Suddenly, she says, the "entitled generation," those who grew up in more prosperous times and were seen as having ridiculously high expectations for jobs and standard of living, was no more.
"That bubble burst the minute the economy started tanking, and they were the 'unemployed generation,'" Wells says. "They had to grow up."
She says the recession had a particularly profound effect on the political attitudes of younger millennials, who've come of age as the adults who preceded them have lost homes, jobs and retirement funds. It has set a decidedly grimmer tone as their age group also has faced the highest unemployment rate of any age bracket, while many others have had to take jobs below their qualifications.
"We heard about how our parents' bank accounts were shrinking and how money that was there one day was gone the next," says Jessie Wurzer, a 17-year-old in Fairport, N.Y.
She says it's left her and her peers "with a lingering anxiety about money and finances in general."
They worry about how they'll afford college, whether Social Security will be there when they're ready to retire and how the national deficit will affect them. That's why Wurzer now calls herself a "fiscal conservative."
At the same time, however, she considers herself a moderate on social issues, including gay marriage and abortion. So in traditional political terms, this generation is hard to peg.
Unemployment is now the top concern among young people, says Deborah Maue, vice president at TRU, a Chicago-based research company that specializes in tweens, teens and young adults. Just after the 2008 election, unemployment ranked fifth, behind such issues as education and health care.
But, Maue, says this is a generation that's also passionately "hands off" on social issues. TRU's research also has found that teens are increasingly uninterested in organized religion.