Millennials Balance Hopeful Aspirations and Harsh Economic Realities

Washington, D.C. – EY and the Economic Innovation Group (EIG) today released a new national survey of Millennials gauging their views on a variety of issues related to the economy, education, American institutions, and the challenges they continue to face almost seven years into the recovery from the Great Recession. The results reveal a generation convinced the economy is failing them, a generation that is willing to work hard to better their lot, and a generation experiencing a great deal of anxiety about the future. Many Millennials entered the workforce in the midst of a deep economic crisis and today find themselves racked by student debt and lacking confidence in most American institutions.

You can view the complete findings here:

“This is a generation that values hard work, and they are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to get ahead in life. They will move away from home, they will commute long distances to get the right job,” added Kate Barton, EY Americas vice chair of tax services. “Many of them hope for an opportunity to climb the corporate ladder. And while they truly respect entrepreneurship, they worry that they will not be able to overcome the significant financial and regulatory hurdles associated with starting a business.”

“Millennials are the future of the U.S. economy, and this survey helps answer the question of how businesses and policymakers can help this generation thrive,” said Cathy Koch, EY Americas tax policy leader. “Millennials will soon be leading our economy, and their perspectives suggest certain policies and approaches that today’s leaders can embrace to address their unique needs.”

“The Millennial mindset was dramatically impacted by the harsh economic realities of the Great Recession, which has made them remarkably politically independent, economically pessimistic, and skeptical of traditional institutions,” said EIG cofounder and executive director Steve Glickman. “What the establishment doesn’t understand is that in their minds, Millennials did all of the right things – they worked hard, got their education — but they incurred huge amounts of debt and the job market they inherited hasn’t rewarded any of these sacrifices. Now they are deeply concerned about their future.”

Highlights from the study include:

Millennials value education and hard work, and they’re willing to make sacrifices to get ahead, but coming of age during a historic economic downturn has severely impacted their lives.

  • Eighty-eight percent of Millennials recognize that hard work is an important factor to get ahead in life, but 78 percent are worried about having good-paying job opportunities.
  • Sixty-four percent would move to a different part of the country for a better job or access to better opportunities, and 63 percent would add an hour to their commute for a better job.

Millennials will be the most educated generation in U.S. history, but they are not convinced that higher education will provide them the same leg-up on the path to prosperity that it guaranteed earlier generations.

  • Two-thirds of Millennials believe that having a great education is important to getting ahead in life, but less than half (49 percent) believe that, personally, the benefits of a college education will be worth the cost.
  • To obtain their educations, Millennials have taken on significant financial risk. Fifty-two percent of have or will have taken on student loan debt, and 43 percent believe that student debt has limited career options.

Millennials admire entrepreneurs and would consider starting a business—if they had the financial means.

  • Millennials overwhelmingly (78 percent) consider entrepreneurs successful, and 62 percent of Millennials have considered starting their own business.
  • The biggest obstacle keeping Millennials from starting their own business is money. Forty-two percent of Millennials lament that they don’t have the financial means to start a business.

Conditioned and also shaken by the economic conditions when they entered the job market, Millennials are risk-averse and even conservative in their career choices.

  • A large plurality (44 percent) of Millennials believe the best way to advance their career is to climb the corporate ladder.
  • Even though 62 percent of Millennials have considered starting a business and 51 percent know someone who started or worked for a startup, only 22 percent believe entrepreneurship is the best way to advance their career.
  • Black women are the only Millennial demographic in which a plurality (39 percent) believe that starting their own business is best way to get ahead.

This generation is skeptical of the establishment, putting very little confidence in institutions, but remaining fiercely patriotic and supportive of a leading role for the United States in the world.

  • Millennials express low levels of confidence in nearly every American institution. Corporate America, governors, and the news media inspire the lowest levels of confidence, with only one-fifth of Millennials placing a lot or a great deal of stock in them.
  • Colleges and universities and the military are the only institutions of the 13 polled to garner the confidence of the majority of Millennials.
  • Millennials remain overwhelmingly patriotic – 84 percent agree that they are proud to be an American, with Hispanic men as the most patriotic group (91 percent).

Millennials are largely comfortable with their own tax burden, but they remain concerned about fairness in the tax system.

  • A majority (53 percent) of Millennials who filed a tax return believe the amount they paid was about right, but the older they get, the greater they feel their tax burden increases.
  • Seventy percent think the wealthy pay too little, and 56 percent think lower income Americans pay too much.
  • Millennials tend to prioritize federal spending on education and entitlements, with 64 percent reporting public education as a top priority, followed by 46 percent who would prioritize Social Security and Medicare. In fact, 74 percent are worried that Social Security won’t be there when they retire.

Many Millennials want an investment and growth strategy from policymakers that can help improve their lot.

  • Sixty-four percent of Millennials believe public education should be a top priority for federal tax dollars, a consensus that holds across party lines.
  • Social Security and Medicare were the second-biggest priority, reflecting Millennials’ concern about retirement. Seventy-four percent are worried that Social Security won’t be there when they retire.


On behalf of EY and the Economic Innovation Group, Public Opinion Strategies (R) and GBA Strategies (D) conducted a survey of 1,200 18-34 year olds nationwide. Eight hundred and forty respondents were contacted online and 360 were contacted via cell phone. The survey was conducted June 15-20, 2016, and has a margin of error of +/- 2.83%.

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About the Economic Innovation Group (EIG)

The Economic Innovation Group (EIG) is an ideas laboratory and advocacy organization whose mission is to advance solutions that empower entrepreneurs and investors to forge a more dynamic American economy. Headquartered in Washington, D.C. and led by an experienced, bipartisan team, EIG convenes leading experts from the public and private sectors, develops original policy research, and works to advance creative legislative proposals that will bring new jobs, investment, and economic growth to communities across the nation. For more information, visit


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Matt Lockwood                                                                           Lizzie McWilliams

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