In Between Dreams: How Youth Unemployment Catalyzed a Global Entrepreneurship Movement (To be published: Winter of 2013)
I’ve learned a tremendous amount through ordinary conversations with young people across the country and around the world: what they believe, what they want, what they struggle with on a day-to-day basis. I talked with students, professors, business executives, politicians – anyone who would lend me just fifteen minutes to hear what they thought was the state of the American youth. My conversations took me from high schools in rural small-town communities in Colorado to the White House to college campuses in South Korea and Japan. Regardless of where I went, I began to see trends emerging out of the mix.
This book is not an attempt to advance a political agenda nor is it an attempt to extol the virtues of the Millennial Generation. It is an attempt to tell the stories of the struggles, the beliefs, and the hopes of a generation that has been through some of most troubling economic times in modern history. It is an attempt to explain this paradox of culture among youth and begin the difficult but critical process of incorporating their voices into the public policy decisions. It is an attempt to forecast the hazy future and look in the crystal ball towards economic and political future by looking into the motivations and struggles of a generation that is about to step into leadership and visionary roles around the world.
Over the past couple of years, I have had the wonderful opportunity to meet with thousands of youth leaders, elected officials, Fortune 500 CEOs, and non-profit advocates doing work specifically for the youth. Regardless of party affiliation or organizational position, the most common response that I have gotten over the years after I introduce myself is “Oh, we love the youth!” That condescending response in itself single-handedly describes the problem with the paradigm of thinking with our nation’s leaders today. There is not a leader in the world today that is “against the youth”, but not much has been done to systematically address the most pressing problems for youth today.
At the writing of this book, youth unemployment in the United States, arguably the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth, is estimated to be at about 17% and youth underemployment is estimated to be at over 50%. Student loan debt in the United States is approaching one trillion dollars – more debt than all the credit card debt in this country. And this is just in the United States. Our peers in Spain, Japan, Greece, and countries around the world have much bleaker futures as a result of the economic conditions that continue to plague their countries.
If you stop and think about those challenges alone, essentially there is an entire generation of young people disheartened at their inability to find gainful employment, crushed with the debt of their own personal and national debt, and facing down one of the largest problems the human race has ever seen. This, in itself, is a more frightening symptom of our long-term economic future than any current economic indicator. The world’s largest challenges are growing more insurmountable as the current generation of leaders continues to figuratively kick the can down the road. Complacency is a deadly disease that is slowly killing the hope of America’s future.
The one trait that has allowed each new iteration of Americans to rise and relentlessly pursue opportunity is rapidly deteriorating. And while news shows, political speeches, and campaign stops repeat ad nauseum, “Youth are the future of America”, the idea of the current generation of American youth becoming the bulk of America’s workforce in the next twenty years should be a startling idea for those in the current generation.
The future generation’s ‘takeover’ will be unlike any other in the sense that there is mass uncertainty to the economic, moral, and/or political hegemony that the United States has enjoyed throughout its entire lifetime internally and benchmarked against not just hostile nations such as the Soviet Union but against other industrialized capitalist nations. And the culture of the rising generation represents a stark departure from anything the previous generation has seen.
This fundamental loss of opportunity is happening not just in the United States, but in countries and societies around the world as youth turn to violence and rioting in their desperation. Recent events in the Middle East and Europe show a telling story of what happens to societies when the next generation of youth lose their hope in the system and ultimately their own futures.
But there is hope. And my goal for this book is to try and tell the stories of a rising generation that is beating the odds and finding that their dreams are still attainable. It is the stories of millions of young people, gritting their teeth, and fighting the repetition of a lost generation during the Great Depression in a newly globalized community that provides rapidly expanding opportunity and adventure.