It’s a crappy time to be a young American. The idea that a college education leads to a good job and a nice house in the suburbs with the proverbial pooch and white picket fence is being turned on its head in an economy that punishes those big on ideas but short on work experience and practical skills. According to the Labor Department, only 45% of Americans under age 25 are currently employed. Unlike Europe, where similar statistics have prompted indignant youth to take to the streets, our movement is quieter. We’ve meekly moved back into our parents’ homes, taken up part-time jobs at Starbucks and, instead of staging protests, are using our free time to stage interventions in our local communities.
The dearth of employment in the formal work force has provided an opportunity for recent graduates to volunteer and even take the risk of trying to create our own jobs. A recent article in the New York Times showed that more than a third of college graduates aspire to own their own businesses. While the article described these young adults as “drifting dreamers” with “high ambitions, but no clear life plan for reaching them,” I strongly disagree.
As a recent graduate who is joining over 400 ambitious other young people around the country in an effort to employ ourselves in creating local social and environmental change, I can attest to our high ideals but also to our ability to give life to these enterprises. Summer of Solutions is a is a 2-month, youth-run program that trains participants how to develop the green economy by creating hands-on, community-based solutions to environmental and social injustices. Throughout the summer, we’ll learn not just valuable leadership skills that will be useful no matter what we choose to do after the summer ends, but also how to make grassroots community change that integrates climate and energy solutions, economic security, and social justice.
While I’ve had a lot of trouble explaining my “social entrepreneurial summer” to older generations of Americans–my parents still don’t understand what I’m up to–younger generations and friends from abroad immediately get it. Despite our national identity centered on the so-called American Dream, research has shown that America has the smallest self-employment rate in the world. Now that the options for employment are limited, entrepreneurship, and particularly social entrepreneurship might just be the key to avoiding long-term unemployment and the stagnation of college skills while helping our communities.