Young adults may be bearing the brunt of a tough economy

6:09 PM, Sep 25, 2011   |    comments
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WASHINGTON -- Young adults are the recession's lost generation.

In record numbers, they're struggling to find work, shunning long-distance moves to live with mom and dad, delaying marriage and raising kids out of wedlock, if they're becoming parents at all. The unemployment rate for them is the highest since World War II, and they risk living in poverty more than others - nearly 1 in 5.

New 2010 census data released Thursday show the wrenching impact of a recession that officially ended in mid-2009. There are missed opportunities and dim prospects for a generation of mostly 20-somethiv  ngs and 30-somethings coming of age in a prolonged period of joblessness.

"We have a monster jobs problem, and young people are the biggest losers," said Andrew Sum, an economist and director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. He noted that for recent college graduates getting by on waitressing, bartending and odd jobs, they will have to compete with new graduates for entry-level career positions when the job market does improve.

"Their really high levels of underemployment and unemployment will haunt young people for at least another decade," Sum said.

Richard Freeman, an economist at Harvard University, said young people "will be scarred and they will be called the `lost generation' - in that their careers would not be the same way if we had avoided this economic disaster."

University of Minnesota Economics Professor Christopher Phelan believes the term 'lost generation' may be a bit of a "hyperbole."  Still, Phelan says the trend definitely exists.

"Unlike previous recessions, where you tend to just zoom up after the recession ends, what we had was a bad recession than no zoom up afterwards.  It's been almost two years, and we have been growing -- just not much," Phelan said.

And some University of Minnesota students agree.

"The statistics that colleges use for jobs people get -- 'like, oh, we have 90 percent employment,' many of them, they graduate and they get low-level jobs," said Joseph Rief, a university freshman.

"It's just tough to get a job, even if you do well, even if you have a good degree.  There's just not openings, because people and businesses, they're downsizing right now," said Carver Peterson, also a university freshman.

Employment among young adults 16-29 was 55.3 percent, compared with 67.3 percent in 2000; it's the lowest since the end of World War II.

Young males who lacked a college degree were most likely to lose jobs due to reduced demand for blue-collar jobs in construction, manufacturing and transportation during the downturn. Among teenagers, employment was less than 30 percent.

The employment-to-population ratio for all age groups from 2007-2010 dropped faster than for any similar period since the government began tracking the data in 1948. In the past year, 43 of the 50 largest metropolitan areas continued to post declines in employment: Charlotte, N.C., Jacksonville, Fla., Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Detroit. Each experienced a severe housing bust, budget deficit or meltdown in industries such as banking or manufacturing.

Without work, young adults aren't starting careers and lives in new cities.

Among adults 18-34, the share of long-distance moves across state lines fell last year to roughly 3.2 million people, or 4.4 percent, the lowest level since World War II. For college graduates, who historically are more likely to relocate out of state, long-distance moves dipped to 2.4 percent.

Opting to stay put, roughly 5.9 million Americans 25-34 last year lived with their parents, an increase of 25 percent from before the recession. Driven by a record 1 in 5 young men who doubled up in households, men are now nearly twice as likely as women to live with their parents.

Marriages fell to a record low last year of just 51.4 percent among adults 18 and over, compared with 57 percent in 2000. Among young adults 25-34, marriage was at 44.2 percent, also a new low.

Broken down by race and ethnicity, 31 percent of young black men lived in their parents' homes, compared with 21 percent of young Latino men and 15 percent of young white men. At the state level, New York had the highest share of young men living with their parents at 21 percent, followed by New Jersey and Hawaii, all states with higher costs of living. Most of the cities with low percentages of young adults living at home were in the Midwest.

Younger women across all race and ethnic groups had fewer children compared with 2008. Births declined 6 percent among 20-34 year-olds over the two-year period even though the number of women in this group increased by more than 1 million, according to an analysis of census data by Kenneth Johnson, sociology professor and senior demographer at the University of New Hampshire. Never before has such a drop in births occurred when the population of young adults increased in at least 15 years.

"Many young adults are essentially postponing adulthood and all of the family responsibilities and extra costs that go along with it," said Mark Mather, an associate vice president at the private Population Reference Bureau. He described a shift toward a new U.S. norm, one that's commonly seen in Europe, in which more people wait until their 30s to leave the parental nest.

"Some of these changes started before the recession but now they are accelerating, with effects on families that could be long term," Mather said.

As for ways of "beating" the trend, Phelan recommends that applicants remember employers do not "owe" them anything.

"You have to remember employers don't have to hire anyone," he said, adding, "Are you going to be able to convince that person that they can make more money by hiring you?"

(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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