Generation X, as 20-to-early-30-year-old Americans are commonly known, is often noted by the media for its lack of identity and purpose. A generation of so-called “slackers,” they are seen in stark contrast to the baby boomers and buppies before them who wanted to take corporate America by storm. Eager to become upwardly mobile cogs in the corporate machine, the generation that came of age in the ’70s and ’80s is seen as one of strivers who looked forward to retiring on a hefty pension.
But times have changed. and today entrepreneurship has become a key career choice for young Americans. Highly publicized corporate downsizings have cast a pall over the traditional path to success, and fueled a general perception that well-paying jobs with room for advancement are scarce. College graduates are finding that the offers for high-paying entry-level positions aren’t coming as fast and furious as they’d been led to believe.
“I’ve seen too many African Americans come out of college and work years [in corporate America] with no career advancement to show for it,” says Sidney Warren, a 32-year-old co-owner of a TCBY Treats/Mrs. Fields Cookies co-branded franchise in Cincinnati. Warren, who left a full-time job to become an entrepreneur, believes that “You can graduate cure laude and still end up in the mailroom.”
The affirmative action programs that gave many buppies a boost onto the corporate ladder have sent only a few to the executive suite–and those programs are now under fire. The days when professionals could expect to stay with the same company for a lifetime are long gone. Human resources professionals estimate that today’s worker will have an average of five to 10 career changes in their lifetime.
As a result, interest in entrepreneurship has grown among all age groups. “Both the baby boomers and Generation X are realizing the futility of investing in corporate America … one through experience and the other through observation,” says Granville Sawyer Jr. of Norfolk State University’s School of Business and Entrepreneurship. But Generation X may be the first to widely embrace entrepreneurship as a primary goal, rather than an afterthought.
“This generation has seen how little corporate America has offered their parents,” explains Sawyer, who heads the school’s Entrepreneurial Studies Department. “As a result, they are choosing to start businesses early in life.” Some of this new crop of entrepreneurs have already had a taste of the corporate life and found its rigid confines and lack of rewards a bitter pill to swallow. Motivated by the desire for autonomy, greater job security and a larger share of the profits, Generation X may have finally found its true calling–entrepreneurship.
This has led to a much needed growth in the African American entrepreneurial ranks. At the same time, it increases the likelihood of African Americans patronizing our own businesses, thus investing more of our collective $400 billion income back into black communities. In turn, the growing turnover of black dollars in our communities will lessen our dependency on state or federal aid, which is usually slow in