The millennials interviewed, ranging from 18 to 34 years of age, are ambitious and eager to succeed. However, they are also cautious about their financial futures because their early working years have been marred by recession. Millennials face a particularly challenging set of economic circumstances, including rising levels of student debt, lower levels of wealth than previous generations, and constraints on entrepreneurial activity.

Amid this backdrop of the challenges facing young workers in the labor market, what are the motivations of millennial interviewees for choosing and sticking with microbusiness employment?

Our interviews revealed that some of these younger workers use microbusiness employment as supplemental income to improve their financial position, while others want to gain substantive experience and break into new fields.

Close Case Study Open Case study Hover Open Case study Millennial Demographics

Interested in your own business?


45% Yes
33% No
22% Somewhat


35% Yes
43% No
22% Somewhat

Millennial Worker Age

22% 18-22
40% 23-26
18% 27-30
19% 31-34

Millennial Worker gender

49% Female
51% Male

Immigrated to the U.S.?

25% Yes
75% No

Receiving Public Assistance?

18% Yes
82% No

Millennial Worker Race
and Ethnicity

32.84% Hispanic/Latino
38.81% White/Caucasian
14.93% African-American
4.48% Mixed-Race
8.96% Other

Millennial worker education

6% Elementary
21% High School
31% Some College

Associate’s degree/
Trade School
Some Post-grad

Household Size

33% 1
28% 2

25% 3-4
13% 5+

Close Case Study Open Case study Hover Open Case study Wages, Hours, and Pay Satisfaction

Millennial’s wages, hours, and pay satisfaction

Data from millennial employees paints a mixed picture of wage levels and satisfaction.

Millennial Employees  vs  Non-millennial Employees

(n=37)                                                  (n=67)

Median Pay

per hour

per hour

Median age

years old

years old

Millennial Employees  vs  Non-millennial Employees

(n=37)                                                  (n=67)

Part-time Work




While most millennials interviewed said they would like full-time work, they accepted their reduced hours in return for positive working environments and skills acquisition.

Close Case Study Open Case study Hover Open Case study A stronger financial future



“For me it’s supplemental, but the money is good and it’s always something that I return to when I need additional income or whenever I had to make things stretch....I literally take that money and write a check to Sallie Mae and my credit card.… [Student debt is] tough.”

Twenty-nine-year-old Ibrahim graduated from George Mason University with a degree in international relations before relocating to San Diego, where he works full time as an account manager for a digital marketing start-up. In addition, he works three nights a week as a server at a newly opened North Park restaurant. Having put himself through college working at restaurants, he knows the industry well. Ibrahim took this job in order to pay off his substantial student loan debt before turning 30 years old, a goal he is on track to meeting by December. Most of Ibrahim’s previous server positions were at larger corporations; this is his first experience working for a small-scale restaurant. In his eyes, the biggest difference working for this smaller start-up is the close-knit staff and a sense that everyone contributes to every new aspect of the business. With a chuckle, Ibrahim said he even felt some pride in something as seemingly minor as the installation of the restaurant’s new awning. Despite the long hours, he appreciates the “all hands on deck” environment the owners have cultivated. He was initially shocked to see one of the bosses running food and busing tables on busy nights—something he never saw at larger restaurants. Most importantly, Ibrahim values the greater economic options that come with the additional income and the prospect of being free of student debt.

Close Case Study Open Case study Hover Open Case study Substantive experience in the field



“This is a completely different setup than other jobs I’ve had. I’m growing and I see how I’m helping this business be successful. I’m not sure I’d get that much experience working for a bigger company.”

Alma found the San Diego job market competitive after she graduated two years ago with an accounting degree that took her several years to finish. She answered a Craigslist ad for a receptionist position (starting wage $10 per hour) at a growing chiropractic and wellness business. She was the last interviewee from a pool of 40 candidates. With substantial customer-service experience, Alma landed the job and has steadily advanced at the fast-growing firm. She quickly moved from reception into administration and now handles billing and bookkeeping, liaising with insurance companies, and managing the front-desk staffers.

This job is vastly different from those Alma held as she was putting herself through college, first at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and then closer to home at the California State University, Dominguez Hills. Barely making more than minimum wage, she worked as a customer-service representative at a car rental firm and then at a sandwich chain. She says the most frustrating aspects of those work experiences were the management structure and lack of opportunities to earn more. For instance, Alma found the rental firms’ hierarchical structure a hindrance to a stable work schedule. Workers who were slightly more senior had priority when shifts were assigned. This often meant she received fewer hours than she wanted. Moreover, because managers were close to her age and had little management experience, she found it difficult to voice opinions or concerns regarding scheduling practices and workplace conflicts.

In contrast, Alma now shares a small office with the operations manager and receives mentoring, motivation and coaching to troubleshoot problems and prioritize tasks in the practice’s fast-paced environment. With a steady salary and the opportunity for future raises, Alma enjoys more stability, has been able to get a place of her own, and most importantly, sees the job as a resume builder for future work in finance and accounting.

Close Case Study Open Case study Hover Open Case study Trading off pay for the opportunity to break into new fields



“I’m completely satisfied with the pay. It’s a little bit of a pay cut from my last job, but I’m more than willing to do it because if you like what you do you’re willing to sacrifice."

Tired of the graveyard shift and the increasingly fewer hours at his previous warehouse job, 23-year-old Nicolas sought one with more daytime hours and that would help him break into the food industry. He secured work as a barista and server at a new coffee shop and café. In addition to loving his job and learning about the world of specialty coffee drinks, he helps the owners present their coffees at events—enabling him to network with restaurants, gain exposure to their executive chefs, and learn how to pair food with coffee. He describes his previous job as “mindless drone work.” Nicolas notes that he stuck it out for two years at the warehouse despite the lack of respect from management—until his hours were repeatedly cut. He thinks his current job will lead to tangible career returns with opportunities to take on new roles as the business grows. Nicolas indicates that the owners have begun grooming him to train new employees as the business expands. Regarding his current pay, he says he is willing to make a little less for returns in the form of skills development and job satisfaction.


Salon Manager

Unlike many millennials interviewed, 33-year-old Herman is committed to owning his own beauty salon eventually. He aspires to something very different from his previous life. Born in the United States, Herman finished high school and college in Mexico, earning a degree in computer science. After college, he spent years working at Hewlett-Packard in Guadalajara, working collections and customer service and managing call center operations. Despite making a good living, Herman longed to return to the U.S. and break into an industry he was more passionate about, understanding he would have to start at the bottom as he learned the ins and outs of the beauty industry.

With no experience, it took some time to find a place willing to give him a shot, but he finally landed his first job in the field at a popular salon in Chula Vista, California, near the Mexican border. His responsibilities include making sure the salon’s daily operations run smoothly, which means handling local marketing and payroll, managing software, and ordering supplies. Recently an ownership change has meant reduced hours for Herman, as the new salon rebuilds after the previous owner departed and a significant portion of the clientele left. To make ends meet, Herman has taken on another job two days a week as an assistant to an insurance broker. However, he remains optimistic that the valuable skills he has picked up during the past four years at the salon have made the time investment worthwhile. He believes he will put the knowledge he has gained to use in running his own shop when the time is right and he has the necessary capital.


Office Worker

Josie also aspires to own a business. She recently switched from a large, independently owned insurance agency to a small insurance franchise and easily lists things she prefers about this job: a stable schedule, not feeling afraid to ask for time off, and the ability to walk to work, which helps her save money on gas. Josie’s pay ($10 per hour), coupled with her partner’s income from erratic construction jobs, does not always provide enough to support their toddler and Josie’s mother, who lives with them. That said, Josie provides three reasons why the pay is workable right now. She sees opportunities for it to increase as she brings in more business and takes on more responsibility. The stable schedule and supportive working environment provide a much better life-work balance, enabling her to spend time with her son. Additionally, Josie emphasizes that she is gaining the experience necessary to run her own insurance office—something she is working toward very seriously and hopes to achieve in the next four years.

Close Case Study Open Case study Hover Open Case study Choosing a supportive environment



“This place is insanely better. Everyone is uplifting and wants you to get better, not work yourself into the ground.”

At 21, Emily does not have an extensive work history. She started working at a large chain restaurant in Seattle in high school and stayed on after she graduated. She described the environment as “toxic,” said she was frequently hassled by her manager, and had to deal with constant employee tension. At the time, she thought it was a normal environment because it was her only work experience and she was there so long. When her boyfriend decided to move to Denver, Emily decided to move with her boyfriend. She says she could have received an automatic transfer to one of the chain’s Denver locations, but she knew she wanted something different. Emily was thrilled to be hired by a small but growing company that provides therapy for autistic children. She could not believe her luck when she discovered she could work fewer hours and make more money than she did after four years at the restaurant. Plus, she says almost with disbelief: “The therapists stop by my desk every day and tell me how much they appreciate all my work.” Emily is also very happy to work for a business that she thinks is doing something positive. She has learned a tremendous amount about autistic children since starting the job and is invested in changing negative attitudes about them. Although unsure what she will be doing in the next three to five years, Emily muses that one possibility would be going to school and becoming a therapist herself.

“Millennials use #microbiz jobs to improve finances, gain experience & access new fields.”