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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Yes, now they're blaming millennials for potholes

22

October

It sure is popular to blame those born between 1982 to 2000 for a host of problems.

For a generation faced with a bad job market and mounting college debt, the millennials are by now used to getting lectured by Baby Boomers (who are blameless for any of this, of course). 

But it does seems a tad harsh to chide millennials for problems beyond their control. Big college debts will temper whatever they'll be able to afford on other things, like homes and cars. And yes, that does hurt an economy that's too dependent on mindless consumerism.

Yet the blame continues. Check out this latest critique from Standard & Poor's. 

In a paper titled "Millennials are creating unsafe conditions on U.S. roads -- but not in the way you might think," the rating agency's U.S. Chief Economist, Beth Ann Bovino, posits:

In the simplest terms, Millennials (which Pew Research defines as Americans born from 1982-2000, and called Generation Y by some) are driving less than older motorists did when they came of age--and when they do get behind the wheel, they are generally in smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. This, in turn, has curbed revenues from the federal gasoline tax, the primary source of funding for the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which is the backbone of the country's surface transportation infrastructure.

This drop in funds available to construct and repair the country's infrastructure could, in Standard & Poor's Ratings Services' view, weigh on growth prospects for U.S. GDP, as well as states' economies, and, in some cases, where states and municipalities choose to replace the lost federal funds with locally derived revenues, could hurt credit quality. At a time when many state and local government budgets are strained--and austerity measures pervasive--the lost productivity and higher costs that inevitably accrue because of outdated infrastructure, combined with the need to borrow more to undertake refurbishment and repair projects, could hamper the ability of some governments to pay down debt.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in Washington have held the federal gas tax at 18.4 cents per gallon (and 24.4 cents on diesel fuel) since 1993. If the gas tax had been indexed to inflation during that period, it would now be more than 30 cents per gallon. In other words, the roughly $25 billion a year the gas tax now raises (with 60% earmarked for highway and bridge construction) would be closer to $42 billion in annual revenue.

I don't know, but perhaps it might be easier to tackle the sudden drop in revenue than transform a generation's spending habits. Maybe marshal the political will among lawmakers, who are mostly Baby Boomers and Gen X'ers by now, to either hike the gas tax come up with another revenue source?

But not S&P. To an agency that deserves much of the blame for the 2008 financial crash, it's the millennials and their peculiar "lifestyle choices" that are responsible for our infrastructure problems.

This propensity to marry and have children late, to rent instead of buy homes, and to live in cities has had a profound effect on travel behavior. Suburban areas, where driving is the predominant mode of travel, have seen the fastest growth in their aging populations. Meanwhile, transit ridership in the U.S. grew each year from 2010-2014--and this year may continue that trend.

Yep. Baby Boomers had nothing do with this.

[Last modified: Thursday, October 22, 2015 2:18pm]

    

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