Study Shows that Millennials Really Do Have It Harder than Their Parents Did
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Study Shows that Millennials Really Do Have It Harder than Their Parents Did

Members of this generation have to make ends meet with 20 percent less income than their parents had at the same age

January 13, 2017

For generations, Americans have lived by one simple guiding formula: Education + Hard Work = Success. If they follow this formula, they believe, then not only will their lives get better, but so will the lives of their children and their children's children. The reality, however, is that it doesn't always work, and the proof is the plight of the millennial generation.

Advocacy group Young Invicibles did a study using data from the Federal Reserve comparing people between the ages of 25 and 34 in 2013 with those who had fallen somewhere in that age range in 1989. The group found that, after adjusting for inflation, millennials actually earn 20 percent less than their parents' generation—known as baby boomers—did at the same stage of life.

Though millennials are often maligned as being lazy and entitled, the reality is that this generation has been crippled by much higher rates of student debt in order to pay for that education than their parents and grandparents were, and they are also less likely to own a home than members of previous generations had been at the same age.

The fact is that the formula followed by previous generations for success isn't working as well for millennials, and there are several possible reasons why. One is that many more young people are expected to go to college today than in the past for an education that costs far more now than it did in the days when their parents were young. Then they all end up competing for the same jobs. Another influential factor is the fact that companies and governments have prioritized services for the elderly, often at the expense of millennials.

USA Today reports on the situation of 28-year-old Andrea Ledesma, who says that by her age her parents owned a house and were raising children. Ledesma earned a college degree four years ago and now works at a Milwaukee pizzeria, where she makes $18,000 per year. She lives with her boyfriend in a two-bedroom apartment and carries $33,000 in student loans.

Ledesma's mother, 55-year-old Cheryl Romanowski, was working at a bank without a college education and making $10,000 per year—about $19,500 in today's dollars—when she was her daughter's age.

"That's not at all how life is now, that's not something that people strive for and it's not something that is even attainable, and I thought it would be at this point," Ledesma said.

Romanowski acknowledged the difficulties faced by her daughter that she herself did not have.

"I think the opportunities have just been fading away," she said.

Ledesma's situation is not unusual in her generation, notes CSM. Young Invincibles found that the median college-educated millennial is earning only a little bit more than baby boomers without a college degree did at the same age. Millennials also have the added complication of having to pay off student loans, which leaves them with even less disposable income in a country where the price of living has risen significantly.

In addition, millennials are largely responsible for funding services like Social Security and Medicare, which the Trump administration has promised not to cut. However, if salaries remain at such low levels, the Trump administration may face problems in continuing to provide these services.

"The challenges that young adults face today could forecast the challenges that we see down the road," said Tom Allison, deputy policy and research director at Young Invincibles.