Millennials – off to a different start

Tina Haapala |

A short article in the most recent edition of EconSouth (from the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta) entitled “The Economic Plight of MillennialsS” would cause any economist or demographer to go hmmm…

You see, this is the group who was born after 1980, making the leading edge at or around college age. This is when the first marriages and home ownerships tend to start, and when pollsters can begin to compare one generation to the next. Of course all generations are both different and the same. We are, after all, limited to measuring humans in this context, and cultures change at a rather slow rate. Yet they do change, time brings with it different experiences, progress adds new toys that change work and play, resulting in very measurable differences.

Unfortunately, this early group of Millennials began entering the workforce at about the same time the economy was bouncing off the bottom of one of the worse cycles we have ever seen. No doubt this will affect their generation for the rest of their lives.

Knowing exactly what causes changes in a group’s tendencies compared to another is difficult. I am sure that much will be blamed on the Financial Crisis that isn’t primarily due to its effects. However, it is certainly reasonable to consider two measures the article focuses on as being influenced to a substantial effect by economics: House ownership and marriage.

As many parents know, kids are living at home longer, and coming back more often than just about any other time in history. Why? Some will note that these two generations seem to get along pretty well. But perhaps this just makes the stay less annoying. Likely it is more to do with three little facts.

First, there was and is a high level of unemployment among young adults. No job equals no house.

Second, they are a very educated generation, going to college and completing degree plans at a higher rate than other generations. But college has been getting more expensive, subsidies are less available, and degree plans often stretch beyond four years. All of this combines to a mountain of debt for recent grads: Much more so than their parents experienced. Loads of debt equals no house.

And lastly, when they do find a job that uses their college education, they’ll find that wages have stagnated. In fact, even though Millennials are coming into the workforce with more knowledge and skills than previous generations, they are not making much more than their parents and grandparents did when they were starting out (when adjusted for inflation).

What about marriage? What about it? The potential Millennial mate is living at home, probably unemployed, and is sitting on a mountain of debt. Not great potential for marriage material there.

So is this the “lost generation”? I doubt it. All generations have problems they inherit with their time-period. Sometimes it is war, sometimes economics, sometimes weather, sometimes plague. Yet every time they seem to get their act together…eventually…and try not to mess things up too much for the following generation.

So I’m guessing they’ll take what we give them and figure out a way to improve on it, the way we’ve always done. 

This article was published under the title "Millenials off to a rocky start" in the Wichita Falls Times Record News on  May 11, 2014.