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Xers, Ys Spur A Political Power Shift

I watched the televised coverage of the Iowa caucus with great interest, not only because I grew up in the state, but also from a generational perspective.

I watched the televised coverage of the Iowa caucus with great interest, not only because I grew up in the state, but also from a generational perspective.There was much commentary about Obama’s win as being representative of the generational shift that’s taking place in America. It’s being used as a metaphor for what’s happening in the workplace, as if this is something new or revolutionary that’s happening.Haven’t the Boomers noticed? The younger generation is, effectively, shifting the balance of power to themselves.It happened in Minnesota back in 1998 when former wrestler, Jesse Ventura, was elected Governor. He ran as a Reform Party candidate and was never expected to compete with the major-party candidates–much less win the election. But he appealed to younger voters with a grassroots campaign that consisted of events, quirky television ads, and use of the Internet to educate and reach voters. The younger demographic voted, and their candidate won.The same situation happened at the Iowa caucus. A candidate of color, in his 40s, Obama appeals to the X and Y voters because he is representative of change. He is unlike the Baby Boomer candidates, many of which are tainted by a political past. As a result, Xers and Ys trust Obama and relate to him, which will be a difficult feat for other candidates to overcome.The Clinton campaign assumed women would vote for women. Even I expected Clinton’s campaign would make more waves than Obama’s. But Clinton is a Baby Boomer. And the younger voters are more concerned about age than they are about gender because they believe a younger candidate is more likely to institute change.The opinions of the Baby Boomers are mattering less and less. We’re seeing it in membership associations, where Xers and Ys are refusing to pay dues. We’re seeing it in the workforce, where Xers and Ys are making demands for flex-time and customized career paths, and job hopping or starting their own businesses when their demands aren’t met.The generational shift is popping up everywhere—even in television scripts. Last night, on the premiere of Cashmere Mafia, one of the four story lines followed a Xer couple’s frustrations at home and at work. When the 20-something nanny and a 20-something co-worker worsened their situations, the Xer couple discussed their frustration dealing withGen Y “or Gen ID, as in ‘I deserve.’”I must say, while it’s at times overwhelming and frustrating, it’s also remarkable how much Ys are changing the world we live in at such a young age. When Xers were this age, we were so overwhelmed with trying to earn a living on meager salaries and scarce job opportunities, voting was the last thing on our minds. And when Baby Boomers were this age, they were protesting and dodging the draft.But voting is a way for people to instigate change, and that’s just what the Ys, and the Xers, want to do. Ready or not, there is a generational shift taking place, and it’s happening at work and in society and in politics–and in case you haven’t noticed, the power has already shifted to X and Y.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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