Young people, post recession: Ready to launch?

Post-recession data and the government's pro-elderly policies don't give much hope to Millennials. Yet they remain surprisingly optimistic.

Brian Snyder/REUTERS/Files
A young worker does quality checks on razor blades manufactured at Gillette's factory in Boston in Dec. 2011. .

It may be getting really old to be young in America.

That is in large part because of the lingering aftereffects of the Great Recession on people who are between the ages of 18 and 34, according to recent data.

More than a quarter of that group, for example, now live with a parent. During the recession, young people’s income took the biggest hit. Half of them now have jobs simply to pay the bills, not as a career choice. And for college grads with a student loan, the average debt is $27,200.

And this week Congress further depleted the future solvency of Social Security by moving to extend a cut in the payroll tax. President Obama’s budget, meanwhile, is heavily weighted toward spending on the elderly and their entitlements, and Congress will likely go along with that. And over the next decade, the federal debt will grow 68 percent to $19.5 trillion under the Obama budget, leaving a heavy burden for future generations.

No wonder voter turnout among young people is expected to return to its historic low rates in the 2012 election. One reason, according to the Pew Center on the States, is the disorderly waythat states register voters, especially mobile people like students and other young people. Nearly a quarter of people who are eligible to vote are not registered.

Despite these problems, it is surprising how optimistic young people remain. Nearly 9 in 10 say they either have or earn enough money now or expect they will in the future, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The recession has not diminished their job satisfaction.

They are very realistic about owning a home – only 12 percent of white young people say it is important. They realize the importance of training in order to be competitive in the workplace. The share of young adults enrolled in high school or college is at a record high. And parents are more supportive than in the past decades in providing a financial backstop to their young-adult children.

A generation that came of age during the worst recession since the 1930s is also America’s most educated. They are settling into different patterns of life and work, based on clear-eyed economics.

Three-fourths of those under 45, for example, do not expect Medicare to provide benefits for them, according to a New York Times poll. More than two-thirds of that group believe Social Security will not be available for them. Such attitudes set up higher rates of savings and investment for the future, in a spirit of personal independence.

Here’s the best clue: More than half of 18-to-34-year-olds say being a parent is “one of the most important things” in their lives. With that kind of hope, maybe being young isn’t getting old quite yet.

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