By Kenneth W. Gronbach
Early in the Foreword of The Age Curve, there is a heads-up: this book is a Johnny-one-note. There is but a single message and it is so simple a child can understand it. But this message is also powerful, and it bears telling and re-telling in myriad forms.
The message is this: the 78 million baby boomers are past their purchasing prime. They are in their 50s and 60s and leaving the work force. Right behind them, at the peak of their demand cycle, is Gen-X, only 69 million strong, which represents an 11 percent drop in market volume that is reaching its steepest decline in a five-year trough. Gronach points to the turmoil in the U.S. economy and asks, “Do they not learn about supply and demand at business school?”
He cruises through more than a dozen product and service categories from Japanese motorcycles and SUVs to mansions and healthcare to demonstrate the impending crisis of demographic proportions. There simply are not enough entry-level workers, especially in the skilled trades, to fill jobs, and there are not enough employed workers to buy the “stuff” that keeps the U.S. economy moving.
Enter the immigrants. Some 15 to 25 million Latinos are pouring across our southern borders to fill the shortfall in workers for unskilled entry-level jobs. Yet there are even more chronic worker shortages in the skilled labor pool. Gronach suggests that we relieve the unemployment problems in Europe by importing their skilled workers to the United States on a temporary basis. The Bush administration liked this idea and proposed it a year ago, but the bill has languished in Congress.
The key point to consider is that all of these problems are temporary. Just wait awhile. The downward blip ended in 1985 when birthrates started to climb, then soar. Generation Y, or the Echo Boomers as they are called, number 100 million. If you happen to be a visionary marketer who can hang on, get this: Echo Boomers consume at a rate five times higher than that of their Boomer parents. There is a “gotcha” though. If the economy contracts during the Gen-X shortfall, where will Gen-Y find the jobs to buy all the stuff they are so conditioned to demand?
This supply-and-demand drama plays out in chapter after thought-provoking chapter. Some are better developed than others, but the story arc hinges on one question: How will a good, well-meaning corporate giant beat the demographic curve? Gronach’s advice? Stay ahead of the age curve. To do otherwise is to slide down the slippery slope of declining markets.