Money Culture

Progress Stalls for Young Adults

The promise of America is progress, but that progress stalled for the youngest generation: U.S. workers under age 45 earned dramatically less than workers who were that same age a decade ago, the Federal Reserve Board’s latest survey shows.

For Americans 35 through 44, the median household income – the income that falls in the middle of all earners – was $53,900 in 2010. That’s 14 percent less income than in 2001 when households in the 35-44 age bracket were earning $63,000, according to the Fed’s Survey of Consumer Finances released Monday. For young adults in the under-35 age bracket, median income fell to $35,100 in 2010, from $40,900 for that group in 2001.

The median income also declined, by nearly 9 percent, for Americans in their peak earning years, 45 through 54, to $61,000 in 2010 from $66,800 in 2001. [Incomes for all years are in current dollars.]

The sharp decline in real incomes, especially for young adults, occurred in a decade bracketed by the high-tech bubble of early 2000 and the jobless recovery of 2010 from the financial crisis. Without further analysis, it’s difficult to pinpoint precise explanations for the patterns. But the reasons vary depending on the age bracket being analyzed.

For the youngest workers, incomes may be lower if many are extending their college educations – high school and college graduates face the lowest level of employment ever recorded.
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Money Culture

Graduating in Era of Low Opportunity

Philip Seymour Hoffman playing the washed-up salesman, Willy Loman, in “Death of a Salesman,” is all the rage on Broadway. But when I saw the play recently, it was Biff who got me thinking about young adults today.

In the Arthur Miller classic, Willy anguishes over son Biff’s failure to hold down a job in the city. But the irony is that Biff, played by Andrew Garfield, probably did very well for himself after leaving Brooklyn for Texas. I imagine he became an oil baron or wound up owning substantial real estate in downtown Houston.

Young people graduating from high school or college today don’t have the virtually unlimited opportunity that existed in the 1940s when Miller wrote the play: the personal drive to find a job and establish a career is not enough anymore. Young graduates who sign up for unpaid internships and double up on college degrees are well aware of this.

Last year, 54 percent of adults ages 18 to 24 were employed – that was the lowest level since the government started tracking the data, in 1948 – according to a February report by the Pew Research Center. Despite an improving job market, it was only 55 percent in March. Job creation – 115,000 were added in April – is below the pace that will open up meaningful opportunity for young people. …Learn More