The State of Young America: The Databook

The State of Young America: The Databook

November 2, 2011
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Today, as millions still struggle with joblessness and millions more scrape by paycheck to paycheck, the Great Recession has heightened the sense that something is fundamentally wrong in our economy.  The reality is that for young people today, it is harder to either work or educate one’s way into the middle class. This databook is designed to describe the decline in opportunity and security that has taken place over the past thirty years, as the policies that previously provided the foundation for the existence of an American middle class deteriorated. 

The report provides a comprehensive portrait of the Millennial generation, and where possible, compares their economic status to that of the previous generation when they were just starting out.  The analysis reveals the failure of public investment and public policy to provide young people with the means to achieve economic security and sustain the middle class.  

The databook is organized into five key areas: jobs and the economy, college access and attainment, health care, cost of living, and raising a family. We also provide an initial blueprint for policy change.  

Top Facts:

Jobs & The Economy

  • Only workers with at least a BA degree saw earnings increase over the last generation
  • Median earnings for young African-Americans are 75% of the earnings of whites; 68% for Latinos
  • Young women earn less than men at every level of education.
  • Twenty-nine percent of 18-24 year olds and 16% of 25-34 year-olds are underemployed
  • The percentage of young adults with jobs is at its lowest point in a generation

Higher Education

  • Average tuition is three times higher today than in 1980
  • Two out of three students graduate with student loan debt, at an average of over $24,000 
  • African American students are more likely to take out student loans, and to graduate with higher debt levels
  • The student loan default rate rose 31% over just 2 years.

Health Care & Coverage

  • In just 10 years, employer-sponsored insurance dropped 12.8% for workers 18-24 and 8.5% for workers 25-34.  
  • During the recession, uninsurance rose among both 18-24 and 25-34 year-olds.  
  • Young people of color are disproportionately likely to lack insurance.
  • Recent reforms to the health care system have begun to reverse that trend, as 2.5 million young people under the age of 26 joined their parent's plan in the last quarter of 2010 and the first two quarters of 2011

Cost of Living

  • 41.3% of 25-34 year-old households spend more than 30% of their income on rent 
  • The share of young adults living with their parents increased
  • Levels of credit card debt among those ages 25 to 34 rose 81% since 1989, to an average of $6,255 in 2007

Raising A Family

  • The labor force participation of mothers rose 25% since 1980
  • Just 11% of all workers had access to paid family leave benefits
  • Center-based child care fees for two children exceeded annual median rent payments