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Economists say inflation is easier on Gen Z, TikTok disagrees

TikTokers Marcus Macal, Pasha Grozdov, and Katie Webster.
Screenshot by NPR
TikTokers Marcus Macal, Pasha Grozdov, and Katie Webster.

If you want to know how Gen-Z feels about something, TikTok is a great place to start. According to new Google data, 40% of Gen Z prefers TikTok as a search engine. So it's no surprise when it comes to inflation, their hot takes are all over the app.

Pasha Grozdov, a TikToker with 430,000 followers has a bio that reads "your savage bestie, bringing you positive vibes," and his videos that dramatize everyday events reflect that sentiment. In one of his videos, he sarcastically mimics Gen Z and their nihilistic reaction to inflation.

@pasha why is the economy such a leo? 🤷🏼‍♂️ #comedy ♬ Till The World Ends by Britney x Recession - Pasha

It's not hard to find TikTok users who are just entering adulthood complaining about inflation across TikTok. From scoffing at the price of grocery items to the increased cost of fast food.

@airforcejourney Bring back the 99 cent JBC #foryoupage #foryou #fyp #inflation #viral #funny #wendys ♬ original sound - AirForceJourney

But not everything is fun and games. It's clear this generation has some real concerns, too. Talk to Gen Z off of TikTok and many express feelings of hopelessness.

Marcus Macal is 25 years-old and because of high rents has yet to be able to move out of his family home in New Jersey, despite working full time.

"I know I personally am not traveling like I would like," he says. "I'm not going out to eat like I would like. I'm not hanging out with friends like I would like. It's a Saturday night and I'm here at home because it's free."

Katie Webster, a classical voice student at Azusa Pacific University graduates next May and is starting to feel pressure about beginning her career in this economic state.

"There's a lot of anxiety going into graduating and also getting a place off campus or figuring out where to live," she says. "I've had to come to terms with maybe never owning a house, or maybe never having a really big retirement fund. Those are things that you have to start now and I don't know if I can."

Kids have it easier these days

But despite Gen Z's anxieties, economists actually believe younger adults are better off when it comes to weathering inflation. Betsey Stevenson, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Michigan, says she can understand why inflation is a big stressor for those who are just now coming of age.

"Inflation has been pretty darn stable at two percent for your whole life and even, some of your parent's lives," she says. "And then all of a sudden we hit 2021 and it's like, what's happening?"

That 1 or 2% inflation of Gen Z's childhood is now around 8%. But in Stevenson's eyes, that generation is actually in a much better position than older people.

"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," Stevenson says.

They hold a really valuable asset right now—flexibility, which Stevenson says is vital in a high inflationary environment. It's easier for young people to switch jobs or to move to someplace where there are better opportunities.

"What we see right now in the current economy is that people who are changing jobs are getting the biggest wage increases," Stevenson says. "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."

Gen Z wages are increasing annually twice as fast as Millennials and Gen X

According to the Pew Research Center, over half of the nearly 50 million workers who quit their jobs for something new during the Great Resignation saw an increase in their real earnings.

While wages have been on the rise for all workers this past year, it's especially true for Gen Z . Their wages are increasing annually twice as fast as Millennials and Gen X.

Kyla Scanlon, who's 25, makes TikToks explaining the economy to an audience of 140,000 followers.

@kylascan explaining why the fed is doing what they are doing #federalreserve #economy ♬ Monkeys Spinning Monkeys - Kevin MacLeod & Kevin The Monkey

She agrees younger people tend to be less impacted by inflation, but she also notes, "younger people are normally earlier in their earning power cycle. So they're not making as much usually as the older generation."

She says Gen Zers still have to get groceries, buy gas, and pay bills like rent, which has gone up at least 15 percent since last year, so the experience can feel the same regardless of age.

So, Gen Z may be better off financially in the long run but Stevenson and Scanlon both agree —people who make less money feel inflation more.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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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.