Each generation displays unique characteristics molded from the socio-economic forces in play, reactions to their parents’ generation, and the cultural zeitgeist of the times.

The Millennial generation, born between 1980 and 2000, is often criticized or praised, depending on your viewpoint, for being less enthralled with their careers and the American consumerist quest for “things.” Many factors contribute to the seemingly slow career progress Millennials make.

Here are three:

1. Slow growing economy out of the recession

The Great Recession that began in 2008 has had lasting economic effects. While unemployment eventually dropped to a rather low rate today, the accompanying growth in the work force has not been matched by a growth in wages.

For many Millennials, the recovery has been joyless and frustrating, filled with low-paying jobs and little career advancement. Tax policies that seem to reward only the wealthy have added to the sense of futility hounding many young people looking to build their careers.

2. The student loan burden

Current statistics show that America has 43.3 million student loan borrowers, with outstanding student loan debt of more than $1.41 trillion. The average debt per borrower is $28,400, and graduate student debt averages $57,600.

These numbers cause many Millennials to question the value of a higher education financed by student loans. Some would rather work while attending school part time and avoid going into debt. Others graduate with mountains of debt that takes decades to pay off, and some of these folks go into default.

Part-time attendance means it takes up to eight years to obtain a BA, a fact that certainly holds back the careers of many Millennials. Students who default on their loans destroy their credit ratings and potentially poison their chances of getting higher-paying jobs, because of the black mark on their credit histories.

Employers check credit histories, and all thing being equal, would be virtually certain to prefer hiring a creditworthy applicant over one that is not. For this reason alone, it is much better to refinance or consolidate student loans than to default on them.

3. Conflicting thought processes with older generations

Imagine the impact on Millennials who saw their parents suffer through the Great Recession. Many in the older generation lost their jobs and/or their homes. Some had to work two lower-paying jobs to make ends meet.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that many Millennials might seek different career paths that emphasize happiness and fulfillment over compensation and status. A negative value judgement against this rational choice is totally unwarranted – Millennials are acting out based on what they’ve observed, and many don’t like what they’ve seen.

The entrepreneurial spirit runs strong in many Millennials, resulting in folks who’d rather work for themselves as owners or contractors instead of becoming employees climbing the corporate ladder. “Corporate loyalty” is a quaint notion that hasn’t fit the American reality for decades. No one knows this better than the Millennial generation.

The future is uncertain and predictions are unreliable, so only time will tell how the Millennial generation fares in the years to come.

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