As we're all too aware by now, it's been a raw decade for young Americans. The job market still has a giant, recession-shaped crater in it. A college degree is more expensive yet more essential than ever. Wages are stagnant.
All of this adds up to a single sad possibility, according to the New York Times' Annie Lowrey: Today's twenty- and thirty-somethings may never end up as rich and financially secure as their parents. Lowrey's story points to a recent study by the Urban Institute, which suggests that Americans under forty, financially wracked by student debt and the housing bust, have saved up much less wealth than the generations before them. Because wealth compounds over time, there's a strong chance they won't ever catch up.
But the Times misses something key, I think, which is that not everybody under 40 is in the same boat. As this graph from the Urban Institute's study shows, it's mostly Americans in their thirties (in red) who have seen their net worth collapse compared to 30 years ago. The quarter-life set are actually doing a bit better.
And there's a simple reason for that: the housing market crashed just as today's thirty-somethings were getting into it. As a result, they found themselves in lots of debt and with very little to show for it. As the real estate researchers at Zillow reported in August, homeowners in their thirties are still the most likely to be underwater on their mortgages.