Millennials See Success

Salena Zito
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Posted: Nov 27, 2011 12:01 AM

Brandon Chu thinks everything will be OK.

The 20-year-old nutrition major at the University of Pittsburgh doesn't buy into the narrative that his generation is less likely to succeed, less likely to do better than their parents, or less likely to achieve the American Dream.

"Absolutely false," he said. "I understand that the economy is amplified for our generation but certainly not the cause for us to collapse or not be successful."

In fact, he said, his generation will be more successful "because we do not have the same reliance on government that previous generations have had."

Chu is part of the Millennial Generation, born between 1982 and 2003 and best known for its optimism and high-technology aptitude.

Each generation sees itself through the prism of how society views it -- but only after it has accomplished something. The members of the "Greatest Generation" didn't know they were great when they were just 18, going off to war, or coming home, attending college, getting married, buying homes and giving birth to the next generation -- the Baby Boomers who, in large part, gave birth to Millennials.

"People talk about the plight of the young people and that job opportunities are scarce for our generation," said Steve Prescott, 20. "What they don't understand is that our generation fully wants to find a solution to that problem, not sit back and do nothing about it or wait it out."

Prescott, an economics major at Pitt, agreed with Chu that while government is there to protect people, to maintain or improve infrastructure and to enforce laws, their generation will be less reliant on that government.

Earlier this month, a McClatchy-Marist Institute for Public Opinion poll showed that young people are more likely to support major cuts to Medicare and Social Security in order to reduce the deficit. So Chu's and Prescott's views line up with those of many of their peers.

The poll showed that 30 percent of adults younger than 30 favor such funding cuts, versus 20 percent of 30- to 59-year-olds and 10 percent of adults 60 or older.

That support runs counter to the notion that young people skew liberal and look to government to solve their problems.

Chu and Prescott were among 400 Pitt students attending Vice President Joe Biden's recent speech at the university on jobs and student loans. They grew up a block apart in Randolph, N.J., yet never met until they moved to Pittsburgh last year.

Both are Republicans, leaning toward the party's libertarian wing.

Chu said he attended Biden's speech “because I may never have the opportunity to see a sitting vice president again." He and Prescott said they respect the office, even though they strongly disagree with the Obama administration's policies.

Each generation strives to do better than the one before. It is a point of pride for parents and grandparents to watch their family's newest members reaching for the American Dream.

Is such progress uncertain for Millennials?

If you watch the unrest in some of the "Occupy" tent cities, you might think that is true and that the world has gone to hell in a handbasket -- attitudes that are a predictable byproduct of a presidential-election cycle.

Yet, if you go to Main Street and listen to what young people there say, you find them hopeful. Those young people know things may get tougher before getting better, but, in the end, they believe they can achieve as much, if not more, than their parents did.

"The high unemployment for young people is not an indicator that we will be worse off than our parents," said Prescott. "It's a hurdle -- it just makes us work harder."

Shirley Tang, 18, a civil engineering student standing near Prescott, chimed in: "Isn't working hard part of achieving the American Dream?"

None of these young people feels frozen in place by America's bleak economy; they see it as an opportunity to use some creativity to manage their successes -- maybe even to create some jobs when they graduate.

Standing in the back of an old Masonic hall, waiting for a speech on the country's future, two young men proved they don't need a speech to inspire them. They've got it all figured out already.