The “Echo Boomers,” the upcoming generation of working professionals aged 15 to 29, make up nearly 65 million individuals born between 1981 and 1995, an increase of nearly four million from the preceding “Baby Bust”generation.
Clearly, quite a few people will be joining the ranks of the U.S. economy in the coming years, and it’s no stretch to suggest that the future of housing will depend on the economic standing and lifestyles of the Echo Boomers, a relationship that, based on a recent study of the generation by the Bipartisan Policy Center, can go a number of ways.
Echo Boomers, according to the study, are among the most ethnically diverse, highly-educated generations the U.S. has ever produced. Just 60 percent of Echos are white non-hispanic, compared to 70 percent of the Baby Busts, while 20 percent are hispanic, 14 percent black and 5 percent Asian. 14 percent of Echos were born outside the U.S. and 11 percent have at least one immigrant parent, which gives Echos the highest share of second-generation individuals since the Silent Generation, which was born from immigrants who came to the U.S. between 1890 and 1910.
On the education front, 54 percent of Echos have at least some college education, an increase of 5 percent from Baby Busts and 18 percent from Baby Boomers. Even more impressive, not only have more Echo women attained a college education than Echo men, but they are more educated than any previous generation of American women.
Even with its ethnic and educational diversity, though, the Echos have fallen on tough economic times. According to the study, 22 percent of those 18 to 24 years old lived in poverty in 2010, and for 15- to 24-year-olds, median income dropped 9 percent from 2009 to 2010. And the numbers could have been worse – nearly half of the 25- to 34-year-olds who moved in with family and friends to save money would have been living below the poverty line on their own. And, as if that were not enough, Echos are grappling with a much higher level of debt (mostly from credit cards and student loans) than previous generations.
Such economic trends are of great concern to housing analysts, given how important personal finances are in housing decisions for consumers, particularly those of the Echo Boomers. According to the study, the construction sector will be particularly impacted.
“Census results from 2000 and 2009 show that between one-fifth and one-third of houses owned by people under 35 are newly constructed – higher than the rates of new home occupancy for other age groups,” the study states. “New construction also accounts for between 12 and 16 percent of the rental units occupied by young adults – again, somewhat higher than overall rates of new home occupancy.”
In addition, Echo Boomers will be counted on as potential buyers for the former homes of seniors throughout the next two decades.
Using various sets of economic data, the Center formulated three different projections for how Echos will contribute to housing from 2010 to 2020, in terms of household growth. The lowest projection, 9.7 million, assumed a slow economic recovery and buying patterns similar to the 2000s; the middle projection, of 12.3 million, crossed the 1990s and the 2000s; and the highest projection, 14.9 million, assumed robust economic growth and buying patterns similar to the 1990s. Between the lowest and highest projections, growth oscillates by an incredible 5.2 million households, an indication of the enormous sway Echos have on the future of U.S. housing.
Also worth considering, though, is the recent advent of the “rentership society,” a class of renters who, inspired mostly by foreclosures and economic distress, are either unable or unwilling to take out a mortgage on a property. Assuming a weaker economic recovery, and a continuation of current homeowner trends through 2020, the study suggests that there would be an immense surge in rental demand, to the tune of 5.4 million renters in the aforementioned middle projection and 4.8 million in the highest projection.
Obviously, Echo Boomers will have to live somewhere as they age and enter the workforce, but the generation’s economic prosperity, especially in relation to the past two generations, will have a significant impact on the formation of housing in the coming decades.