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Gen Z is feeling the impacts of high inflation extra hard

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Inflation is affecting people all over the world, but some are feeling it more acutely than others. The generation just coming into adulthood now, Gen Z, is feeling especially pinched. NPR's Taylor Jennings-Brown reports.

TAYLOR JENNINGS-BROWN, BYLINE: If you want to know how Gen Z feels about something, TikTok is a great place to start. They're all over it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK VIDEO)

PASHA GROZDOV: (As character) First recession, what a vibe.

(As character) Oh, you mean another Great Depression?

(As character) Try me. I'm already depressed.

JENNINGS-BROWN: Pasha Grozdov, who has 430,000 followers, posts snarky takes on the economy with this video of him strutting through a city pretending to not have a care in the world. TikTok is full of eye-rolling Gen Z sarcasm, like these from @mchammer608 and @AirForceJourney, trying to get something to eat.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (As character) Hey, can I just get a small vanilla Frosty?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (As character) Sixty-two fifty and your next month's rent.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (As character) What?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (As character) Pull forward.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Six f***ing dollars for Doritos? Everyday low?

JENNINGS-BROWN: But TikToker @emcathey makes it clear there's real concerns, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Deep down, yes, I would love to achieve my dreams. But the world is going to melt in a decade, and college costs $1,000,000. So instead of investing in my future, I have decided to just simply vibe.

JENNINGS-BROWN: Talk to Gen Z off of TikTok, and it's clear that inflation has many feeling hopeless. Here's Marcus Macal and Kayla O’Mahony.

MARCUS MACAL: There's no way for me at my big age, as I like to call it, to, like, move out even comfortably, let alone budgeting.

KAYLA O’MAHONY: I'm not trying to live at home with my mom. It's just - the housing costs right now are so wild.

JENNINGS-BROWN: Betsey Stevenson, an economist at the University of Michigan, says she can understand why inflation is really bumming people out who are just now coming of age.

BETSEY STEVENSON: Inflation has been pretty darn stable for your whole life and even some of your parents' life. And then all of a sudden, we hit 2021, and it's like, what's happening?

JENNINGS-BROWN: What's happening is that inflation is now around 8% compared to 1- or 2% when Gen Zers were growing up. But in Stevenson's eyes, when it comes to inflation, Gen Z is actually in a much better position than people who are older now.

STEVENSON: They should count themselves lucky for being on the younger end rather than someone watching their life savings get eroded by inflation as we talk.

JENNINGS-BROWN: She says Gen Z actually holds a really valuable asset right now, but they just might not realize it. It's easier for young people to switch jobs or to move someplace where there's better opportunity.

STEVENSON: What we see right now in the current economy is that people who are changing jobs are getting the biggest wage increases. So look around and look for maybe another job out there that's willing to pay you more or use that outside offer to negotiate with your current boss.

JENNINGS-BROWN: Wages have been on the rise for all workers this past year but especially for Gen Z. Their wages are increasing annually twice as fast as millennials and Gen X. Kyla Scanlon is 25. She makes TikToks about the economy and has more than 140,000 followers. She acknowledges Gen Z's wages are rising, but...

KYLA SCANLON: Younger people are normally earlier in their earning power cycle, so they're not making as much, usually, as the older generation. So I think it kind of nets out to be about the same impact.

JENNINGS-BROWN: Both the University of Michigan's Betsey Stevenson and Scanlon agree. People who make less money feel inflation more.

SCANLON: If you go to a restaurant and it's 20% more to get the same plate of food that you normally get, you're still going to be like, dang, that sucks.

JENNINGS-BROWN: She says young people still have to get groceries, buy gas and pay bills like rent, which has gone up at least 15% since last year. And not all young people have the flexibility to take advantage of a hot job market. Some have other responsibilities and less room for riskier moves. So Gen Z is clearly feeling pinched by inflation. And like everybody else, they want to know how it can be fixed. But unlike their parents, they're going to TikToks for answers, like this one by Scanlon.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK VIDEO)

SCANLON: And of course, are rate hikes even the right solution here? Probably not. It really boils down to improving supply chains, improving coordination, improving the broad labor market. And at the risk of sounding cliche, the past isn't always predictive of future results.

JENNINGS-BROWN: For NPR News, I'm Taylor Jennings-Brown. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Taylor Jennings-Brown
Taylor Jennings-Brown is a 2021-2022 Kroc Fellow. She is a thoughtful writer from Durham, North Carolina and is a spring 2021 graduate from the University of South Carolina, where she received her bachelor's degree in mass communications and anthropology.