Millennials should, theoretically, be the highest-paid cohort of young adults in American history: They’re the most educated group of workers and have entered the labor market at a time of high and increasing productivity.
But thanks to a recession, a slow recovery, and staggering amounts of student debt, that hasn’t happened. To turn the tide of their financial futures, a new report says, it won’t be enough for Millennials to work harder—they need help from legislators.
The report, published by the left-leaning Center for American Progress, compares the median earnings for a 30-year-old Millennial in 2014, a 30-year-old Gen Xer in 2004, and a 30-year-old Boomer in 1984. Brendan Duke, the study’s author and the associate director for economic policy at CAP, says that he chose to focus on 30-year-olds because it’s an age when people are likely to be working, to have more stable careers, to have decided whether or not to complete college, and to be starting families.
According to Duke’s research, today’s 30-year-olds make about as much as a 30-year-old would have in 1984—around $19.30 an hour—and a dollar less than a 30-year-old in 2004 (figures are adjusted for inflation). They’re no better off than their predecessors, despite the fact that a 30-year-old Millennial is 51 percent more likely to have finished college than a Boomer was, and 18 percent more likely than a Gen Xer. (For Millennials who haven’t earned a college degree, the outlook is worse than it would’ve been for 30-year-olds in a similar situation in past generations.) And Millennials, whom CAP defines as being born between 1981 and 1997, work in an economy that is 70 percent more productive than it was around 1984—an increase that would normally be expected to give them an advantage. “When I saw that the compensation of a 30-year-old today is practically stuck where it was 30 years ago I found that surprising and discouraging,” Duke says.