Young workers, those aged 18-34, have struggled tremendously over the last year. But their troubles pre-date the Great Recession, and will likely last far beyond it.
To a lot of folks, it looks like we've walked back from the brink of economic collapse. There's work to be done, they say, but there's also optimism that the economy is beginning to turn the corner to recovery.
Things don't look so cheery for young people. The economic condition of the 18-34 crowd has been on the decline for some time now. Today's youth - college students, recent college graduates, etc. - might be the first generation to inherit an economy worse off than that of their parents.
The unemployment rate is approaching 10 percent nationally, but the unemployment rate for young people has already eclipsed that mark. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the unemployment rate for those 20-24 is a little more than 15 percent. For the 25-34 set, the unemployment rate is 10.4 percent, and for the youngest of workers in the labor force, 16-19 year-olds, the rate is 25 percent. In total, young workers account for nearly half of all unemployed workers.
We know anecdotally and from evidence that summer jobs with income that used to go toward college savings and car payments have not been available. Recent college graduates are having a hellish entry into the job market. And young professionals with just a couple years in the work force are facing increasing job insecurity. Everyone has a friend who continues to apply for job openings that attract numerous applicants, only to fail and end up back in their parents' house. New numbers show that in July, the ratio of those officially unemployed to available jobs was 6:1.
But it's not only unemployment numbers that are leaving young people more and more vulnerable. This year's college graduate is likely to leave with more than $20,000 in student loan debt -- and possibly much more in credit card debt accrued to pay for college-related expenses. To add insult to injury, the median income for workers 25-34 has been falling since 2000 (excluding women with college degrees).
A spring 2008 report by Demos, along with a more recent report by the AFL-CIO released on Labor Day, come to the same conclusion -- youth are under serious economic duress. Falling incomes, fewer jobs, and rising debt leave many youth less optimistic about their chances in this economy. The pillars and levers of economy opportunity that helped millions gain entry into the middle class a generation ago are slowly eroding.
While the government bails out banks and older Americans worry over pensions, young people just starting out are shouldering more than our share of the country's burdens. We didn't create the crisis, but we sure are paying for it.
In the midst of debates on new financial regulations and economic reforms, it's important to keep in mind a need that every generation before this one has met: to hand over an economy with greater economic opportunities and greater economic stability to the next.
Simeon Talley is senior studying international politics at the University of Iowa and a member of the Roosevelt Institute's network of campus-based think tanks.