Published December 12, 2013
For the first time in over 50 years, people -- especially young people -- are waiting, and it’s not necessarily by choice. Mobility for young Americans has fallen to the lowest level since 1963, according to latest U.S. Census Bureau figures, with many holding off on making any major decisions because they are looking for work, burdened with student debt or stuck in a low-wage job.
Mike Fast, a 27-year-old journalism graduate from Baltimore, M.D., said at his age, he never planned to be living with his parents or working at a Chick-fil-A restaurant.
“It sounds extreme but over the last few years, I have probably sent out hundreds of resumes,” said Fast. “But finding a job, one that offers a salary or benefits, is really hard.”
Fast said he found internships that were more in line with his long-term career goals, but they didn’t pay enough to live on.
“I thought I’d be somewhere higher up, and emotionally, it beats you down. But I know feeling that way is not going to help me so I do not give in to [those feelings],” he said.
The new 2013 Census Bureau figures show explicitly how the languid economy is affecting Millennials. According to the latest data, 18.1% of young adults between the ages of 25 and 34 were not in school and not working in 2011, up from 14.3% in 2007.
“That’s a pretty big increase in a short period of time because most indicators of social change are very slow-moving,” said Mark Mather, associate vice president at Population Reference Bureau. “Businesses have been reluctant to hire new workers and many older workers are staying in the workforce. So there aren’t a lot of opportunities for young people who are just starting out.”
Demographers sometimes refer to the group, now often delaying careers, marriage and even having children until a later age, as “Generation Wait.”
“More people are postponing marriage, and couples who are having kids are more likely to live with each other without marrying,” said Mather. “And research shows that co-habiting unions are more likely to break up then married people, so many kids are growing up in more unstable living conditions.”
According to research by the Population Reference Bureau, fertility rates are also in decline, down to 1.9 children per woman in 2010. (The highest rate of child bearing in the U.S. in the past 50 years was 3.7 children per woman in 1959.)
However, the recent fertility decline may just be a short-term response to high unemployment.
“Recessions generally affect the timing of fertility but not the overall number of children that women will have in their lifetime,” the PRB study said.
Right now, a record 21.6 million people between 18 and 31 live with their parents, and Mather said this trend, similar to a European model, will likely continue even as the economy improves. For some, it may not be such a bad thing.
“In Europe, this is very common, though the family structure tends to be more stable,” said Mather. “Still, for a lot of young people, waiting could be a positive thing -- certainly in terms of getting married and having kids. Research shows that waiting until after you graduate college and start a career, in terms of earnings and reducing the likelihood of marriages splitting up, that it’s good to wait.”
Sarah Burd Sharps of Measure for America, a non-profit focused on helping young people transition to adulthood, emphasized that while waiting to make life decisions may not be a bad choice, there is nothing positive about the estimated 5.8 million young people who are truly disconnected from both work and school.
“It’s not good for society, and it comes at a high price,” she said. “If you begin your work life having positive experiences, you gain self-confidence and optimism. But not finding a job or not finishing school sows the seed of hopelessness and self-doubt.”
Sharps said while Measure for America wants every young American needs to do something after graduating from high school, a four-year college education is not realistic for everyone and should not be touted as the only option. Other choices, she said, could be vocational and technical schools.
As for Fast, this 27-year-old said he knows his only option.
“I’m focused on not giving up,” said Fast, an avid Ravens fan who is currently writing for the russellstreetreport.com, a website focused on the football team, as a side (and unpaid) job. “I love it and if I could net 30,000 and get benefits, I’d feel like a king.”