RALEIGH — I hope the teenagers who gathered at N.C. Central University were attentive, not just excited, when former Def Jam Records president Kevin Liles stepped to the stage to give the keynote address at the Summer Youth Business and Entrepreneurship Academy.
According to the Herald-Sun of Durham, the young, successful entrepreneur told the teens to make their own way in life and to avoid getting caught up in things like reality TV and the multimillion-dollar contracts of sports stars. “You’re watching someone else’s movie,” Liles reportedly told the students. “Make your own.”
Hallelujah. In a time when many Americans seek a government-dominated society, the power of the individual, and the opportunity that comes by embracing that power, is being lost. Liles reportedly also told the kids there are three kinds of people — people who make things happen, people who watch things happen, and people to whom things happen.
True, but I wish Liles had spoken about a fourth group that is growing in power by resetting the narrative for culture and politics. This group’s goal is to tear down the very people Liles encouraged the teenagers to become: the successful and the productive.
Today, those who embrace the individual rather than the collective are demonized for their ingenuity and talents. For reaping the rewards of their labor without apology, they are cast as not paying their "fair share” and derided as having trampled on the backs of others. Those who also hold traditional social views are ridiculed and dubbed haters. And if they hold public office or a public profile, they are subjected to protests, boycotts, even vandalism.
Those who spew venom toward successful individuals are now mainstream. That’s why I worry about the next generation’s creative and entrepreneurial stars. Others worry as well. According to a Rasmussen survey, only 14 percent of Americans expect today’s kids to be better off than their parents. Another 21 percent aren’t sure what the future holds for kids.
Those who are a few years older don’t have time to worry about the future. The Millennials are consumed with trying to survive the present. Their No. 1 problem is a miserable job market. Visit your local restaurant, and you’re likely to find a server who’s a recent college graduate or a laid-off 20-something. Strike one came when they entered the work force as the recession took hold. Strike two arrived when unwise economic policies, coupled with unprecedented government regulation, further strangled the job creators. Add in crony capitalism that showers some industries with government largesse and penalizes others with genuine potential, and the 20-somethings have been called out at the plate.
It’s no wonder a Clark University study of Millennials revealed that one-third often feel depressed and two-thirds say they their life is full of uncertainty. I’d feel the same in their shoes. According to Generation Opportunity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, the July nonseasonally adjusted unemployment rate for 18- to 29-year-olds was 12.7 percent. African-American Millennials suffered an even worse fate: a staggering unemployment rate of 22.3 percent. The rate for Hispanics was 14 percent and the rate for women, 12.6 percent.
No such worries for Baby Boomers. A USA Today/UnitedHealthcare/National Council on Aging survey of those over 60 shows them sitting pretty. Normal or better than normal is how two-thirds of 60-plus respondents described the past year. Six out of 10 say it’s easy to cover monthly expenses, and 75 percent believe their lives will stay the same or get better over the next decade.
The Brookings Institution’s William Frey summed up the generational divide this way to USA Today: “People in retirement have dodged a bullet. They’ve gotten to the promised land in time to avoid all the bad stuff.”
True. And unless entrepreneurs start encouraging young people to embrace individualism and reject those who deride achievement and success, the “bad stuff” will soon hit the fan. For while the Boomers enjoy their entitlement-fueled retirement lifestyle, the Millennials will be stuck paying for it.
Donna Martinez (@freemktmartinez) co-hosts Carolina Journal Radio and blogs at Right Angles.