How to Freak Out About Millennials in a Statistically Responsible Manner

Stop talking about basements. Start talking about base salary.
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This is what living in a basement really looks like. (Reuters)

This morning, I explained why the meme about Millennials living in their parents' basements is overblown, thanks to the Census' quirky definition of "parents' basements." (It includes college dorms.)

Americans love to wax histrionic about young people, and it would be cruel for me to deprive them of a beloved national past-time hours before Independence Day weekend. So if you're gonna get gloomy about Millennials, here's how to do so responsibly.

Stop talking about basements. Start talking about money.

In the last decade, the face of twentysomething Americans has been righteously slapped by the recession, according to Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies. The number of young adults making less than $25,000 has increased by six million; the number of young adults making more than $25,000 has declined by almost two million.


Young People: Poorer Than They Used to Be

Harvard JCHS

It's not like there's one economy for young people and another sparkling economy for everybody else. There's just one economy, and it's slashed median incomes to historic lows (since 1970) for households led by Americans aged 25 to 54.


Everybody but Seniors: Poorer Than They Used to Be

Harvard JCHS

More years of school + more student debt + lower starting salaries + a nervous housing market + stricter rules for new home-buyers = no new home-buyers. The graph below shows the recession slashing household formation among Millennials, even though we're the largest generation in U.S. history. Demographics ought to dictate economics in the long run. But in the last few years, demographics burped.


The Demographic Burp: Where Are All the Households?

Harvard JCHS

The personal reason to worry about young people is that they're not making enough money. The big-picture reason to worry about young people is that their not making enough money has been dreadful for the U.S. housing market. The faster the economy grows, the faster young people can get back to their historic role of marrying, buying houses, and replenishing the top soil of economic growth.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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