News & Politics

It’s “Millennial Week” in DC

Seven days of celebrating Washington’s most hyped generational cohort.

Millennials. Photograph via Shutterstock.

There is no shortage of trend stories reminding us how millennials, the cohort of Americans born between the early 1980s and late 1990s, are changing Washington. But this week, Washington truly belongs to the millennials. They’ve even got an official declaration from Mayor (and non-millennial) Vince Gray to prove it.

On Monday evening, a group of proud millennials are kicking off Millennial Week, a seven-day celebration to, as its organizers put it, “cultivate, promote, and present the most meaningful ideas and trends that reflect the impact of millennials on culture, enterprise and society.” Millennial Week is the brainchild of Natalie Moss, the owner of event planning company Social You. Perhaps in a nod to millennials’ need for instant gratification, Millennial Week kicks off with the first-ever “Millennial Awards,” which will be presented to a group of entreprenuers, political activists, and culture mavens who excel in, um, millennialness.

Other events during the week include a millennial-themed “town hall” event hosted by the Washington Post (which seems to love writing about this special generation), a food and wine event, and a brunch, which the event’s organizers claim is millennials’ favorite meal.

But with literally dozens of millennials descending on Washington for the week, how can everyone else deal? Here are a few questions about the media’s favorite generation, answered:

Who are the millennials?

Precise definitions vary, but Millennial Week uses a generous span of 1977 and 2001, making its members anywhere between 13 and 37 years old, accounting for nearly 30 percent of a US population of 307 million people. Figures from the 2010 Census place 29.5 percent of the Washington area’s population between 15 and 34 years old. The oldest millennials can remember the end of the Soviet Union, while the youngest cannot conceive of a world without Tumblr. But most millennials’ world views appear to be shaped by a few major events: 9/11, Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl, and the Red Wedding on Game of Thrones.

How are millennials changing Washington?

According to the Post, quite a bit. In just the past few months, millennials have influenced apartment-building amenities, Clarendon, “geek chic” fashion, popular French restaurants, and wine branding.

More concrete analysis can be found in a memo issued last year by former DC chief financial officer Natwar Gandhi. He described how the District rode out the Great Recession thanks to a strong influx of new, gainfully employed residents between 20 and 34 years old. Although unemployment peaked at 11 percent, the city’s tax revenue never declined, and the District’s housing price index only fell 16 percent in the worst depths of the recession compared with a national drop of 26 percent.

Are millennials politically engaged?

Sort of. While Washington brims with young and young-looking people in entry-level and middle-management political jobs, millennials are far from the most involved. Less than half of eligible voters between 18 and 29 years old voted in the 2012 presidential election, about the same as in 2008 and 2004. They’re far outmatched by voters 65 and older, who turned out at a 72 clip in 2012.

But in fairness to millennials, voting takes time, and sometimes there’s a really important BuzzFeed quiz to click on.

Can any good come of Millennial Week?

Actually, yes. Friday is its “Day of Service,” in which Millennial Week participants will volunteer at DC middle schools.

Isn’t this article written by a self-hating millennial?

Millennials are known for their love of snark, irony, and affected disinterest, especially on the internet. The “explainer” model of article is particularly popular thanks to the rise of “explanatory” websites. As for the author of this one, a self-described “first-wave millennial” born in the early 1980s, he will hang his head in shame. As soon as he’s done with this BuzzFeed quiz.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.