The Millennial generation represents the largest and most digitally connected generation ever, but it’s also staring at a long list of challenges to get ahead economically. We asked a gathering of sub-40-year-old representatives from a range of public policy groups to give us a rundown of those problems and where the opportunities are for fixing them.
Rex Richardson, the youngest person elected to the Long Beach City Council, noted at this year’s State Millennial Economic Summit that younger demographics are worried about how to pay for housing and education, finding a good-paying job, and saving for the future, but they are optimistic about the future.
“Millennials have one of the worst economic outlooks of my generation…We’re likely to change jobs 14 times in our careers,” said Richardson. “However we have some of the best outlook on where we’re going to go.”
Several simply said many of those in the 18-34 demographic feel there’s less opportunity right now.
“For the first time in American history, the millennial generation won’t do as well as their parents and that needs to stop with us,” Kurston Cook of Generation Progress, which co-hosted the event.
Some of the ways to combate the slowdown cited were helping Millennials start and grow businesses by assisting with access to capital and the basics of running a business.
“The optimism that millennials share is a common characteristic of entrepreneurs,” said Richardson. “Not surprisingly 54 percent want to or have already opened a small business.
Most, however, are waiting on the economy to improve before they invest, there’s a lot of uncertainty there.”
Participants repeatedly said access to education should be an economic priority. The research discussed during the event showed how a big majority of surveyed millennials believed education is an effective tool for improving the economy, not just through traditional college education but also job training programs, apprenticeships, and internships.
But the big-ticket item that has risen in cost the most is college education. A plan being discussed by the UC Board of Regents could raise tuition at those schools by as much as 5 percent.
And, to make the storm perfect, the U.S is creating fewer middle-wage jobs than ever, added Professor Michael Stoll of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Policy. That makes post-secondary education an absolute necessity.
“College degrees are almost required in order to have a decent standard of living,” said Stoll. “But access to colleges is increasingly difficult for a whole variety of reasons, most importantly because of cost. Then the debt burden that is required to pay back that loan is quite heavy too. So it’s a consequence on future economic rewards as well.”
Several attendees argued that the debt puts a drag on the economy though its longevity and ability to delay other purchases.
“It prevents you from doing things like buying a house, making major life decisions, maybe getting married and having kids,” said Angela Elizabeth Perry, a Legal Bridge Fellow for Young Invincibles. “If we were able to find a solution to the kind of crippling debt that our generation is saddled with, I think it would have huge economic implications.”
To top it off, Millennials face a costly housing market, especially in the large urban regions, with rent and home prices skyrocketing in the Bay Area and many residents doubling up in Los Angeles to pay for rent.