Heather McGhee is the director of the Washington office of Demos, a non-partisan policy and research center. In November, Demos released The State of Young America: Economic Barriers to the American Dream. The 70-page report provides a great snapshot of what life is like for 18- to 34-year-old Americans today.
Below are some highlights from that report.
According to McGhee, Millennials are more diverse than Generation X or Baby Boomers. In 1995, according to the Pew Research Center, Gen Xers were 68 percent white, 14 percent Hispanic, 14 percent Black, 3 percent Asian and 1 percent Other. Compare that with Baby Boomers, who in 1978 were reported to be 77 percent white, 9 percent Hispanic, 12 percent Black and 2 percent Asian.
Unemployment rates among younger Millennials is nearly twice the national average. And income rates are falling for young men who are working full-time. Median income rates for young men have dropped 10 percent from 1980 to 2010. In the Demos report, nearly “60 percent of survey respondents said they would rather be working and earning more; not surprising given their falling incomes, particularly for less-educated young men.”
Young men with only a high school diploma are earning 25 percent less in 2010 than they did in 1980 — a loss of over $10,000.
Only workers with at least a bachelor’s degree saw a substantial increase in earnings over a generation. However, tuition at public universities nearly tripled since 1980. Students struggling to pay for college are enrolling part-time and working longer hours.
Federal financial aid has shifted from a grant-based system to more of a loan-based system. Last year, student loan debt surpassed credit card debt for the first time in American history.
Default rates on student loans have risen sharply since the economic downturn. In the Demos survey, “financial barriers” was the top reason students said they were dropping out of school.
Despite these statistics, most Millennials remain hopeful about their future. Over 70 percent of the Demos survey participants said that they still believe in the American Dream.