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Generation Recession

The Nation

The result of all this has been that many of today's young people--again, especially the poor, those with less education and people of color--have a measurably harder road to travel than their generational elders, according to "The Economic State of Young America," a report published in spring 2008 by Demos, a New York-based research and advocacy organization. Between 1975 and 2005, for instance, the typical annual income for workers between the ages of 25 and 34 decreased across all educational brackets, with the exception of women with bachelor's degrees. Men without a high school diploma suffered most, their annual income plummeting by 34.2 percent, while men with a high school diploma or the equivalent earned the runner-up slot, with an income drop of 28.5 percent. As for women, those with less than a high school diploma, as well as those possessing just a diploma, lost less ground than their male counterparts; but then again, they're still doing worse than before and, perhaps more to the point, they still fare significantly worse than men their age.

At the same time, today's young workers have had to do more with less. College tuition rates have skyrocketed--in fact, rates for four-year public universities have more than doubled since 1980--with the unsurprising result that nearly two-thirds of students graduating from four-year colleges in 2008 left in debt. The cost of childcare now eats up as much as 10 percent of a two-parent family's income in many states (as much as 14.3 percent in Oregon). And young people between the ages of 19 and 34 are the most likely population to be uninsured--not because they don't want health benefits but because employers don't offer them. A case in point: 63.3 percent of recent high school graduates had employer-provided healthcare in 1979, whereas just 33.7 percent had it in 2004.

"What we're looking at is a situation where young people entered the recession already feeling the brunt of thirty years' worth of pretty gradual but nonetheless dramatic economic and social changes," says Nancy Cauthen, director of the Economic Opportunity Program at Demos. "The recession just made a bad situation worse."