What Millennial Entrepreneurs Need to Hear in the First Presidential Debate
As Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump prepare to discuss “America’s Direction, Achieving Prosperity, and Securing America” in the first Presidential Debate of 2016, Millennial entrepreneurship is key to all three topics.
Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump are old. In fact, barring an historic resurgence by Jill Stein or Gary Johnson — worthy of a feature film, the 45th President of the United States will be either the oldest or second oldest person to take office in history.
This fact, places the 2016 candidates far away from me and 69.2 million other eligible Millennial voters; tied with Baby Boomers for the largest in the nation. Clinton and Trump’s disconnect from Millennials goes beyond age. Neither candidate has been particularly good at connecting with Millennial voters.
Clinton has struggled to convert young voters who, overwhelmingly, supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Primary. Donald Trump’s bigoted statements put him out of touch with Millennial values. His son, Eric’s comparison of Trump to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg demonstrates how far the Trump campaign is from understanding Millennial voters.
32-year-old Eric Trump, a Millennial himself, did get something right; entrepreneurship is at the core of everything Millennial.
Two-thirds of Millennials say “starting a business is an important career goal,” and 72 percent view entrepreneurship as essential for new innovation and jobs. Millennials also have more access to formal entrepreneurship education. Entrepreneurship courses on college campuses have increased by a factor of 20 since the mid-80s.
Despite this, the rate of entrepreneurship for Americans aged 20–34 fell from 34% in 1996 to 23% in 2013. To date, Millennials have been less entrepreneurial than Baby Boomers and GenX at a similar age.
The decrease follows a general downturn in entrepreneurship in America. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that in the late 1970s, at least 15 percent of American businesses were startups; meaning they were founded in the past year. Despite the popularity of shows like Shark Tank and Silicon Valley, the latest data shows that in recent years, this figure has fallen to 8 percent.
Last year, I moderated the Millennial Week Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum and sought to answer the question. Millennials came of age during the “Great Recession.” Unemployment for young people has remained high and wages have not increased. The number of student borrowers increased 89 percent between 2004 and 2014, and the average debt held by student borrowers grew by 77 percent.
This has made Millennials more cautious and — in many cases — financially unable to start a business. This is bad. Bad for Millennials and bad for the U.S. economy.
How can Clinton and Trump engage Millennials and support the U.S. economy? Let’s take a look at what each candidate has said about entrepreneurship to date.
“This is what I want to do for our country — I want to jumpstart America.”
“You cannot ever start a small business under the regulatory burden you have today.” — Donald Trump
Trump is no Mark Zuckerberg, but he is a businessman. His experience should give him a unique opportunity to speak to entrepreneurs. While he has discussed small business, his campaign style limits the depth of his current economic policy proposals.
Trump’s plan includes:
- Limiting taxes paid by businesses to 15%
- A temporary pause on new regulation
- Ending the “death tax”
“As President, I will also make a major push to empower small businesses and entrepreneurs, with new national initiatives to cut red tape at every level and expand access to credit.”
“Let’s free entrepreneurs to do what they do best — innovate, grow, and hire.” — Hilary Clinton
Hilary Clinton has no real experience as an entrepreneur. However, she has been very aggressive about presenting policy proposals to support entrepreneurs and innovation.
Clinton’s plan includes:
- Addressing access to capital concerns
- Streamlining the process of starting a business
- Expanding the health care tax credit for small employers with up to 50 employees
- Providing student debt relief for young entrepreneurs
What Millennial entrepreneurs need to hear from Trump
- An apology for bigoted statements about immigrants, mistakes made by Trump University, and for not paying small business vendors.
- Recognition of the impact student debt has had on Millennial entrepreneurs.
- Specific ways in which he will make the regulatory environment better for entrepreneurs.
- More detail.
What Millennial entrepreneurs need to hear from Clinton
- How she will use her Wall Street contacts to impact the access to capital issue; especially for women and diverse entrepreneurs.
- How she will balance a planned tax increase with empowering Millennials to start businesses; given that Millennial wages remain low.
- An acknowledgement of the importance of Millennial entrepreneurs.
- More detail.
Economic dynamism, the dynamic movement of the economy as new businesses enter and older businesses exit the economy is necessary for a healthy economy. Otherwise, resources are held in older, larger businesses, decreasing the flow of capital and increasing inequality.
Millennial entrepreneurs are key to ensuring the U.S. economy remains dynamic, Trump and Clinton must understand this. They should be speaking to Millennial entrepreneurs as debate season begins.