What does the future of the U.S. and world look like? The present is, well, not all that encouraging.
Unemployment is stuck painfully high. GDP growth is painfully low. The American political system has been deadlocked in shutdowns, fiscal cliffs, and partisan bickering. People are genuinely concerned about the future.
But the present is constantly becoming the past. Every moment the future becomes the now. And every day, it's the millennial generation that is defining that future. With help from a great infographic from Badgeville (see below for the full graphic), here are nine facts that paint a picture of the future, a future designed, defined, and directed by the next great generation of Americans.
Millennials: The good, the bad, and the ugly
1. Millennials have already witnessed three wars (including the longest in U.S. history), a presidential impeachment, a Great Recession, and the worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor. Oh, and there's this Internet thing.
Millennials see the world as a dynamic place. Their existence is both local and global. It's connected. An infinite amount of information, knowledge, and content is available anytime, anywhere, and in the palm of your hand (and soon perhaps on the lens of your glasses). The future of America is not the suburban two-car garages and white picket fences of the baby boomer generation.
2. Millennials are overeducated, underemployed, and in debt. But they still want to work hard and do a good job.
Sixty-three percent of millennials have a bachelors degree, 48% of those with college degrees are in jobs that do not require a college degree, and the average millennial has $45,000 in debt. The promises of their youth have not proven themselves out. The mantra of "go to college, get a job, be successful" has proven to be a false promise. As a result, many millennials are even more distrustful of authority than their parent's generation was.
And yet, millennials still strive to succeed. Ninety-five percent of millennials work harder when they know where their work is going. Eighty percent prefer on the spot recognition instead of formal reviews. Ninety percent want their workplace to be fun and social.
The disconnect is a contrast between the business culture of the baby boomer generation that -- from a millennial perspective -- has failed them, and the expectations a generation raised on the Internet, Facebook, and near constant smartphone notifications.
3. Millennials will surpass the spending power of baby boomers by 2018.
By 2020, millennials will have a collective spending power of more than $1.4 trillion. That's a huge increase from their $600 billion spending power today. As businesses transform to better sell to this generation, a power shift will propel millennials into increasingly more meaningful roles in business. Why? Because...
4. Older generations do not understand millennials.
More than 85% of hiring managers and human resource executives say that millennials have a higher sense of entitlement than older generations. Managers report that millennials expect higher pay, more flexible work options, and faster promotions.
But at the same time, companies routinely fail to adapt to the changing social landscape. Forty percent of millennials think that blogging about their workplace is acceptable. Seventy percent have "friended" managers or co-workers on Facebook. Fifty-six won't accept a job at a company that bans social media, and 71% don't always obey social media policies at work.
The generational conflict is plain to see. But is this a function of a spoiled millennial generation or an older generation that doesn't understand the fast-paced, confident, and interconnected reality of the millennial's world?
5. Millennials are loyal, just not to their employer. And it's their employers fault.
Seventy percent of millennials say they will always be loyal to the brands they love. They rely on their peers for influence more than traditional advertising. Eighty-four percent report that online user generated content, that is product reviews or recommendations by real customers, influences what products they buy. Millennials are loyal to the companies and people that add value to their experience.
Employers, however, haven't yet figured this out. Sixty-nine percent of millennials don't see regular office attendance as necessary to doing a good job. Eighty-nine prefer to work when and where they want, instead of the standardized and arbitrary 9-5 day defined by older generations.
Companies have been slow to respond, and that is driving disloyalty. Ninety-one percent of millennials expect to stay in their current job for less than three years. Sixty percent have switched careers at least once already. Only 33% say that their current job will be their career.
Now's probably a good time to reread Fact No.1. The world's a crazy, ever-changing place. Millennials inherently know this and don't wait around when they are unhappy.
6. Companies are going to figure this out. And it will be because of millennials.
Today, just 15% of millennials are managers. One in 10 earns more than $100,000 per year. But by 2025, Millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce.
As the millennials rise through the ranks, start their own businesses, and make their own imprint on the economy, businesses will increasingly take on the ethos of the generation. As this occurs, business policies will shift, employee happiness will increase, and the accusations of a "spoiled" generation will subside.
7. Millennials love social media
The millennial generation has been on the front lines of the social media revolution. Forty-three percent of millennials have liked more than 43 brands on Facebook. Sixty-three percent stay up to date on brands via social media. Forty-four percent are willing to promote brands on their social networks (in exchange for rewards).
Social media has evolved beyond staying in touch with friends. Social media is the organizing tool for in-person interactions, for day-to-day communication, for entertainment, and yes, for shopping. Social media is interwoven into nearly every aspect of the millennial's life.
8. Millennials love technology
Social media is an extension of the technology that powers it, so it follows that millennials love their devices. Fifty-eight percent of mobile shoppers are millennials. They are 2.5 times as likely as the average shopper to be influenced by a mobile app. Fifty-three percent of millennials would rather give up their sense of smell than their technology.
Let's not forget that the first iPhone was introduced in 2006. That's only eight short years ago. Overnight these devices have stormed into the global consciousness. And the evolution continues at breakneck speeds. It's unprecedented, and it speaks to the generation's comfort level with new technology (and for that matter, change in general).
9. Millennials care about the future
At this point, its pretty obvious that millennials are very, very different than prior generations. And that is a good thing.
The world is changing rapidly, driven by technology, and future generations will require a different perspective to succeed, grow, and prosper. Millennials are different as a result of the environment in which they were raised. It's not genetics, and this is not a spoiled generation. It's 75 million young people experiencing a world that is profoundly different from what their parents knew.
Seventy-five percent of millennials see themselves as authentic and refuse to compromise their personal or family values. Sixty-one pecent are worried about the state of the world and feel personally responsible to make a difference. Millennials may be different, but they have character and, most importantly, they care.
Making sense of it all
What does all this tell us about the future? Financially, millennials love to spend but are already in debt. In general, the generation isn't afraid to make changes to improve their experience. So despite their slow start financially and the major setback of the Great Recession, it's reasonable to expect millennials to eventually recover and propel the U.S. economy for the next 30 years.
The future, as defined by millennials, will continue to be defined by technological innovations, particularly socially. The Internet has made the world smaller, made friends (and strangers) more accessible, and changed the methods and modes of human interaction. This trend will continue, the implications of which will impact politics, culture, and business.
And speaking of business, the millennial generation will be the driving force in the modernization of the U.S. economy. Traditions will be challenged, innovations will be rolled out, and productivity will increase. The status quo will be a fleeting state.
Problems, seen and unforeseen, will always arise. These problems will be local and global, economic and cultural, armed and unarmed. The future will be dramatically different than the present. Millennials, more so than any generation in history, are prepared to navigate such a rapidly changing world.
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All data has been sourced from Badgeville's "The Rise of the Millennial" infographic, included below.
Badgeville, a leading Gamification Platform, created this infographic on Millennial consumers and employees.
Fool contributor Jay Jenkins has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.