Despite the fact that there are smaller numbers of young adults and they are on-the-average better educated than past generations at the same point in life, young adults get paid less than would be expected and are more likely to be unemployed than are older workers.
Wages for young workers have been declining for more than a decade. According to data from the Economic Policy Institute, in the most recent decade the most-educated workers (college graduates) with the newest skills (young college graduates) did not fare well at all. In fact, their wage opportunities fell even as overall productivity in the economy continued to soar. Even worse, entry-level wages for high school graduates were actually lower than they were in the 1970s.
Another study, conducted by the Pew Research Center, shows that nearly 40 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 self-identify as lower class, which is a 14 percentage point boost since 2008. What causes this self-definition? Burdened with student debt and high levels of unemployment and underemployment, young adults are facing a more competitive job market as well as lower wages. However, the tendency to self-identify as poor does not only apply to the younger generation; in fact, one-third of Americans now identify themselves as lower class.
How have young adults responded to this economic disadvantage? A large number of the generation Y population has chosen to postpone the transition to adult life by continuing their education and by living with their parents longer than in the past. This means that they also put off getting married and having children until later in life. Other young adults who are looking for work have turned to the travel and hospitality industries. Those aged 18 to 29 are tending bar and waiting tables as they find it increasingly tough to get office jobs and internships.
High levels of unemployment and poverty pose numerous challenges to young adults. For many, coming of age during the Great Recession will mean a lifetime of reduced earnings and limited opportunity. The consequences include not only immediate wage losses, but also lower-than-expected earnings for years to come. What can we do in order to fix this crisis?