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[COMMENTARY] All Together Now? Is the Generational Divide Old News?

Thirteen-year-old Brayden Harrington and 95-year-old Edward Good served as generational bookends of the age span of voices in supportive videos during the Democratic National Convention.

Their shared inclusion may demonstrate the disappearance of the historic generational divide in this country in politics, the economy, and culture.

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This week’s Republican National Convention hints at generation hopping, but not as widely. The youngest speaker on the opening night of the convention is Charlie Kirk, 26, founder of Turning Point USA, with his closest Millennial pro-Trumper speaker listed as Natalie Harp, who is on the advisory board of Donald J. Trump For President. With a few exceptions, almost all of the RNC speakers are members of the white, male over-50 club.

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Isn’t that right, Boomer? Share your thoughts, GenZers?

At the recent DNC, Harrington’s video of his brief speech about his encounter with Joe Biden and their common struggles with stuttering reportedly earned millions of  Twitter views. Good, a World War II and Korean War veteran, NRA supporter and lifelong Republican who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 delivered a stunning condemnation of the president.

Kirk, who is chairman of Students For Trump, was the youngest speaker at the 2016 RNC, but this year, while Mitt Romney’s niece, Ronna McDaniel, will cross the stage, she is 47.

Age inclusivity could be the rallying cry for the November election. The generational crossover is perhaps a lasting result of what COVID-19 has wrought upon the workplace, daily life, and broader culture.

Certainly, the pandemic has shifted the demographics of the workplace, changing the nature of essential work, and ending the need for workers to commute to offices away from home.

An AARP recent new survey of 6,000  executives in 36 countries surveyed at the start of COVID showed that 83% see multigenerational workforces as critical to growth and long term success. The report states that 68 percent of the employers would “purposefully design mixed-aged teams to leverage the advantages that both younger and older employees bring to the table.”

Acknowledging the severe challenges, the realities of working remotely from home and caretaking for some have turned millions of households into multi-generational havens.

My own house since March included a return (and departure in May) of my oldest son at 31. More recently my youngest son returned at 26, deciding that his expensive highrise apartment with no access to the pool, workout facilities, or common areas was not worth the price.

My empty nest is no longer.

A 2018 Pew Research Center shows that a record 64 million Americans, or 20 percent of the population, were living under one roof with many generations, the largest percentage ever. COVID has exacerbated—or enlivened—the trend of many ages in one home.

More than one-third or 35% of 20 somethings lived with parents or grandparents in June, according to the U.S.’s monthly employment survey, an increase from 30% in February. Zillow reported 32 million adults living with their parents or grandparents in April.

The benefits of multigenerational living are not only for the Millennials and GenZers whose college plans collapsed to remote courses. Furloughed and laid off employers need family financial assistance. But many older Americans as well can benefit from live-in assistance from family.

Last month Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-NJ) introduced a bill to establish the Multigenerational Family Housing Continuity Commission with the goal of giving seniors an option that does not mandate a nursing home.

“For many families, everybody benefits when generations reside together, and we want to encourage healthy, cost-effective alternatives to make that possible. Keep families together will make it easier to make ends meet and live more comfortably and securely under the same roof with the addition of a mother-in-law suite that is often prohibited by local ordinances,” Pennacchio said.

Others are working on ways to enhance friendships, cultivate relationships across age spans. The MIT AgeLab’s OMEGA Project is designed to strengthen multigenerational relationships, with programming designed to connect seniors with high school students.

Yes, younger family members can move back home for a safety net if unemployed, and families can have childcare and eldercare built-in, but the risks of many living together also bear undeniable infection risks during the pandemic.

Popular culture for many years has included multiple generations under one roof from “All In The Family,” in the 1970s (and reprised recently with new a new live cast) to “The Conners” today. Conflict and resolution were the scripted rise and fall of every episode. Results varied.

Because of pandemic restrictions, Zoom has united generations across time and space. The DNC managed a virtual call to action without limits of age, gender, race, ability, orientation, ethnicity, and socioeconomics for four days. How the RNC handles the broader span of generations and experiences could signal a new day of ageless cooperation.

While the dismissive “OK, Boomer,” meme feels as if it is ancient history, perhaps a settling into age-defying comfort in politics, the workplace and beyond, may bring together unlikely cohorts for a new age.

Michele Weldon is an author, journalist, emerita faculty at Northwestern University, and senior leader with The OpEdProject. Her latest book, Act Like You’re Having A Good Time, is out in September.   



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