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The real problem with millennials

It's starting to look more and more like millennials are missing the economic boat.

Study after study shows that younger American adults ages 18 to 33 are less likely to own a home, have a full-time job, own a car, or even use a credit card than older American generations when they were that age.




Man with tattooed arm
mabe123 | Getty Images

These trends are a major threat to our economy. We already know the downward pressure they're putting on consumer consumption, but the millennial aversion to marriage in particular is posing a serious new threat to Social Security and other sacred entitlement programs.

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We're given lots of reasons for the financial disadvantages the millennials face compared to previous generation. We're told they were economically and emotionally wounded by the Great Recession. We're told outsourcing and job consolidation trends have left them out. We're most often told that crushing student loans have kept them out of the investment and home-buying game. We're even told millennials aren't getting married because they are so economically stretched and stressed.

All those complaints and excuses, including the marriage issue, were well summarized in this column by the Washington Post's Catherine Rampell, where Rempell cites numerous polls insisting that millennials want to engage in all the social and economic trappings of adulthood, but just can't afford it.

But that column is filled with the kind of self-pity that actually acts as damning evidence of their culpability in their self-destruction.

Because the funny thing about taking a risk is that you have to just do it.

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Everything from marriage, to home buying, to starting a business can be scary, and there are always a million arguments against taking the plunge. That's true in good economic times and bad.

I remember making some of these arguments explaining why I wasn't married back when I was in my mid-20's. I talked a lot about how I needed to get paid more before I could even consider settling down, and how the economic cards were stacked against me in my profession. I even insisted, (wrongly), that all my friends who were married were getting extra financial help from their parents.

But the TRUTH was that I was just too afraid and not really ready, In other words, I'm not saying kids today are different. I'm saying I was just like them.

Like me in 1996, what millennials really fear is commitment itself.

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If millennials really want to get married, they get married. The marriages may not last but that's been true since Samson and Delilah.

If millennials really want to buy a house, they'll buy a house. Maybe it'll be a fixer-upper and they'll have to eat tuna sandwiches for dinner for 3 years, but they'll do it.

If millennials really want a higher paying job, they'll make the sacrifices necessary and make it happen.

The millennials who aren't doing these things, may want to get married, mortgaged, and better-compensated … but not as much as they want to remain comfortable or safe in their careers or social life.

As the old saying goes, "You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take." And too many millennials just aren't taking the shots and we need to stop giving the excuses to stay on the bench.

Many critics blame the parents for this aversion to risk. Perhaps this is the economic fallout for the first generation of American kids who never enjoyed a childhood with unsupervised playtime, non-helmet bike riding, and non-checking in by cellphone with mom and dad every hour.

But they're not shrinking from every shot and every commitment. There's hope! And you can literally see that hope on the arms, necks, ankles and just about every millennial body part.

I'm talking about tattoos and my "Tattoo Index" is a big reason why I think America's young adults will eventually turn it around.

The stats don't lie; Millennials may not be as in to homes, cars, and jobs, but they are all-in when it comes to the lifetime commitment of tattoos.

Millennials are much more likely to have one or more tattoos than any other generation, and did you really need a survey to tell you that?

And hey, tattoos aren't cheap. And the time and money it takes to get one removed is even more costly. Clearly millennials have the capacity to connect permanently to something.

I'm not a shrink, so I can't prove that the explosion in tattoo commitment is a classic substitute for the other more meaningful commitments millennials should be making. But draw your own conclusions.

Those millennials who are taking the plunge are doing just fine. The dynamic tech sector is tailor-made for them and a recent report from the Shulman Report shows there are more millennial millionaires than the older Gen-X generation.

Like a baby bird peering over the edge of the nest, it's simply a matter of being willing to jump -- or getting shoved over to finally get on the right track. It has always been that way.

Of course, the most successful millennial will be the guy or gal who invents, develops, and markets a process for inexpensive tattoo removal and turns into a nationwide franchise.

After all, not all risks are equal and not all commitments were made to last forever.

Commentary by Jake Novak, supervising producer of "Street Signs." Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.