Generalizations about twenty-somethings cut both ways: in some reports, Millennials are the least socially-engaged generation ever; in others, they are becoming involved in political action in ways their predecessors never did. I prefer the generalizations with the more positive spin, like the one that appeared last weekend in a New York Times article by Hannah Seligson about a group called Young Invincibles. (You gotta love the pomp and grandiosity of a name like that.)
Sam and I made use of some of the work Young Invincibles did in our research for Twentysomething, so I already had fond feelings about them. Six months ago, they paired up with another nonprofit, Demos, to poll 872 young people divided into two age groups, 18-24 and 25-34. Among the troubling findings of that earlier report from November 2011:
- Only 53 percent of workers aged 25 to 34 earned more in 2011 than they did four years earlier.
- Only 47 percent of workers aged 25 to 34 earned more than $30,000 a year.
- Rent for 18- to 24-year olds took a much bigger bite of pre-tax income in 2009 (32.1 percent) than it had for their parents in 1980 (23.7 percent).
- The same was true for 25- to 34-year-olds: the proportion whose rent was more than 30 percent of their pre-tax income was much higher in 2009 (41.3 percent) than it had been when their parents were young in 1980 (28 percent).
- The recession hit younger people harder than others: compared to pre-recession unemployment rates, unemployment rates in 2010 were 4.4 percent higher for workers over 35, 5.4 percent higher for workers 25 to 34, and 7.7 percent higher for workers under 24.
- A significant proportion of the young people polled –54 percent of those who had some college, 33 percent with four-year college degrees, 29 percent with graduate degrees — said they were not working in their chosen profession.
- Money woes had caused 46 percent of the survey respondents to delay purchasing a home, 30 percent to delay starting a family, and 25 percent to delay getting married.
Now, according to the Times, Young Invincibles founder Aaron Smith has started an offshoot called the Campaign for Young America that’s about to embark on a 21-city bus tour. The group plans to host a series of roundtable discussions in which Occupy Wall Street protesters, community leaders, and entrepreneurs get together to discuss solutions to the unemployment crisis for young people. “One thing we are really focused on is trying to better connect colleges and universities to local employers,” Smith told the Times.
How wonderful it would be if the economic malaise of the 2010s is what forces young people into political action, the way the draft forced young people into action in the 1960s. We’ve already seens signs of it with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Maybe groups like Campaign for Young America and the other small efforts outlined in the Times article, like #FixYoungAmerica, are signs that Millennials are on their way to becoming, in a manner of speaking, invincible.