Boomer or Bust?

Jazz Fest 2019

New Orleans      I know we talk a lot about inequality, particularly the oceanic gulf between the 1% and the rest of us, and all of this is certainly true.  At the same time, I’m starting to worry a bit about the “boomer affect” and what this is also doing to create a fair sized gulf not only on inequality issues, but also in depressing opportunity for the younger generations.  Let me be honest.  This is head-scratcher.  I don’t have the facts all tightly researched and well ordered.  What I have is a bunch of random factoids that worry me and start to point fingers at this boomer thing.

For example, the Jazz & Heritage Fest just ended in New Orleans celebrating its 50th anniversary.  The pictures in the newspapers show a lot of folks carrying some age in addition to their big hats and Hawaiian shirts.  Organizers have to work hard to bring younger people into the Fairgrounds especially when the cheapest tickets are over $50 for a day, and often much, much higher depending on the day.  The jazz demographic is highest in the boomer space between 50 and 64, and they only listen 13.5% of the time.  Can they make it another ten years this way, much less fifty?  I’d worry.

Gentrification and escalating average rents are always on my mind as an organizer.  We were in New York City recently which is ground zero for pushout and unaffordability.  Then I saw an item in the Times pointing fingers at the boomer affect rather than just the Wall Street and techsters.

In 2017, renters who were 60 or older made up 27% of the city’s rental population, a 20% increase over the previous decade, according to RENTCafe’s analysis of census data.  They outnumbered those under 34 years old and outnumbered homeowners in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.

The people quoted in the story were widows or elderly couples with highly disposable income.  Why would a landlord rent to a struggling millennial with a couple of roommates and all of what goes with the young, if you could get a quiet elderly willing to pay top dollar who takes naps in the afternoon?

Putting my ear to the ground, I can hear some ominous sounds along these same lines.  On our radio stations and coffeehouses on a daily basis I hear from aspiring musicians hoping we’ll play their new song on the radio or others that are touring and wonder if they can play, even busking, at the coffeehouse.  We do all we can, but that’s not really ever enough if you worry about what happens to young talent when they can’t make a living.  In the internet age most make their money by touring or with shows.  Then I see this in the paper:

Sixty percent of all concert-ticket revenue world-wide went to the top 1% of performers ranked by revenue in 2017 according to an analysis by Alan Krueger, a Princeton economist, which is more than double the 26% that the top acts took home in 1982.  5% of the artists took up 85%.  The lowest 2500 acts ranked by revenue grossed $2500 in 2017 from concerts.  There were 109 in the top 1%.

Grossing $2500 meant that they lost money!

For years we’ve been reading that the boomer generation is going to capture tremendous wealth and the odds of the younger generation doing better are lower or achieving home ownership are sketchy.  Between the boomer affect and economic change that has concentrated wealth through public policies and the ability for a few, even in the arts, to aggregate technical and logistics operations that are unaffordable to others, we have something developing that doesn’t look or feel right for either now or the future.


Was the Weird Labor Dustup over Airbnb Housekeepers a Trojan Horse?

Protesters at a rally against illegal hotels Jan. 21. (Photo: Jaime Cone)

Protesters at a rally against illegal hotels Jan. 21. (Photo: Jaime Cone)

New Orleans   Over recent weeks there has been a spit fight involving the controversial in-home rental app, Airbnb, and various labor unions, including the frequently controversial Service Employees International Union and its even more controversial former president, Andy Stern, and the now much less widely known hotel workers union, Unite HERE, and a bunch of housing groups. At issue was a potential deal, now scuttled, that would have had Airbnb recommending union cleaners to its hosts and guaranteeing that they would be paid at least $15 per hour and “green” certified. What in the world was this all about, other than perhaps the easier work of making a mountain out of a mole hill?

What’s the beef? SEIU has been the driving force in the “fight for $15” campaign and they have long “owned” the jurisdiction on many types of cleaners. This could not have been a big deal for them. Maybe they would have gained a couple of members or more likely a couple of more hours for work for already existing members, and that only in jurisdictions like New York and California where they have fought and won high union density for such workers. Largely though this would have been little more than a press flurry for a couple of days that then would disappear from consciousness. For Airbnb operators this would have been a fix looking for a problem, since most are either cleaning their own places or already have cleaners, many, if not most of whom are already making more than $15 per hour since they are on-demand workers with more individual bargaining power.

What SEIU seems not to have fully realized is that the fight around Airbnb in tight housing markets like San Francisco, New York, and others where there are active housing groups is intense and polarized, and there is no demilitarized, neutral zone. But, SEIU certainly was well aware that these same areas are also areas where Unite HERE has significant organization among hotel workers, so they have common cause in seeing Airbnb or any service that takes guests out of a union hotel as the anti-Christ. Going back to the jurisdictional wars within labor what was a close labor partnership between the unions went way, way south, when SEIU offered a safe haven for parts of UNITE and its former leader, Bruce Raynor, in an internecine struggle with John Wilhelm. To put another finger in Unite HERE’s eyes, the architect of that shotgun merger was Andy Stern, who reportedly was also representing Airbnb in these preliminary negotiations about this deal.

Neither Airbnb nor SEIU had much to gain other than a couple of props and press releases from this deal, so it is no surprise that current SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, saw this as a distraction, and quickly went to current Unite HERE president’s Dee Taylor’s Las Vegas stronghold to, in all likelihood, get her hand slapped, apologize, and hope the whole mess would die like other things in Vegas. This was all much ado about nothing.

Unfortunately, this let’s-make-a-deal love affair between some unions and Silicon Valley tech operations is worrisome still. Airbnb doesn’t really have a labor problem in any classic sense, but something like Uber, the ride sharing app really does. In a recent court settlement on Uber, in exchange for pretending their drivers were not employees, Uber agreed to some vague language about being willing to meet with – or help create a forum – for associations of their drivers to discuss issues. Actual unions of Uber drivers have been in formation in Seattle and other West Coast cities. Was it a lawyer or a union advisor that thought these meetings and company “unions” were a good idea as anything but a union-avoidance strategy? Certainly, the campaign master and deal maker for Uber is someone with rich Democratic politics experience from the Obama campaigns and relationships with a lot of current – and former – union leaders. I would worry that Airbnb might have been a Trojan horse for an Uber type problem, since too many are painfully fuzzy about the hard core anti-labor, job destroying, disruption philosophy that is the dominant ideology of Silicon Valley.

The next shoes that fall could hurt a lot more than this one.