Changing of the Guard – The Millennials Have Arrived
This month marks the 50th anniversary of world-changing march on Washington. On August 28, 1963, 250,000 brave people gathered on the National Mall to demand greater equality, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. With this and other important activities, the civil rights generation dramatically wrote their names in the American history books as a cohort that demanded change, and piece by piece, achieved it. The effort continues today.
This kind of generational disruption is something we see happening again today, albeit with a different set of goals and virtues. The Millennial generation (the 95 million Americans born between 1982 and 2003) is poised to change the rules on everything, from business to civic duty. This is a generation to watch; big things are coming. As they become an ever-greater part of the broader U.S. economy and workforce, they will completely upend many of the established businesses, methods, and processes that have defined the U.S. public and private sectors for decades.
Ron Fournier’s recent article in The Atlantic looks at how the Millennial generation, while active in public service, is reticent to choose government as a career path. The article cites a Harvard IOP study that found nearly half of the Millennial generation thinks politics are insufficient to fix the country’s challenges. While Fournier concludes that America will soon have a shortage of “best and brightest” to fill the shoes of the retiring Baby Boomer generation, what seems more likely is that, in time, the Millennial generation will take their unique perspective on the world and join the national effort to govern the United States. When they do, they will bring with them the innovative and tech-savvy nature that is already shaking up the U.S. economy.
Fournier cites California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom’s book, Citizensville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government, writing: “We need to acknowledge that for a whole generation of Americans under the age 30, their reality is not like the reality the over-30s grew up with.”
One reason the Millennial generation experiences a different reality is that they came of age at a time when groundbreaking technology was rapidly reshaping how the world works, does business and lives. The Internet is both the catalyst and the medium for how the Millennials take part in the world. It is not simply that Millennials are adept technology users and adapters; it is that the online connected world is an integral part of how this generation communicates and expresses themselves. From their first sentence to their final words, they exist in a digital age. This is inherently new.
Yet, it is not just technology that has shaped the cohort’s character. Millennials experienced the 9/11 attacks, they saw the United States go to war in two countries, and they endured the worst economic downturn in more than 70 years. They saw business scandals, an unstable, downsized workplace, and a shrinking job market. What is more, the recent recession took a harder toll on the Millennials than other generations. Securing jobs and a livable income has been particularly difficult.
A Pew Research Center study found that more than a third of Millennials (about 21.6 million people) are living at home with their parents. That is the highest percentage in four decades, with 3 million more people living at home than in 2007 at the start of recession. Yet, just because millions of Millennials cannot afford their own place does not mean they’re being unproductive, or pessimistic. In fact, the Millennial generation is one of the most optimistic and innovative, and their high unemployment rate (nearly twice that of the national average) is driving many to embrace entrepreneurship.
More than a quarter of Millennials are self-employed, and as many as 66 percent are interested in entrepreneurship, according to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation report, “The Millennial Generation: Research Review.” The report also found that in 2011, more than 25 percent of all entrepreneurs were between 20 and 34 years old, with Millennials launching around 160,000 startups every month. While so many new businesses can create much-needed employment opportunities (since small businesses account for 64 percent of new private sector jobs), it is the way Millennials are starting their companies that gives insight into how they will impact the country in the decades to come. Indeed, the Millennial entrepreneurial mindset could support the U.S. economic recovery, contributing to growing trends in business startups.
Take the so-called App Economy as an example, which was in many ways the brainchild of the Millennial generation. With mobile devices becoming increasingly ubiquitous (not just among young Americans), the development of tens of thousands of applications was one of the few job creators during the recession. Since 2007, the App Economy has created nearly 600,000 jobs. All these applications better connect the Millennials to their peers while also growing businesses and impacting the larger economy. The App Economy holds numerous examples of just how differently this generation approaches innovation and entrepreneurship – in the way they raise capital and collaborate, the way they have employed crowdsourcing to raise startup capital and refined the use of open source code to solve problems.
As former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele told The Atlantic: “[The Millennials] have been told all their lives to wait in line, but they’re of a mind to say, ‘OK, while I’m waiting in line I’ll blow your stuff up.”
Steele of course meant this in the metaphorical sense, but the way Millennials look at problems and address them will indeed devastate “business as usual,” only to replace it with new ways of operating in the 21st century, changing the way the world engages politics, business and advocacy.