The past is another country. In 1980, the typical young worker in Detroit or Flint, Michigan, earned more than his counterpart in San Francisco or San Jose. The states with the highest median income were Michigan, Wyoming, and Alaska. Nearly 80 percent of the Boomer generation, which at the time was between 18 and 35, was white, compared to 57 percent today.
Three decades later, in 2013, the pieces of the picture of young people—yes, Millennials—have been violently rearranged, and not all the fragments are falling into a better place. Michigan's median income for under-35 workers has fallen by 26 percent, more than any state. In fact, beyond the east coast, earnings for young workers fell in every state but Hawaii and South Dakota.
How Young Adult Earnings Compared to 1980
The median income of young adults today is $2,000 less today than their parents in 1980, adjusted for inflation. The earnings drop has been particularly steep in the rust belt and across the northwest.
As you can see in the next interactive graph, the three states with the highest median income for young people in 1980 were also the three states with the steepest 33-year decline in median income: Michigan, Wyoming, and Alaska. The winners of this continental shake-up are all on the coasts, particularly Virginia, Maryland, and just about all of New England.