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America’s Gen Z wants to ditch corporate jobs for influencing, social media dreams

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) – America’s youngest workers want to become business owners – just not in the way their parents might envision.

The drive to turn social media posts into sustainable income is highest among the youngest generation of workers, according to new research by Adobe. About 45 per cent of Gen Z creators surveyed said they aspire to own a business and make money from content shared online, according to the company’s survey in May of more than 9,000 influencers and creators across nine countries.

Adobe defines creators as those who post social content with the aim of growing their online presence or to promote their creative work – anything from photography to music to NFTs. The influencers surveyed reported over 5,000 followers on their primary social media platform and earn money posting content.

Gen Z content creators and influencers are part of the wave of entrepreneurship that’s accompanied the labor market shakeup of the past two years. While many Americans started businesses during the pandemic lockdown out of necessity, the streak has continued, driven by a desire for flexibility and greater control over one’s financial future. A record 5.4 million new businesses were started in the United States last year, according to Census data. While the monthly rate has plateaued below its 2021 peak, it’s remained far above pre-pandemic levels.

Although there’s been much speculation around whether this surge in small business creation was an aberration or the start of a long-term reversal, “what we are seeing is that this trend shows no signs of abating,” said Luke Pardue, an economist at payroll services platform Gusto.

The shifting dynamics are partly generational, he said. “Specifically among younger workers, we’re seeing this trend that even amid a tight labour market workers aren’t seeing wage gains that are keeping up with inflation, so they’re moving to self-employment where they can determine their compensation a little more independently,” said Mr Pardue. “There isn’t a lot that the 9-to-5 employment can allow in terms of achieving some of the milestones that were available to prior generations.”

Why Gen Z’s dream jobs are very different from Millennials’

While Millennials are experimenting with having a side hustle alongside a day job, Gen Z is focused more on making a project into a career, said Maria Yap, vice president of digital imaging applications at Adobe.

Some colleges, like Duke University, the University of Southern California and the University of Virginia, have responded to the shift in demand by offering classes on how to build successful social media enterprises.

The Adobe research suggests ditching the corporate ladder for the Instagram grid can be can bring in a six-figure income if done full-time, though the reality is often more complicated.

Creators who monetise content make US$61 (S$84.70) per hour on average, according to Adobe. If done 40 hours a week, Adobe estimates this would translate to an annual income of US$122,000. Influencers polled by Adobe make US$81 per hour, which would parlay into about US$162,000 if done full-time.

Yet the boundaries are often blurred between hobbyists and hustlers, and most of the people polled by Adobe aren’t full-time. Content creators spend an average of nine hours per week and influencers spend an average of 15 hours per week making content. In the US, six in 10 creators hold full-time jobs, Adobe found. If creators were to ditch their day jobs, it’s not clear whether they would be able to drum up enough business to fill a 40-hour workweek.

Public perception is often that content creators and influencers with more than 10,000 followers are earning a significant income, but this is far from the reality, said Qianna Smith Bruneteau, founder of the American Influencer Council, a trade association for social media content professionals.

Of those who create content full-time, only about 12 per cent make more than US$50,000 a year, according to a global survey of over 9,500 creators published in April by Linktree, a link-sharing platform popular with influencers. The living wage in Manhattan is almost US$53,000, according to MIT’s living wage calculator.