03/08/2012 11:10 am ET Updated May 08, 2012

Has the Recession Created a Generation Too Scared to Dream Big?

The economic downturn affected American families' finances on a variety of fronts, and reminded us of the importance of preparing for a rainy day by not overextending ourselves financially and having a monetary safety net in place. Yet have we given equal thought to the important role that our children's career paths can play, not only in their economic futures, but in the economic future of our nation? The recession may have made us more fiscally prudent, but did it make us too scared to dream?

American innovation is at the core of what makes us great -- the will to take chances and go all in on an idea. For us to maintain our status as an economic superpower, we need to keep dreaming, and dream big.

Junior Achievement USA and the ING Foundation recently surveyed a national sample of teens, asking them what their ideal job is, how confident they are that they'll achieve their dream job, and, perhaps most tellingly, if they'd give up that dream job for one that paid a higher salary. Less than half the teens we surveyed (43 percent) said they were very confident they'd have their "dream" job. Yet a significant majority -- 71 percent -- said they would give up their dream job for one that paid a higher salary.

There is a lot of talk -- particularly now, during the presidential campaign -- about the importance of creating jobs. And we agree, it is critical to create jobs to spur economic growth. But how will those jobs be created? It is through the power of American ingenuity and innovation, and the strength found in the belief that an idea can change the world.

As we recover from the recession, have we given thought to how it affected our children's beliefs that they can be anything they want to be? These things are clear: we need to nurture our young peoples' abilities to dream, and we need to give them the tools to plan and achieve those dreams. We can't let America get left behind in the global economy.

When we asked teens about their ideal job, more than half (61 percent) said it was in science, technology, engineering, math or medicine. This is where the future of American innovation lies, and it is critical that we support our young people's pursuit of these careers.

Junior Achievement has been empowering young people to live their dreams for nearly a century. We currently reach more than 4 million U.S. students a year, giving them the skills, knowledge and confidence to live their dreams. We teach students how to start and grow their own businesses, by doing it.

We give students a safe environment in which to practice 21st-century skills, such as problem-solving and teamwork, which are key to success in today's business world. This critical education helps instill appropriate tolerance for risk, the understanding that failure is often the key to success, and most importantly, the guts to chase a dream.

The American Dream -- and a robust economy -- is out there. We must help our young people reach out and achieve it.

Read an executive summary of Junior Achievement's 2012 "Teens and Careers" Survey here.