Growing Up Will Help Economy...So Grow Up Already
In annals of movie-making greatness, the 2007 film "Knocked Up" will probably never be considered a top-notch classic.
And that's okay, because I'm pretty sure that not what the filmmakers were going for.
But there is one scene in the movie that really stands out, and it turns out it's become increasingly important as America's economy faces a growing demographic crisis.
The scene in question is the turning point of the movie when the male lead "Ben Stone," played by Seth Rogen, finally realizes he can't really be a decent father while still living with his adolescence-clinging friends and having a non-existent career. In pure movie quick-time fun, Ben moves into his own apartment, gets a real job, and actually grows up. In relatively realistic fashion, it's obvious the decision isn't an easy one. The apartment isn't in the best neighborhood, and the job seems less than perfect, but that's real. That's adulthood.
Economic report after economic report continue to show younger Americans aren't following Ben's "Knocked Up" example, however. As Larry Kudlow has said often, the labor participation rate is still well below where it should be—about 10 million jobs off what experts would call a healthy level, and the culprit isn't just the growing number of older Americans retiring from the workforce.
Surveys suggest that young people are having a tough time taking that first step into the world of work. At a time when they should be willing to take more risks and try new career options, a new Chicago Sun-Times survey shows that more young Chicagoans are looking for safer and boring jobs, while older Chicagoans are actually more courageous in their career aspirations. That's a truly upside-down scenario that's harmful for the economy and frankly, just shows how unrealistic young peoples' expectations about work seem to be—at least in Chicago.
It's not just in the work force: All aspects of adulthood seem to be set on pause. Marriage is down. Child birth rates are down. A recent report even shows a clear drop in the number of younger Americans with drivers licenses! Driving is on hold? Really? That's a true American rite of passage and freedom for young people, and it's also being delayed.
This delayed-development/failure-to-launch epidemic is poison for the economy. The longer it takes for college graduates and even non-college grads to get into the world of full-time/live-on-their-own work, the worse the economic prospects will be for them and the rest of us, as well.
I don't come to this with a cold academic point of view. If you're a 25- to 35-year-old "late bloomer" or "non-bloomer," let me assure you that I've been there. I spent more than a year after my college graduation wandering around looking for a real job, let alone some kind of career path, before I took a chance and jumped in broadcast journalism. My first real job was in one of the most ill-managed, small, local market TV stations in America. It was rough, but it made me a grown-up. Eventually, it made me a career.
I know the job opportunities may not seem to be numerous. Perhaps some of the better educated among you aren't considering jobs you might think are beneath you. But trust me, until you've put in a year or two on a full-time job, no job is really beneath anyone in America. Work experience is super valuable at any level. So don't delay the process any longer than you have already.
And once you start working, you'll find this whole investment thing we talk about here on CNBC all the time actually IS for you too. Funny how after people work hard to get some cash, they like to keep more of it and even grow the pot a little bit, too.
The U.S. economy is never going to reach its full potential, or even match its 1990s growth levels, until our millennial generation gets on board with the growing up thing. Don't worry, growing up doesn't mean becoming boring or sad. Just like your decision to join the world of work, that choice is entirely up to you.