In the Face of a Tough Economy, Millennials Give Us Hope with Enterprising Spirit

Unemployment … stimulus … "fiscal cliff" … the language of jobs and the economy are familiar to all Americans, as is the sense of unease and uncertainty they evoke. For the Millennial generation, those born between 1980 and 1999, terms like these have been part of the conversation since my cohort and I have joined the workforce. 

Millennials were just starting their careers as the economy came tumbling down in the late 2000s. As a result, many are still looking for a foothold—to say nothing of getting back on their feet. 

Unemployment of younger adults remains high to this day. According to Generational Opportunity, 11.5 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds were unemployed in December, not including the 1.7 million who have stopped looking for work entirely. Naturally, workers in this age range are concerned about the future. Nine in ten report that their lives have been affected by the recession. As reported in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Millennial Generation Research Review, about half expect their futures to be bleaker than their parents. 

With this in mind, it was inspiring to read in the U.S. Chamber's research that Millennials are nevertheless highly enterprising. Despite their tumultuous entry into adulthood, 41 percent of Millennials are content with the way things are going in the United States. This satisfaction is because they aren't waiting for a solution; Millennials are actualizing the lives they want by creating the jobs they need. 

Many factors have contributed to this generation's proclivity towards "being their own boss". Raised by Boomers, they've seen their parents give years of hard work to their employers only to see it not "pay off" as expected. They have seen banks buckle, the housing market crumble, and student loan debts pile up as degrees gather dust. As far as Millennials are concerned, all bets are off. To them the old system is broken and they are ready to try it their way. And the numbers bear this out: in 2011, Millennials launched nearly 160,000 startups every month

A recent study by the Kauffman Foundation reports that 54 percent of Millennials either want to start their own company or already have. But the road to business ownership is not without speed bumps. Thirty-eight percent of 18-to-34-year-olds say they have put off starting a business for differing reasons. Many young people lack the capital needed to start a business, especially those who are paying off their portion of the nation's trillion-dollar student loan debt

Finding ways to help these young entrepreneurs will be key to accelerating the economy's sluggish return to normalcy. Agreeing with this sentiment are the 65 percent of Millennials who think Congress should help find ways to make it easier to start a business.

Helping Millennials become business owners would be transformative for our nation and its economy. While not every startup will turn into the next Tumblr or Dropbox, that is just fine with today's business savvy youth. As the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s report on Millennials points out, happiness is the biggest driver for today's young adults, not wealth. 

After years of setbacks, Millennials have set their sights not on fame and fortune, but on stability and security. As members of this generation are given a chance to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams, we will see an increase in companies that offer the kind of employment that meets Millennials' needs. 

Young adults favor casual workplaces, opportunities for growth and a sense of personal investment in the work they do, and 75 percent of them place a high importance on balancing work with life. Small businesses, whose employees tend to be the most happy and engaged with their work compared to larger companies, are a perfect fit for Millennials looking to meet these expectations. And it seems like Millennials agree: 47 percent of those employed are already working for small businesses. 

Furthermore, small and medium-sized businesses are important to the overall health of the U.S. economy. These businesses support local suppliers and organizations and add stability to their communities. Even though smaller companies have struggled in recent years, small businesses are responsible for 20 percent of total job creation

I am proud to be doing my part as a two-time entrepreneur and I am in constant amazement at how early my generation is thinking about starting and building companies (Daniel Brusilovsky’s Teens in Tech is a fantastic example of what I am talking about here). The US economy is lucky to have the enterprising spirit of our generation: our intention and our output together present the solution the economy needs to recover, grow and flourish.