The election of Barack Obama was a catalyst that began the gradual uncovering of old sentiments. What began as quiet discontent grew slowly louder. The once whispered grumblings of Anglo-conservatives became the angry mobs of white supremacists screaming “make America great again” as they brandished Nazi salutes.

Malcolm Gladwell might describe the resurgence of racism in America as a result of moral licensing following the election of Barack Obama. His theory of Tokenism states that when an individual from a historically marginalized population is promoted within a system , the result is not the opening of doors but the closing of them. That the individual satisfies some minimum ‘quota’ of correctness for the system or organization and is used to justify future discrimination. By allowing Barack Obama to be elected president, America excused future acts of bigotry. Such as, electing a successor that led a campaign based significantly on discriminating ideologies. This is not to say that Obama’s presidency was a misstep in the march of social justice. Nor does the Tokenism theory in any way diminish the enormity of his accomplishments. Rather, my interpretation of the theory, in this case, is that our nation practiced moral licensing as a reaction in hindsight, rather than as a strategic agenda. Closeted racists and casual xenophobes have spent the past eight years growing in their brashness because in their eyes, this is not the America of the 1960’s, where white oppression of minorities is openly practiced. Rather, this is Obama’s America; one in which white men feel themselves to be marginalized, perhaps even excluded from the zeitgeist. It was this shift in our collective consciousness that breathed new life into old racism.

One man took advantage of this moment in a way that only someone who has made a career out of the demise of others can do. Donald J. Trump leveraged the bubbling racial tension in white America to con his way into the oval office. And he did so blatantly and unapologetically. Using a mixture of white-first rhetoric, the promise of ethnic cleansing, and economic isolationism, he preyed on the fears of a largely uneducated and unskilled constituency. One that has seen its job market exported to the developing world or lost to obsolescence. That has watched its president turn black, as its own whiteness grows more and more irrelevant.

The argument could be made that the DNC is as much responsible for the election of Donald Trump as any other group or social factor. That their gross corruption in the manipulation of a democratic election helped to match Trump against the most disliked presidential candidate in history. One could also argue that the Republican Party, in its attempt to align itself with the Christian Right and focus on destabilizing their own government, fractured not only their party, but their voter base. That this internal collapse facilitated Donald’s successful coup. In these arguments we find some truth and much blame. In the end, no one organization, no one catalyst led us to where we are today. However, we must not fail to acknowledge the role of bigotry and xenophobia in the result of our presidential election. And we must chose to take political and organized action against the threat of the Alt-Right. It is the responsibility of progressive, intelligent and empathetic citizens to do so. Fortunately, this threat is being faced with an opposition equally steadfast and ferocious. Just one month ago, in no place other than Texas A&M University, students and citizens took to the streets to protest and disrupt the visit of white supremacist leader Richard Spencer (a visit that was privately funded and in no way associated with the university). I have never been more proud to call myself an Aggie. We may be facing four years of hate speech and proud bigotry from our White House, but we will not be undone as a nation. Donald Trump does not represent America nor its principles. He will not tarnish our character, but will, in the end, be defeated by it.