• <div class="header-image" style="background-image: url(/live/image/gid/4/2635_V6N3_Header.rev.1522162449.jpg);">​</div><div class="header-background-color"/>

Millennials: Generation Screwed?

November 19, 2015

In 2012, a Newsweek article[1] posed the question: “Are Millennials the Screwed Generation?” According to Joel Kotkin, the author of the article, the newest generation of today’s youth has been left to “handle their parents’ fiscal profligacy and economic mismanagement.” Between indebted baby boomers refusing to leave the workforce, high incidence of underemployment, and a toxic legacy of public debt, the young have been hit the hardest following the Great Recession and are, as a result, doomed to follow a path of economic hardship.

By Megha Agarwal, W’18

A quick look at past statistics shows us that Kotkin’s hypothesis might not have been far from the truth. According to the U.S. Census, the median net worth of those under the age of 35 fell 37 percent between 2005 and 2010, whereas those above 65 took only a 13 percent hit. The youth unemployment rates (ages 16-24) remained around 15.5 percent in 2013 and began 2014 at 14.2 percent, roughly twice the rate of overall unemployment[1]. If that is not enough – another statistic from Pew Research illustrates millennials’ dire situation: in 2010, the share of young adults ages 18 to 24 employed (54 percent) had been its lowest since the government began collecting these data in 1948[2].

Given this, is it all true? Did the Great Recession leave our generation of millennials with the lasting title of “Generation Screwed,” or are high unemployment rates, growing personal and public debt, and economic instability going to slowly transform into problems of the past, leaving millennials revitalized and unconquerable? Are the hardships surrounding millennials simply over-exaggerations and extensions of a rough period of American volatility, or is our generation truly headed towards a tragic, economic downfall?

It is clear that the U.S. labor market is still struggling to recover from the effects of the Great Recession. This opinion is one that is widely shared and accepted, with seven-in-ten Americans agreeing that today’s young adults face more economic challenges – both personal and public – than previous generations did when they were first starting out. Millennials are entering adulthood with record levels of student debt; two-thirds of recent bachelors degree recipients have outstanding student loans, with an average debt of about $27,000. In contrast, two decades ago, only half of recent graduates had college debt, and the average fell at almost half of what it is today, $15,000[3]. Moreover, the day-to-day realities of economically tragic times have hit hard. Fully half (49 percent) of those ages 18 to 34 say that because of economic conditions over the past few years, they have accepted a job they did not truly desire, in an effort to remain financially stable. More than a third (35 percent) say they have gone back to school or began to pursue a degree due to the state of the economy, and one-in-four (24 percent) reveal that they have taken an unpaid job simply to gain work experience[4].

For some millennials, tough economic times following the Great Recession have led to troubled personal lives as well. Roughly a quarter of adults ages 18 to 34 (24 percent) say that, due to economic conditions, they have moved back in with their parents or extended family in recent years after living on their own. The economic hardships of millennials may also be a reason that so many have been slow to marry. The median age at first marriage is now the highest in modern history — 29 for men and 27 for women[5]. In contrast to the patterns of past generations, when adults in all socio-economic groups married at roughly the same rate, marriage today is more prevalent among those who are older, have higher incomes, and have had access to more education. All in all, there tends to be agreement — from an economic and social perspective, things are harder for those just starting out today than they were a generation ago.

However, while the recession affected many dimensions of economic life—wages, savings, home values, debt — public attitudes about future earning potential have remained remarkably stable. In fact, despite the endless stream of unfavorable statistics, it seems as if millennials are putting aside their financial burdens and approaching their long-term economic prospects with optimism and confidence. More than eight-in-ten millennials say they either currently have enough money to lead the lives they want (32 percent) or that they expect to in the near future (57 percent), and about six-in-ten millennials (61 percent) oppose benefit cuts as a way to address the long-term funding problems of Social Security — a view held despite growing worries regarding complete depletion of Social Security system funds by the time millennials are ready to retire[6].

Moreover, despite coming from debt-stricken positions, young adults and millennials are shedding substantially more debt following the Great Recession than previous generations, a success due largely to the changing technological environment and decreased need for luxuries such as cars and multiple permanent residences. From 2007 to 2010, the median debt of households headed by an adult younger than 35 fell by 29 percent, compared with a decline of just 8 percent among households headed by adults ages 35 and older. Also, the share of younger households holding debt of any kind dropped to 78 percent, the lowest level our nation has seen since the government began collecting this data in 1983[7].

Finally, not only are young people and millennials optimistic about their own financial futures, but they also are confident that their children will be better off financially than they are now. Among those 18 to 29 years old, about two-thirds (65 percent) are optimistic about their children’s financial future, while among those just slightly older, 30 to 34, less than half (46 percent) are as hopeful[8].

Given the above, it is clear that the recession has taken its toll on the nation’s millennials, but it is also evident that the title “Generation Screwed” is one that has been shrugged off by the majority of young adults. Not only are millennials approaching their future with fixated determination and resiliency, but they are simultaneously adopting positive attitudes and effecting palpable change. Only six years following the official end of the Great Recession, it may be too soon to predict the definitive impact of the financial crisis on our nation’s millennials. That being said, the instability of previous years by no means dooms our generation of millennials to a lifetime of stagnation, downward mobility, and economic slump.


[1] The economic plight of millennials” (Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, EconSouth, January–April 2014)

[2] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/10/18/millennials-still-lag-in-forming-their-own-households/

[3] http://www.urban.org/urban-wire/how-much-do-students-really-pay-college

[4] http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/02/09/chapter-3-how-todays-economy-is-affecting-young-adults/

[5] Pew Research Center, “The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families,” Nov. 18, 2010.

[6] http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/02/09/chapter-4-optimism-in-the-face-of-tough-times/

[7] http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/02/09/chapter-4-optimism-in-the-face-of-tough-times/

[8] http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/02/09/young-underemployed-and-optimistic/

Student Blog Disclaimer
  • The views expressed on the Student Blog are the author’s opinions and don’t necessarily represent the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative’s strategies, recommendations, or opinions.

PENN WHARTON PPI
RESOURCE SPOTLIGHT:

  • <h3>Congressional Budget Office</h3><p><img width="180" height="180" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/180/380_cbo-logo.rev.1406822035.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image380 lw_align_right" data-max-w="180" data-max-h="180"/>Since its founding in 1974, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has produced independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process.</p><p> The agency is strictly nonpartisan and conducts objective, impartial analysis, which is evident in each of the dozens of reports and hundreds of cost estimates that its economists and policy analysts produce each year. CBO does not make policy recommendations, and each report and cost estimate discloses the agency’s assumptions and methodologies. <strong>CBO provides budgetary and economic information in a variety of ways and at various points in the legislative process.</strong> Products include baseline budget projections and economic forecasts, analysis of the President’s budget, cost estimates, analysis of federal mandates, working papers, and more.</p><p> Quick link to Products page: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products</a></p><p> Quick link to Topics: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/topics" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/topics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The World Bank Data (U.S.)</h3><p><img width="130" height="118" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image484 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1406" data-max-h="1275"/>The <strong>World Bank</strong> provides World Development Indicators, Surveys, and data on Finances and Climate Change.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states" target="_blank">http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>USDA Nutrition Assistance Data</h3><p><img width="180" height="124" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image485 lw_align_right" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1233" data-max-h="850"/>Data and research regarding the following <strong>USDA Nutrition Assistance</strong> programs are available through this site:</p><ul><li>Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) </li><li>Food Distribution Programs </li><li>School Meals </li><li>Women, Infants and Children </li></ul><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics" target="_blank">http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Bureau of Economic Research (Public Use Data Archive)</h3><p><img width="180" height="43" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/43/478_nber.rev.1407530465.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image478 lw_align_right" data-max-w="329" data-max-h="79"/>Founded in 1920, the <strong>National Bureau of Economic Research</strong> is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of how the economy works. The NBER is committed to undertaking and disseminating unbiased economic research among public policymakers, business professionals, and the academic community.</p><p> Quick Link to <strong>Public Use Data Archive</strong>: <a href="http://www.nber.org/data/" target="_blank">http://www.nber.org/data/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>HUD State of the Cities Data Systems</h3><p><strong><img width="200" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image482 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 3x" data-max-w="612" data-max-h="613"/>The SOCDS provides data for individual Metropolitan Areas, Central Cities, and Suburbs.</strong> It is a portal for non-national data made available through a number of outside institutions (e.g. Census, BLS, FBI and others).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html" target="_blank">http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED®)</h3><p><strong><img width="180" height="79" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/79/481_fred-logo.rev.1407788243.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image481 lw_align_right" data-max-w="222" data-max-h="97"/>An online database consisting of more than 72,000 economic data time series from 54 national, international, public, and private sources.</strong> FRED®, created and maintained by Research Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, goes far beyond simply providing data: It combines data with a powerful mix of tools that help the user understand, interact with, display, and disseminate the data.</p><p> Quick link to data page: <a href="http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series" target="_blank">http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>NOAA National Climatic Data Center</h3><p><img width="200" height="198" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image483 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 3x" data-max-w="954" data-max-h="945"/>NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) is responsible for preserving, monitoring, assessing, and providing public access to the Nation’s treasure of <strong>climate and historical weather data and information</strong>.</p><p> Quick link to home page: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCDC’s climate and weather datasets, products, and various web pages and resources: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links</a></p><p> Quick link to Text & Map Search: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Center for Education Statistics</h3><p><strong><img width="400" height="80" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/400/height/80/479_nces.rev.1407787656.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image479 lw_align_right" data-max-w="400" data-max-h="80"/>The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations.</strong> NCES is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences. NCES has an extensive Statistical Standards Program that consults and advises on methodological and statistical aspects involved in the design, collection, and analysis of data collections in the Center. To learn more about the NCES, <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/about/" target="_blank">click here</a>.</p><p> Quick link to NCES Data Tools: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4</a></p><p> Quick link to Quick Tables and Figures: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCES Fast Facts (Note: The primary purpose of the Fast Facts website is to provide users with concise information on a range of educational issues, from early childhood to adult learning.): <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/#</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Internal Revenue Service: Tax Statistics</h3><p><img width="155" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image486 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg 2x" data-max-w="463" data-max-h="596"/>Find statistics on business tax, individual tax, charitable and exempt organizations, IRS operations and budget, and income (SOI), as well as statistics by form, products, publications, papers, and other IRS data.</p><p> Quick link to <strong>Tax Statistics, where you will find a wide range of tables, articles, and data</strong> that describe and measure elements of the U.S. tax system: <a href="http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2" target="_blank">http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The Penn World Table</h3><p> The Penn World Table provides purchasing power parity and national income accounts converted to international prices for 189 countries/territories for some or all of the years 1950-2010.</p><p><a href="https://pwt.sas.upenn.edu/php_site/pwt71/pwt71_form.php" target="_blank">Quick link.</a> </p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Aviation Administration: Accident & Incident Data</h3><p><img width="100" height="100" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image80 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 3x" data-max-w="550" data-max-h="550"/>The NTSB issues an accident report following each investigation. These reports are available online for reports issued since 1996, with older reports coming online soon. The reports listing is sortable by the event date, report date, city, and state.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/" target="_blank">http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>MapStats</h3><p> A feature of FedStats, MapStats allows users to search for <strong>state, county, city, congressional district, or Federal judicial district data</strong> (demographic, economic, and geographic).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/" target="_blank">http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>