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Generation Jones: Between the Boomers and the Xers

By John Lang, Scripps Howard News Service

Fifty-three million Americans are practically invisible. Almost nobody knows they exist. They're hardly aware of it, as a group, themselves. But they're out there - unrecognized, ignored, but maybe ready to claim their place.

Jonesers, they're called.

Generation Jones.

The U.S. Census Bureau doesn't know about this. Mainstream demographers mostly haven't given it a thought. To the extent these people have a collective identity, the older ones have been considered younger baby boomers and the younger ones to be older Generation X-ers.

Up to now, Generation Jones has been a concept in the head of a ''popular culture expert,'' a lawyer with an undergraduate degree in sociology, a Californian when he's not living in Prague, somebody with an engaging spiel and a long blond ponytail. Yet, lately, his notion has started to make some ripples.

Jonathan Pontell contends the Jonesers are everybody who this year will be from 35 to 46 years old - one out of every four adults in the nation, he says - ''the largest generation in U.S. history, and anonymous.''

While a brand new (but aging) generation may be news to almost everyone, wherever Pontell presents this hypothesis, on his Internet site, on a constant round of TV and radio talk shows, people in that age bracket tend to respond, ''Yeah.''

Think it's nonsense? Check it out yourself, with anybody born from the start of 1954 through 1965. Ask if he or she really feels like a baby boomer. See if the younger ones identify with Generation X.

Chances are, they'll say they don't.

But Generation Jones? What's a Jones? Pontell says he settled on that name because it's s o common it's anonymous, like the people it attempts to define. It could have been Generation Smith or Generation Doe, except Jones is a slang term from the years of the youth of those born in that time frame. There were the songs ''Love Jones'' (1972), ''I Got a Jones on you, Baby'' (1977) and ''Jones Crusher'' (1979).

''Jonesin''' is a hip word that means a strong craving for something, or someone, a passionate yearning.

And that, says Pontell, is what makes this generation between the Boomers and the X-ers so distinct in their wants and their needs from everybody else.

''We were given huge expectations as children in the Sixties, which was arguably the height of post World War II confidence,'' says Pontell, himself 41 and in the mid-range of his Generation Jones.

''The sky-is-the-limit culture was more than a promise, it was a commitment. We were shown secure futures in which we would not only be financially prosperous but able to live our lives in self-fulfillment beyond money.''

He cites John F. Kennedy's ''New Frontier'' and Lyndon Johnson's ''Great Society'' and Martin Luther King's ''Promised Land,'' along with communal utopian dreams of the boomer- hippie counter culture, as messages that resonated with limitless possibilities.

Pontell points out that the so-called ''Flower Children'' of the Sixties were not really children. They were in their teens and twenties (and true baby boomers) What he calls Generation Jones were the actual children of the time - aged 3 to 14 years in the critical year of 1968.

''While they (older youth, the baby boomers) were out changing the world, we were the ones being formed by those changes. It's one of the big untold stories of the Sixties, being a child then. There were seductive messages, very scary messages. The same week in 1968 that Woodstock happened, the Charlie Manson murders happened. To a little kid, the Sixties were like a storm and you were torn between running for shelter and running out to play in it.''

But then, after the promises of the Sixties, came decades of disappointing realities. In their young adulthood, in the Eighties, the Jonesers found that those a few years ahead of them had claimed the better jobs, and they had to scramble while Boomers were becoming the Yuppies. Pontell admits that those he calls the Jones Generation are not all alike, differing according to ethnicity, geographic origins, class background and their own parents' places on the economic scale. Yet he can cite numerous surveys showing many of their attitudes are shared more with each other than with Boomers or X-ers.

In an Omni poll of 1,200 adults born in 1954 through 65, some 87 percent said they didn't feel like baby boomers or Generation Xers, but like a generation in between.

A poll conducted every year for the past three decades by UCLA, of 350,000 college freshmen nationwide, appears to show Jonesers are not as idealistic as Boomers nor as cynical as X-ers.

In 1966, the median year of boomers, 85 percent said developing a meaningful philosophy of life was essential or very important, but only 44 percent gave the same importance to being financially well off.

In 1990, the median year of Xers, that ratio was almost exactly reversed, with only 44 percent saying a meaningful philosophy was very important but 76 percent saying financial success was essential.

By contrast, in 1977, the median year of Jonesers, the freshman responses fall just about midway between the other two groups, and they give equal importance to each value, with 61 percent ranking philosophy and 60 percent ranking monetary success as very important.

This is why Pontell describes Generation Jones as ''practical idealists.''

''Where the Boomers naively tried to change the system and the Xers in a sense walked away from the system, my generation used the system to get what we wanted. It's like the boomers never realized they were playing the game, the Xers folded their cards, and my generation was wise to the game but said deal the cards anyway.''

If, indeed, there is a Generation Jones, and if it's really different, so what? What's th e effect culturally and politically?

It could be significant if demographers, and politicians, recognize it. Maybe this is the next bloc of voters to shape the nation's agenda in years ahead.

While idealistic Baby Boomers are concerned with issues like ''family values'' and whether to put the Ten Commandments on school walls, says Pontell, Jonesers are focused on practical solutions.

''They don't care so much about the Ten Commandments. Ask them what they see as a solution to school violence, and they'll cite flex time that gives them more time with their kids. Jonesers are very pressed for time during arguably the busiest era this country has ever had.''

Publication date: 01-08-00

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