Today’s young adults face different economic times than those of their parents. On December 5 CAP hosted an event that explored the economic situation of America’s young adults, as well as a new report titled “The State of Young America” and its accompanying national poll, a project between Demos and Young Invincibles.
“The State of Young America” provides a comprehensive look at the economic trends of the country’s young adults; the national poll shows that many of them are concerned with their economic circumstances and opportunities.
Progress 2050 Director Vanessa Cárdenas gave welcoming remarks and introduced the participants in the panel discussion. Moderated by Jamelle Bouie of The American Prospect, the panel included Ronnie Cho, White House liaison to young Americans and associate director of the Office of Public Engagement; Heather McGhee, director of the Demos Washington office; Aaron Smith, co-founder and executive director of Young Invincibles; and Eduardo Garcia, Advocacy Associate for Campus Progress.
According to the aforementioned poll, Smith said, more than 50 percent of young adults ages 18 to 34 make less than $30,000 per year, and only 53 percent are currently working in their desired field. Young adults of color also faced great economic hardship: Sixty percent of Latinos and 55 percent of African Americans said that they were in a “fair” or “poor” financial situation.
“Across the board, young people have seen their level of debt increase over the last few years,” Smith said. “The biggest reasons are student debt, credit cards, and medical bills. That’s a consistent problem. And the economic conditions are causing young people not only hardship right now, but they’re causing them to delay things that they would otherwise want to do.” They are holding off on buying homes, getting married, and starting families.
“Forty-eight percent of young adults think their generation will be worse off than their parents’,” Smith said, but “69 percent said that they still believed that the American Dream was achievable for their generation.”
McGhee said that this “generation of Americans … is the most diverse and the first in history to most likely not do better than their parents did as they enter adulthood.” She discussed the report’s comparison of the situation of young adults in 1980 to the situation of young adults today, saying that while the economy has shifted from one that is “goods-producing” to one that focuses on knowledge and service, it is still no less expensive to earn a college degree. In fact, tuition is three times higher now than in 1980, and the country’s collective loan debt has risen to more than $1 trillion.
In terms of solutions, Cho discussed steps the federal government is taking to lessen young adults’ debt. Among other things, he mentioned “income-based repayment reforms, letting folks have an ability to pay off their debt in a way that’s responsible for their own income situation. That way, they won’t have to pay anything until they have a job.” He also said that those working in public service will have their debts “forgiven in 20 years.”
The panel also discussed how young people can help solve their generation’s problems. Garcia said organizations that work with young adults, like Campus Progress, “have a responsibility to provide young people with the skills that they need to learn about politics,” and that these organizations need to be in tune with their concerns. Programs should harness young adults’ “energy” and “excitement,” as well as help them develop their abilities and leadership skills.
Today’s young adults face many economic challenges. It is everyone’s responsibility to make sure they have the best opportunities to succeed going forward.
Vanessa Cárdenas, Director of Progress 2050, Center for American Progress
Ronnie Cho, White House Liaison to Young Americans, Associate Director, Office of Public Engagement
Heather McGhee, Director, Washington Office, Demos
Aaron Smith, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Young Invincibles
Eduardo Garcia, Advocacy Associate, Campus Progress
Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect