By Daniel Gross
Most of the coverage of today's economic difficulties focuses on older folks. How will the mid-career people who lost their jobs during the deep recession of 2008-2009 find new posts? Will the Baby Boomers, and whether they will be able to rely on Social Security and Medicare? What can be done to help homeowners and families caught up in the mortgage mess?
In a recent cover story in New York, Noreen Malone offers a sharply reported take on a demographic group that is often overlooked: twenty-somethings. As Malone and I discuss in the accompanying video, today's twentysomethings, while they may have fewer financial and familial obligations than their parents, and more time to prepare for a straightened future than the Baby Boomers, face their own unique challenges.
Here are some of the tough economic data points facing the "It Sucks to Be Us" generation:
Entering the workforce in a tough time has long-term impacts. Since the average workers get 70 percent of total raises in their first decade as a worker, "having stagnant or nonexistent wages during that period means you hit that springboard at a crawl," Malone writes. Seventeen years after entering the workforce, people who graduate college during a recession earn 10 percent less than those embarking on their careers during good economic towns. "In hard, paycheck-shrinking numbers, the salary lost over that stretch totals around $100,000."
Students today leave college with far more debt than they did in past years. The Class of 2009 had an average of $24,000 in student loans. "I almost don't even blink when someone says I have $100,000 in debt, just from undergraduate." According to one measure, "student loans have surpassed credit cards as the largest source of debt in the country."
Tough economic times mean twenty-somethings have a difficult time launching into independence — and that has an economic impact. They're more likely to rely on families and parents for support, thus cutting back on the old folks' ability to save, spend, and invest. " Thirty-nine percent of us in a 2010 National Journal poll were getting financial help from relatives, including a full quarter of those with full-time jobs," Malone writes.
The slow formation of households is holding back recovery in the housing market: "The median age of first marriages has crept up by about a year since 2006—a statistically huge increase—and the overall marriage rate is at an all-time low. The number of women between 20 and 34 rose by about a million between 2008 and 2010, but the number of children born to the group dropped by 200,000."
A college degree used to be insurance against a tough job market. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for college graduates over the age of 25, the unemployment rate is about 4.5 percent. But for recent college grads, Malone says, the rate is closer to 14 percent.