Three millennials faced a row of Generation X-ers and baby boomers Wednesday on Capitol Hill, and though the ages in the congressional hearing room ranged wide, the understanding was mutual: Americans born in the 1980s and 1990s are now facing economic challenges dramatically different from those of their parents and grandparents.
“I share the concerns of this committee and many of my House and Senate colleagues,” 30-year-old Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., said during a hearing of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress. “When the most educated generation in our nation’s history cannot start businesses, purchase homes or save for retirement because they are held back by decades of loan payments, we must make it a priority to discuss innovative ways to address this issue.”
Stefanik was joined on the witness panel by a non-profit director and research fellow, all of whom are and work with millennials. They stressed to lawmakers how their generation is the largest in the nation’s workforce, but still struggles to pay off student loans, find affordable housing and start families.
“Millennials have been called the most entrepreneurial generation,” said Jared Meyer, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. Yet, “few young Americans have followed through on their entrepreneurial dreams.”
One in four millennials wants to start his or her own business, according to a Bentley University survey. “Yet, as of 2013, only 3.6 percent of private businesses were at least partially owned by someone under the age of 30,” Meyer said.
While monetary restrictions and limitations are apparent, the witnesses said their generation remains optimistic and driven. Committee chairman Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., said he found this idea to be “a bit surprising” because millennials are working less skilled jobs with more debt.
Where does that optimism come from? Why isn’t there more outrage … about being robbed of the opportunity to achieve the American dream?
Rep. Dan Coats, R-Ind.
“Where does that optimism come from?” Coats asked. “Why isn’t there more outrage … about being robbed of the opportunity to achieve the American dream? Robbed, frankly, by the older generation that I’m a part of?”
“You can be frustrated simultaneous to being optimistic of the future of this country,” Stefanik said. “Millennials volunteer in historic numbers, but they feel very politically disengaged. We need to actively reach out to millennials to make them a part of the conversation when we’re making public policy.”
Lawmakers can make a difference to assist these optimistic young Americans, said Jen Mishory, executive director of Young Invincibles, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., that promotes economic education and resources for young adults.
“Congress should do its part by incentivizing institutions, organizations, private companies, and communities to join together and think creatively about specific tactics that meet youth where they are and work for them,” she said.