The Numbers Crunch: Millennials are feeling left out of economic recovery

May 15, 2015

It became a sad stereotype of the Great Recession: Unemployed 20-somethings camping out in their parents’ basement or holed up in their childhood bedrooms.

For many, it wasn’t their fault, given the colossal job losses.

And according to an eye-opening new study, the financial landscape for millennials in California hasn’t improved all that much, six years into the recovery.

Researchers with Young Invincibles, a national advocacy group for people ages 18 to 34, compiled census numbers and also went on a five-month tour across California, talking to more than 200 young adults.

“The Great Recession hit young workers harder than any other age group, and six years later our generation still grapples for economic stability,” the report begins.

While the state’s overall jobless rate was 6.5 percent in March, the lowest in seven years, it hovers at around 20 percent for those between 16 and 24. That’s nearly three times the unemployment rate for Californians older than 35, and it doesn’t count discouraged young people who have stopped looking for work.

More worrisome still, median income for Californians ages 18 to 24 plummeted by nearly 25 percent during the last decade compared to 10 percent nationally, largely because many are stuck in low-wage retail, service and hospitality jobs or can only find part-time work.

As higher education becomes more important to career prospects, costs are rising and access is decreasing to public college and universities. And as California becomes ever more diverse, the report highlights that minority and gay millennials feel discriminated against in the job market.

While the first part of the report lays out the problem, the second part offers some solutions, many of which make sense.

One idea is to improve and expand career and technical education in high schools that combines college-prep academics and work-based learning to train students for growing fields. Senate Bill 148 would invest $600 million in such programs. Gov. Jerry Brown, in his revised budget released Thursday, proposes $150 million for career technology programs, on top of $250 million he allocated in January.

The report also suggests expanding apprenticeships and paid internships – not unpaid ones that were a complete scam for stingy companies.

Rory O’Sullivan, deputy director of Young Invincibles, says the group wants the report to get the attention of the Legislature.

It should. After reading the report, it became even clearer to me that young adults need more help to regain their financial footing – and that we all have a stake in their success.

Since millennials make up more than a third of California’s workforce, their struggles ripple through the economy. These are the workers who will pay the taxes to fund pensions and Social Security checks. If financial woes force millennials to put off having children and buying houses too long, that’s not good for society.

While waiting for lawmakers to act, you might just want to add a little extra to the tip for that young man waiting on your table or the young woman cutting your hair.


Millennials have had their median income drop more than older workers, largely because they’re in lower-wage occupations.

Change in median income by age group, 2004-13:

  • 18-24 down 25%
  • 25-34 down 10%
  • 35-plus down 8%

Change in monthly wages by age group and industry, 2004-14:

Leisure and hospitality

  • 18-24 down 14%
  • 25-34 down 10%
  • 35-plus down 5%

Retail and wholesale

  • 18-24 down 18%
  • 25-34 down 13%
  • 35-plusno change

Source: Young Invincibles