We college students, along with recent graduates, constantly hear these commands to forge our own path through these uncertain times. Commencement speakers, counselors, columnists and family friends all repeat the conventional wisdom that entrepreneurial flexibility is now a prerequisite for success. Gone, we’re told, is the era of walking into a firm after graduation and walking out four decades later with a gold watch; the road less traveled is now the way to the top.
Even if clichéd, that advice is timely. As the Daily Beast’s Joel Kotkin recently observed, youth have been battered by the economic downturn: Americans aged 18–29 face an unemployment rate that’s one and a half times the national average, and those under 35 saw our net worth plummet nearly 40% during the recession. That’s the worst any age group fared. But why?
When employers have their pick of overqualified job seekers, unemployment cascades down onto those with the least experience. That’s why, even among graduates who do find work, nearly half are stuck in positions that don’t require their degree. Repaying student loans is tough enough without trying to do it on a non-graduate’s income – just ask a bartender or a parking attendant. Nearly 20% of them earned a B.A. that’s now collecting dust.
Starting a new business right out of school is no longer some exotic adventure that very few pursue; it’s increasingly one of the only paths available to many. That’s the story of food-truck operators James Nuccio and Gabriel Wiesen: they identified a growth industry and tried to shake things up by following their dreams. Operating as Beavers Donuts, the guys work long hours in the confines of their lovingly decorated truck. When I first met them, they were parked on the South Side, manning the fryer in triple-digit heat!
This industrious duo is doing exactly what everyone is telling our generation to do. They had a vision and made it happen by pouring time and energy into their business. So why are local governments making it so hard for them to serve their hungry clientele? Take the City of Evanston, for example: despite its progressive reputation, food-trucks are banned there unless the operator also owns a brick-and-mortar restaurant. This regulation serves no health or safety purpose – it exists only to protect old-school establishments from creative competition.
The city champions its “Evanston150” brainstorming initiative, but fails to see that government gets in the way of great ideas far more easily than it dreams them up. Fortunately, the Liberty Justice Center is poised to file suit against this violation of Jim’s and Gabe’s right to earn a living, but it should never have come to that. Young entrepreneurs shouldn’t need a team of lawyers to stop government from erecting pointless obstacles in their way when the deck is already stacked against them.
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Raised in suburban Chicago, Andrew C. Quinn is a rising college senior and Junior Associate at the Illinois Policy Institute.