Photo: Eileen Escarda, Matthew Coughli, Norma Lopez Molina
Meet Florida's Millennial generation
To understand the Millennial generation — a generation more numerous than the storied Baby Boomers — meet one: Jacqueline Gonzales, 29. She grew up in a military family, moving constantly. She attended four high schools. She joined the Air Force, where she served as a broadcast journalist.
After serving in Iraq and returning to the States, she left the service and attended the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on the GI bill to earn a psychology degree. She now works as a work/life consultant at Eglin Air Force Base. She and her husband, a reserve special operations pilot, own a home in Crestview in Okaloosa County in Florida’s Panhandle.
Gonzales resembles her generation in many ways. Bachelor’s degree holders are more common among Millennials than in past generations. Like many of her generation, she’s motivated by more than money — a suicide in her extended family led her to enter the field of psychology. She is proud of research and work on post-traumatic stress disorder she did while a student at a veteran’s hospital in Utah.
In other ways, however, Gonzales doesn’t resemble her generation: For one, she’s married — most Millennials tend to have put that off. For another, she’s a veteran — only 2.5% of Florida Millennials are vets. Another: She and her husband own a home while Millennials overall have been slow to become home buyers.
In sum, Gonzales isn’t your typical Millennial — and that’s the point. With the massive Millennial generation, defining what’s “typical” is difficult. “Safe to say, the Millennials are so numerous that they can drive trends in many directions at once,” says Dowell Myers, a Florida native and professor of policy, planning and demography at the University of Southern California.
The essential trait of Millennials is: There’s a load of them. The number of people in Florida ages 25 to 34 increased 14.2% between 2010 and 2015, Myers says. The population surge was driven by both a larger number of Floridagrown young people and in-migration from other states and abroad. “That’s a lot of change in five years,” Myers says.
Gonzales was one such move-in to Florida. Growing up fast in the military put distance between her and her contemporaries. “For a long time, it was difficult to identify with my own age group,” she says. While peers might reminisce about a trip to Vegas to celebrate their 21st birthdays, “when I was 21, I was in Baghdad sometimes fearing for my life,” she says, before adding, with a shrug, “but no big deal.”
Only in the last year has she adopted the Millennial label for herself. She’s reflective on what it means. She’s heard Millennials characterized as slackers but notes that every generation is subject to the expectations of preceding generations and has its own outlook.
Millennials came of age with an internet-pace of change, she says. Everything was “always present” and things were constantly new, she says. People her age experience something and then say, “OK, that’s great! What’s next? It’s a different way we look at the world.”
The Millennial-dominated future also causes her to reflect. “I’m not cynical at all. I’m adaptable. I adjust to things very quickly. I’m also very much a realist. It’s not that I’m not hopeful for our future because I am,” Gonzales says, but “I don’t think it depends on the generation coming up. I know they’ll take over things, be the CEOs running things. I get that. But it’s not one generation. I don’t think I’m going to be hopeful until I see us all working together.”