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Generation DIY: Upcycling the Steep Road Ahead

What’s in store for Millennials in 2013? According to a recent Bloomberg article, “American Dream Fades for Generation Y Professionals,” the answer is gloomy: permanently depressed earning prospects, detours from projected career tracks, mountains of student loans and a dawning realization that we are not likely to maintain the lifestyles we have come to expect in our Boomer parents’ households. As cited in the Bloomberg article, Rutgers professor and senior research fellow at the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development projects that “this generation will be permanently depressed and will be on a lower path of income for probably all of their life—and at least the next 10 years.” Comparing the supposedly doomed decade to the Great Depression, the article claims the American Dream—the idea that each generation can fare better than the last—is now an unrealistic reverie given that “the nation’s younger workers have benefited least from an economic recovery that has been the most uneven in recent history.” Of course, the topography of national insolvency and college degrees translating into retail jobs points to a steep hike ahead. But many pessimistic culture watchers omit one multifaceted key fact: while Gen Y may be cash-poor, we are information- and access-rich. With worlds of knowledge literally in the palms of our hands and a growing spirit of entrepreneurism, we may have the direction and provision we need to navigate successfully and transform from relatively spoiled children into resourceful adults along the way. Roaring like the 20s on a 30s Budget Let me illustrate my sunny idea to the soundtrack of imaginary Charleston music playing in the background of your mind: In anticipation of Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby,” I decided to throw a “Roaring Twenties” party, on a Depression-era budget. A few thrift store visits, DIY (do it yourself) Pinterest boards and a humming sewing machine later, my house-turned-speakeasy was filled with feather-adorned flappers sipping out of 99-cent martini glasses. Of course, party planning only scratches the surface of possibilities for resourcefulness. I have started to notice a rise in home cooking, inspired by blogs like Smitten Kitchen, entrepreneurial second jobs, homemade gifts and even a shout-out to the art of thrift store shopping in popular music (Macklemore’s “Poppin Tags” offers a tongue-in-cheek twist on the cash-charged rap video—disclaimer: he swears more than any sailor). Put these pieces together and you begin to see the makings of “Generation DIY”—an army of “upcyclers” who can refurbish treasures from the dump to out-decorate any wealthy Martha Stewart aficionado with a flush 90s budget. DIY Projects: Lace Heels, Herb Gardens & a Bull Market? Like many women in their 20s and 30s, I can lose myself in the Pinterest rabbit hole, endlessly diverted by ideas of how to fix up old heels with dollar store lace, make wind chimes out of sea shells and plot planting dates for herb gardens. But craftiness and green thumbs won’t drive Gen Y out of our financial doldrums. How might our new scrappiness yield a harvest we can live on? Directed by necessity, this generation has started to take action and band together as evidenced by organizations like Generation Opportunity, proliferating startups and a trend of moving into cramped and shared spaces in urban settings, accessible via public transportation. As reported by the Wall Street Journalarticle, “No McMansions for Millennials,” when considering the average college graduate’s preferred living situation today, “Think lots of amenities with little tiny units—and a lot of them to keep (fees) down. … [Constantly coordinating activities], the residents get to know each other and it makes for a much livelier and friendlier environment.” The livelier, friendlier, dare I say “richer” lifestyle on the rise could turn into an unforeseen wealth-creating engine, according to chairman and CIO of Turner Investments, Bob Turner. Investment News excerpted Turner’s quarterly report as, “Seven reasons why the millennials could lead the next great bull market,” which concludes:
We think [Millennials’] sheer size, their outlook, their saving habits, their growing presence in emerging nations, and the fleeting nature of their current financial and macroeconomic predicaments could enable [their] to become a major force in investing—a new generation that powers a bull market in stocks over the next two decades.
Perhaps it’s best to add a generous sprinkle of salt to reports of gloom and doom, and continue inventing, Pinning, posting and Tweeting recipes for breakfast, party décor—and perhaps even professional success.