The Millennial Movement
A generation now larger than the boomers will reshape America — economically and politically.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
Millennials are pejoratively referred to in the popular press as the “Me Generation,” described as being self-absorbed, irresponsible and lacking a work ethic. The statistics tell a radically different story. Millennials face unprecedented economic challenges. For possibly the first time in history, more Americans believe that their children will be worse off than their parents. The price of education has outpaced inflation for decades. According to Bloomberg, the cost of a college degree has risen 1,120 percent from 1978 to 2012.
The troubles extend into the workplace. Numbers from the Millennials Civic Health Index in 2013 indicate that only about 63 percent of millennials are working, and nearly one-third of them are working part time. In 2015, CNBC reported that, of all unemployed Americans, 40 percent were millennials. Both the sluggish pace of economic recovery and increased labor competition from globalization are partially to blame.
For many Americans, including millennials, income growth has been stagnant or negative. An analysis in Slate reveals that median wages for people between 25 and 34 were nearly $35,000 in the year 2000. In 2013, the same age demographic was earning just over $30,000 a year.
The Associated Press reports that because increases in housing prices are outpacing rises in salaries, many millennials must delay home ownership. In San Francisco, for instance, it will take more than 20 years for millennials to afford just the down payment on a home. In Denver, it is more than 11 years. Here in Seattle, it is more than 8 years. Unsurprisingly, rates of home ownership, a bedrock of the American dream, keep falling for people under the age of 35.
And, of course, wealth inequality continues. The top 10 percent of households owns 76 percent of American wealth.
Worse, government policies favor older generations. The Pew Research Center projects that by 2033, Social Security will begin paying only 77 percent of promised benefits. In order to retire and maintain the same living standards, millennials may need to save an unrealistic 70 percent of their income.
Such economic hardship is at least partially responsible for broader cultural changes. Millennials are delaying both marriage and children. Maybe this is why 43 percent favor two-year “trial marriages” before truly settling down.
The only way to address these issues is for millennials to be adaptive and innovative. Luckily, that’s exactly what we are.
The age at which a person starts his or her first business has fallen from 35 for boomers to 27 for millennials. Additionally, millennials have started an average of eight businesses, compared to four for boomers. And about 80 percent of young entrepreneurs want to pass on their businesses to their children, even though most of them don’t have children. It is perhaps not a stretch to conclude that millennials are the most entrepreneurial generation in American history.
But entrepreneurialism isn’t the only solution. We must be civically engaged, as well.
First, we need to flex our demographic muscle. Numbering 75.4 million, we are the largest voting bloc in America. We must not allow disappointment with recent events to prevent us from having our voices heard. Go vote, especially in local elections.
Second, we must ensure that future generations continue our entrepreneurial spirit. Millennials should mentor students and other young people. If you own a business, hire an intern.
And third, millennials should continue to spend their limited dollars to influence corporate social responsibility and environmental sustainability. The future depends on it.
Our parents taught us resilience, hard work and problem solving. Now, we will return the favor by working hand in hand with our parents, the boomers, the traditionalists and the young Generation Z (iGen) to right our nation’s ship together.
Brayden Olson is the CEO of Recurrence, an education technology startup in Bellevue. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.