The Upside of a Down Economy

How Millennials are turning their generation's job crisis into an opportunity

When my husband, Steven, and I got married, he was a milkman.

As a liberal arts graduate fresh from Colorado State University, it had only taken a few months in the proverbial “real world” for him to realize no one was looking to hire an amateur literary critic at the height of one of the worst recessions our nation has seen. It didn’t matter how many classics he had read—or how many hours he scoured Craigslist. And so, he drove a dairy delivery truck.

Then he discovered woodworking. Within a year, we opened a custom furniture business with Steven’s best friend. The venture ended nine months later—but not before Steven discovered he had the potential to be his own boss, that he works longest and hardest when no one is keeping time and that sometimes, when the right job doesn’t exist, maybe it just hasn’t been created yet.

The Entrepreneurial Renaissance

Steven’s entrepreneurial spirit is no exception in our generation. According to a recent study by Forbes, 30 percent of Millennials have started a business while in college, and 92 percent see entrepreneurial education as “vital” to the economy.

Simon Johnson, a professor of entrepreneurship at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, says this kind of “entrepreneurial renaissance” is common in the midst of an economic downturn. Limited career options, he says, inspire Millennials to use whatever resources they have to create their own job opportunities.

In other words, more young people today are going to work for themselves simply because they are the only ones hiring.

“Many have realized the job market is not coming back and you must innovate your way into the workforce,” says Scott Gerber, founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council. “The starting salary out of college is now only $20,000 to $30,000, often without health benefits. So more and more of them have nothing to lose.”

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And with today’s widespread resources and their own web savvy, the price for innovation is just right.

“Five thousand [dollars] is the new $50,000,” says Banks Benitez, vice president of partnerships for the Unreasonable Institute, a business incubator in Boulder, Colo. “The barriers to entrepreneurism are decreasing as technology catches up.”

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