This Is Why the Wall Street Journal Is Wrong about Kids and Driving

Yet another article on millennial car buying trends glosses over the most critical factor.

Car dealer showing new car to young couple in showroom
Westend61—Getty Images/Westend61

We had hoped the conversation about Millennial and Gen Z buying trends had moved past the notion that these generations were uninterested in certain things, and industries toppled as a result. That the idea of two generations of young adults spread wanton destruction across real estate, mayonnaise, job loyalty, the hotel industry, honeymoons, diamond rings, and of course, cars, had ended. This hyperbolic Boomer-fiction, though, hasn’t died with a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, and we are very annoyed. The “youth” aren’t “so over” it; we just can’t afford it.

Titled “Driving? The Kids Are So Over It,” the WSJ article aims its boomer-clickbait thesis-cannon at the "kids" from the very first line: “If teenagers are any guide, Americans’ love affair with the automobile may no longer be something car makers can bank on,” and continues to make a number of assumptions that ring absolutely hollow in the light of reality. The author’s thesis is that Millennials and Gen Z are forgoing licensing and car ownership due to factors that include the rise of ride-hailing services, no longer desiring this “symbol of freedom,” as well as social media and video chat smartphone technology reducing the need to actually leave the house. But the main issue, one that has been proven time and time again, is all but brushed aside, rather than being pointed at one of the greatest issues of our time, and the prime reason behind the author’s data: Everything costs more for this entire generation.

Recently, a survey found young people are indeed interested in learning to ride and getting a motorcycle, but they lack the economics to do so. The same is true with cars, but the costs are much higher. Millennials' outlook after high school is bleak—though Gen Z could bear an even greater brunt of national economic policies if current trends remain. The fact is, Millennials and Gen Z are worse off economically than their parents and their parent’s parents. 

While a college education made our parent’s generation better off, for whom a degree meant higher wages, the forceful push for Millennial and Gen Z generations to attend colleges with ever-increasing tuitions has resulted in $1.5 trillion in student loan debt. It’s become a weight around our necks, and all the while the job market is paying lower wages. Graduates are presented with a much more stratified job market. Job loyalty no longer matters and wages no longer reflect skill. The need for highly-skilled, non-labor intensive workers in shrinking, and the degrees we were pushed to earn matter less and less, while the market grows more saturated with college grads

It gets worse. 

For the lucky few that actually find employment in their chosen field, the deck is still stacked against them. Real estate and rent have again ballooned—though these too are wrapped in “Millennials Don’t Want” rhetoric. Hundreds of thousands of homes and apartments are occupied by 78-percent of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, according to a recent study by Career Builder. And while home and rent prices have skyrocketed, take-home pay has stayed stagnant. All of which is happening as our generation’s dollar has proceeded to go shorter distances than our parent’s. While inflation hasn’t reached Congolese or Venezuelan levels, normal everyday necessities have increased in price to further the decline toward a mere subsistence living. 

As for automobile prices, those costs have soared along with like rent, mortgages, and basic items needed for continued survival, like a $500 iPhone. The average price of a new car is now $37,577, according to Kelly Blue Book. The average loan payment is over $523, while the average lease payment is $487. New car costs have all increased, while the average person’s income—according to the last United States Census—is a mere $34,940. So how do we fund the car payment, let alone afford the rising price of fuel, insurance, and maintenance costs? If young people can’t afford a new motorcycle, which costs considerably less than the average new car, how does anyone expect them to afford a new car

The Wall Street Journal does mention used-car shopping trends rising in the younger demographic, but it's an afterthought. Current and future generations are facing real issues due to failed monetary and employment policies. All of which were put in place by a generation that has shown it just doesn’t care about anything past its soon-to-end future. No matter your long or short life expectancy, this is unquestionably a topic that requires more than just a few passing mentions and a headline aimed at comforting the Wall Street Journal’s aging, wealthy, and apparently out of touch readership. 

Yet, where our ire truly grows to indignation is how monumentally wrong the author is about the supposed “dying love for the automobile.” Automotive publications have hundreds of millions of visitors each month. The largest continual TV audience ever was one for a show about cars. Millennial and Gen-Z automotive YouTube personalities have audiences in the tens of millions and return billions upon billions of views. Amazon sunk hundreds of millions into the automotive show, The Grand Tour. The BBC continues to spend millions of euros on the automotive show, Top Gear. Discovery Channel purchased The Enthusiast Network, which represents Motor Trend, Superstreet, Roadkill, Hot Rod, and other automotive publications for a rumored equally absurd amount of money. Local—turned national—car shows like Radwood are catering to this new generation of automotive enthusiasts and succeeding in garnering huge audiences and attendance. 

What makes the Wall Street Journal’s limited research on the supposed “younger people’s love for the automobile dying” even more false, however, is if that’s true, why then is the lineup of enthusiast vehicles by automotive manufacturers increasing? Sports cars, supercars, hypercars, hot hatchbacks, sports-tuned family cars, and others have all witnessed a resurgence in popularity not seen since the days of the original muscle car wars. Consumers have access to hundreds of performance offerings ranging in price from $20,000 Fiat 500 Abarths to $3 million Bugatti Chirons. It’s a grand buffet of choices. 

Rather, articles like the one in the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, among others would all rather focus on the hype of Silicon Valley’s autonomous and zero-car-city promises, even though those futures—if they ever materialize—would still be countless decades away. 

The love for the automobile—and personal transportation in general—is still very much alive and well in today’s younger demographics. But how does this generation, to which this article’s author and many of their colleagues are a part of, succeed in a world that seems to be stacked against us due to monetary and employment strategies that failed to aid those beyond the Boomer Generation? How do we succeed, and be in a place where we can afford things like a car, when those policies continue to be exalted by the older generation in charge? How do we afford a car we love when we have trouble making next month’s rent? 

The kids aren’t over driving, we’re just poor.