How to build #empathy among #millennials for a thriving #economy

Photo: Pixabay/geralt

We’ve been hearing a lot about the economy in recent years. The 2012 Presidential election season has brought this term to the forefront of discussion. Economic rhetoric from candidates focuses heavily on topics like job growth, the recession, inflation, immigration, global trade, and taxes. Why do these topics matter? How do they impact our economy? An even deeper question I would like to pose is how these issues will impact the lives of generation Y? Better yet, do they even care?

The decisions we make moving forward, the policies and laws that will be passed and the trade agreements that will be signed with our neighboring countries will greatly affect the lives of our children and grandchildren.

My early economic impressions
I am a product of generation X. The first time I became aware of the economy was when I overheard some adults arguing over Reaganomics at a comic book store. I was not even a teenager yet and I began to worry about the reduction of government spending, income taxes, capital gains, government regulation and inflation. I knew very little of what was going on, but I knew my parents were scared of losing their jobs and my teachers were afraid of being laid off of work. My parents were eventually laid off and I remember waiting in long lines at the welfare office to receive public assistance. Seeing hundreds of families like mine in need and hearing their personal stories had a profound effect on me as a child. I learned how the decisions of a few people could impact the lives of millions. But, I was still unsure what I could do to engage in the discussion and what actions I could take as a child who immigrated to this country as a refugee from Cambodia.

In my early teens, everyone was talking about Desert Storm and the state of the U.S. economy. The insecurity or urgency that I remembered from my youth was still there, but the conversation focused more on the war and outsourcing of jobs overseas. There was a large campaign to “Buy American” goods which included the bashing of Japanese cars with sledgehammers on television. This image and hate speech had a profound effect on me and added a new dynamic to my understanding of the economy.

In 2010, as an adult with my own family and a rewarding career in academia, I started hearing that ugly word “recession” again. The economic downturn was in full swing and many economists compared the current crisis to the great depression. We heard a lot about unemployment benefits claims going up and consumer confidence going down. There were a variety of contributing factors that led to the recession which included problems in the banking sector, automotive and construction industry — which directly impacted foreclosures rates — loan defaults, bankruptcies, company mergers, and acquisitions. Government solutions included buzz words like bailouts and stimulus. But there was also a new factor at play in this recession. I started to hear conversations about generation Y (millennials). Many adults in academia, politics, and corporate America claimed that millennials were disconnected from what was going on around the world. I read articles and attended conferences where people claimed that this generation did not care about the state of the economy. I found this dialogue particularly interesting because of my own experience as a youth during the recession. So I did what educators normally do when a debate comes to light, I started to investigate if this assumption about generation Y was true.

The connected generation
I was a professor at a state university full of students with different economic backgrounds and upbringing. I started to discuss topics relating to recent events that were associated with the U.S. economy in my lectures. I developed group projects to allow students an opportunity to present and debate the state of our economy. To my surprise, they were not disconnected at all. In fact, they were quite engaged on the subject.

The major difference between my experience as a young person and theirs is how we consume information.

Millennials are not a detached generation, but rather a new age of connected young people who communicate through social media, smartphones, and the internet.

They are not desensitized, but over stimulated by information that they are bombarded with on a daily basis. Millennials learn about current events through Twitter, Facebook and SMS messages from friends rather than hearing about it on the television or newspaper. They are not limited in how they source their information or by the time zone in which it is aired on their local news.

When I spoke to this generation of college students about their thoughts on the U.S. economy they expressed the same worries I had when I was their age. A defining characteristic about millennials are how they are handling their concerns, frustrations and anger. They are occupying Wall-Street, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington DC, Oakland, Chicago and other cities. This generation held mass protests against the bank bailouts, BP oil spill and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They organized large rallies for Trayvon Martin and the shootings that took place in Aurora Colorado. This generation is credited with the election of President Obama. They have heavily influenced the Tea Party movement, the Young Republican Party and are predicted to play a critical role in the 2016 election season.

Photo: Wikimedia

Being a changemaker
As an entrepreneurship professor and business mentor I can tell you that millennials are not just worried about the economy, they are being proactive by starting and operating their own businesses. I am inspired by the motivation and drive this generation has displayed when developing new opportunities for themselves and their peers. I have had the pleasure of supporting young entrepreneurs throughout our country and have witnessed a new economic shift taking place. They are a part of a movement to solve real problems by way of technology and cooperation. They are dealing with local problems through social entrepreneurship and education, energizing local economies by buying and supporting local businesses, engaging in the political conversation by way of social media and voting. They are making their voices heard loud and clear. Let’s listen to them and offer our support.

Bio: Dr. Emad Rahim currently serves as the Kotouc Endowed Chair at Bellevue University and Fulbright Scholar with the Council for International Exchange of Scholars. His story was adapted into a theater production titled ‘Tales from the Salt City,’ which is an extension of the acclaimed Undesirable Elements series written by celebrated playwright and Presidential National Medals of Arts Award recipient, Ping Chong. He authored From The Killing Fields to The Boardroom: The SALT Effect and co-authored the book The Inclusive Leader: An Applied Approach to Diversity, Change, and Management.