New Braunfels is a place where generations of a family have lived for decades, working to better the city and enjoy the town’s beauty, together.
In a time of historic growth, New Braunfels houses many generations who must come together for the future of the town. But each generation, molded by the characteristics of the time they grow up in, has unique challenges as well.
Over the next month, the Herald-Zeitung will look at these challenges, at the make-up of the county and town by generation. Stories will explore how that’s shifting, at the financial difficulties each face and how the generations interact.
New Braunfels’ youngest contributing generation, Generation Z, was born in the late 1990s up to about 2010. The oldest of this generation could already be in their early 20s, while the youngest may still be in elementary school.
Local Generation Z-ers are the New Braunfels and Canyon High School students and the Texas State University students commuting to campus while living at home.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, approximately 24,320 people from the ages of 10 to 24 lived in Comal County in 2017.
Known also as the iGeneration or “post-millennials,” Generation Z is categorized for being too young to remember the turn of the millennia or the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to Pew Research.
“Social media, constant connectivity and on-demand entertainment and communication are innovations Millennials adapted to as they came of age,” states one Pew Research report.
Social media is just a part of everyday life for Generation Z-ers, said Canyon High School junior Nathan Anderson, 16.
“Social media can make people feel more social or less social, but no one wants to be seen living this normal life,” Anderson said. “Like if you see someone just went to Costa Rica, you don’t want to just post about your own day going to school.”
It’s no wonder then, one of the largest issues Generation Z-ers and their parents think they face is increased rates of mental illness and depression.
“Social media is a big problem for our generation,” said Elin Kaiser, 14, a freshman at Smithson Valley High School. “One of the main issues in this day and age is cyberbullying which leads to so many more conflicts like suicide and school shootings, which cause even more conflicts — so social media is making this never-ending chain reaction of negatives.”
In fact, this generation of America’s youngest adults is most likely of all generations to report poor mental health, according to The American Psychological Association’s 12th annual Stress in America, which was conducted in August 2018.
“Gen Z is significantly more likely to report their mental health as fair or poor, with 27 percent saying this is the case,” the survey report states. “Millennials (15 percent) and Gen Xers (13 percent) have similar numbers reporting fair or poor mental health, while fewer than one in 10 Boomers (7 percent) consider their mental health fair or poor.”
Generation Z also inherits the world passed down to them — a world teeming with problems.
“Our future has overpopulating, pollution, politics and climate change to face,” said Zoe Berrong, 15, a Smithson Valley freshman. “There’s a saying — the other generations made a mess our generation has to fix.”
Parents of Gen Z-ers feel troubled for their kids, and report seeing their teens struggle to make meaningful connections.
“Now teens are faced with so many things that we didn’t deal with back then that teen depression and suicide is heard of daily,” said Cathy Casteneda, the mom of a teen attending Canyon High School. “Mental health doesn’t have enough awareness and support and money to properly fund the research and supply the resources needed to help our teens today.”
Millennials are the generation that has dominated headlines for the good part of the last decade. Born between the 1980s and mid 1990s, Millennials are now in their mid 20s to late 30s.
“We are a generation disliked by others. We have these incredibly high standards put on us we have to strive to live up to,” said Chelle Rundberg, a Millennial mother of six and New Braunfels resident.
Most people in this generation are a part of the workforce, are college educated, and many have become parents. These are New Braunfels young professionals, members of the Jaycees and NB Next, parents of young children.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, approximately 21,283 people from the ages of 25 to 39 lived in Comal County in 2017.
“Most Millennials came of age and entered the workforce facing the height of an economic recession,” states a report by Pew Research. “Fully a third of older Millennials (ages 26 to 33) have a four-year college degree or more — making them the best-educated cohort of young adults in American history.”
Despite having higher rates of education than previous generations, Millennials will likely be the first generation to be poorer than its predecessor.
“They carry the burden of student loan debt and lower wages historically than previous generations,” said Edward Jones financial advisor and Millennial Rachel Ackerson. “So not only are they starting in negative territory, they also have on average less annually to work with to pay debt, cover cost of living and potentially build any kind of emergency savings or retirement fund.”
Headlines have shown Millennials are waiting longer to marry, have children and buy a house. But that’s really because they can’t afford to, Ackerson said.
“This greatly impacts where they are at in the race compared to where generations before them were at the same ages,” she said.
A report by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University shows that more than two-in-five (42%) Millennials report they, or someone in their household, has student loan debt.
“My student loan debt is overwhelming,” said New Braunfels resident and Millennial Ruby Alvarado. “I thought when I graduated from college, I’d find a job and be set, but I experienced a rude awakening.”
Alvarado, who got her bachelor’s degree in English from Texas Southern University, said she has probably about 12 years of debt to pay off.
Born after the Baby Boomers but before Millennials is Generation X. Generation X was born in the late 1960s to the late 1970s.
Generation X is an “in-between” generation, having less members than the Baby Boomers or Millennials, but being overall wealthier than both.
A report by Pew Research shows the median household income for Gen X-ers in 2016 was about $73,200. The median household income for Baby Boomers in 2016 was $71,900 and for Millennials it was $50,800.
“We’re a sandwich generation,” said Jenny Jurica, a New Braunfels resident and a Generation X-er. “We live in a time where our parents are living longer, and our kids are staying home longer. It’s not uncommon for me to run from instrument practice to a doctor’s appointment.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, approximately 26,495 people from the ages of 40 to 54 lived in Comal County in 2017.
Early on deemed the disaffected and directionless generation, Generation X — also sometimes called the “MTV Generation” — has grown to be today’s entrepreneurs, managers and community leaders.
Because Generation X is helping fund their Millennial and Generation Z children, or spending money to care for their aging Baby Boomer parents, a retirement fund is something many Generation X-ers struggle to put change in.
“Generation X is walking a tightrope right now,” Ackerson said. “They are balancing raising a family, working hard and saving for their own retirement, and potentially caring for their aging parents.”
Retirement is definitely a big worry for Generation X-ers, said Christian Rundberg, New Braunfels resident and Gen X-er.
“We have friends in their 40s who haven’t saved anything for retirement,” Christian Rundberg said.
As parents, Generation X-ers also worry about what kind of world is being left to their children.
“I think about, ‘What kind of world are my children inheriting? What will sustainable living look like for them? For their children?’” said Heather Lee Huff, New Braunfels resident, mother of two and a Gen X-er. “How will we handle massive climate changes, food shortages, etcetera — if we don’t address the environment crisis all other issues are moot.”
The oldest working generation today is the Baby Boomers. Born from the mid 1940s to the mid 1960s, the “boomers” generation is named for the birth rate boom that occurred post World War II.
By 2030, all Baby Boomers will have reached 65 — the national retirement age, according to the Pew Research Center.
“Baby Boomers have always had an outsize presence compared with other generations,” states one Pew Research Center report. “Having peaked at 78.8 million in 1999, they have remained the largest living adult generation.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, approximately 33,039 people from the ages of 55 to 74 lived in Comal County in 2017.
And with the latest projections showing the combined Social Security trust funds that pay retirement and disability benefits running out of cash reserves by 2034, many boomers worry about their retirement and future.
“There is not an excess amount of money stored for us or for other generations,” said Maryann Mounce, a New Braunfels resident and Baby Boomer. “We’ve paid into it but soon we won’t get to use it — none of us will.”
Increasing costs for healthcare are also a worry for Baby Boomers, she said.
“Healthcare for us and our children is getting to be a real financial burden,” Mounce said.
“Insurance has become a rip-off for our generation anyway,” said Flash Gordon, another New Braunfels resident and Baby Boomer.
In New Braunfels, transportation for seniors is also an issue, said another Baby Boomer and New Braunfels resident Susan Richardson.
“We need more public transportation than just the ART system,” Richards said, referencing the Alamo Regional Transit service — a local scheduled bus service, which operates Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Richardson said many boomers also care for their aging parents, since people are living longer.
“And many of us have been saddled with taking care of the grandchildren,” Richardson said. “So those can both be financial burdens.”