GRAND RAPIDS, MI — For those skeptical of the “millennial” generation’s role in our society, economist Alan Beaulieu predicts 2017 will be a good year to watch.
Beaulieu, a principal and president of New Hampshire-based ITR Economics, was the featured speaker at an Economic Club of Grand Rapids’ luncheon at the JW Marriott on Monday, Jan. 9.
Millennials — a term categorizing those who reached adulthood in the early 21st century — sometimes have been burdened with negative stereotypes as underachievers.
But Beaulieu predicts that improving job prospects in 2017 will allow more of the generation to start families and increase their contributions to the U.S. economy.
When combined with the positive economic trajectory Beaulieu is predicting through the 2020s, it means the younger generation is “inheriting a great future,” he said.
On top of that, surveys show that millennials’ desire for marriage and children meet and, in some cases, exceed that of the baby boomers.
“It means those millennials are like us,” Beaulieu said. “Who knew? They seem so different. They want things. They always have to know why am I doing this, not just should I do this or because you told me to, but why. And this work/life balance thing is just so perplexing.”
Having 86 million millennials, now adults, who want those things is a very good thing for the nation’s economy, the economist said. It’s something not seen elsewhere in the world in countries like German, England, China and Japan.
“We have a treasure the world does not have,” Beaulieu said.
The economist, who boasts success percentages in the high 90s for his firm’s 2016 predictions, is projecting improvements in the national and regional economy alike during 2017.
His presentation Monday is the seventh such forecast he has given for Grand Rapids business leaders.
He advised any baby boomer parents of millennials present Monday: “Do not pay off their (student) loans.”
“Two reasons why,” Beaulieu said. “One — there’s no more reason for them to talk to you. Number two, their wages will be going up.”
He bases that assumption on the fact that a 13-year period of wage inflation is predicted for the coming years.
When you consider all 80 million baby boomers are retiring at a pace of 10,000 a day, the outlook for the supposed underachievers is even better.
“That means there is all kinds of upward mobility for those millennials,” Beaulieu said. “They will have their BMW, their house, they will have their flat screen TVs, their technology and they’ll be able to afford their student loan debt, because it’s a fixed cost.”
But a few things are expected to get worse in 2017, Beaulieu said, including the rising national debt and rising cost of healthcare.
The latter stems from realities tied to the aging of his fellow baby boomers, he said, which is also where the eventual — albeit morbid — solution will arise.
“There are 40 million of us today drawing on very expensive programs,” Beaulieu said. “It’s been a cultural imperative to be as healthy as you can as long as you can, and do as much as you can to keep me alive and healthy and independent until the day I die. With that culture in place, and the amount of us, it’s just an unsupportable mathematical problem.
“Do you remember the solution?” he asked the crowd gathered for his presentation.
A young voice near the front piped up with an answer.
“That’s right, we baby boomers must die,” Beaulieu said.
Beaulieu is also predicting that national debts on the global scale, combined with other factors, will lead to a significant economic recession in the 2030s. He predicts a much more minor recession in late 2018 and going into 2019.
Despite all the challenges ahead, Beaulieu said the United States is poised in a great position for growth in 2017 and into the 2020s.
He pointed out that, by far, our nation has the largest economy in the world, claiming 24.5 percent of global production. The next-largest, China, claims only 15 percent.
Claiming a huge net gain in total foreign direct investment, Beaulieu said the United States is coming out on top.
“More money is coming in for business than going out, my friends,” he said. “There is no gigantic sucking sound. There is no massive exodus. People want to come here.”
That fact, combined with the generally positive economic outlook for the next 10-13 years, paints a bright future for those millennials hoping to build their families, Beaulieu said.
“This is one of the exciting things for the next generation – for the millennials,” he said. “They are living in a country where people want to come.”
Grand Rapids is even better poised to capture some of that growth, Beaulieu said, because of the community’s stellar reputation and much higher-than-average growth rates for the state.
“It’s really great to be you,” he said.
Like the parents of a baby boomer who once said — “You hippie freak, you’ll never amount to anything” — Beaulieu said the perplexing millennials will likely grow into something more than any stereotype.
“Our judgement of them today is probably no reflection of what they will be in the future,” he said.