In 2012, 36 percent of the nation's young adults, ages 18 to 31, were living in their parents' homes — the highest share in more than 40 years, according to the Pew Research Center. And compared with previous generations, adult millennials carry record levels of student-loan debt. About two-thirds of recent bachelor's-degree recipients have such debt, with the total burden averaging $27,000. Twenty years ago, only about half of new graduates carried student debt.
These economic strains help explain why adult millennials are also behind previous generations in other respects, as another recent Pew report found. In 2013, only 26 percent of millennials ages 18 to 32 were married. At the same ages, 36 percent of Generation X, 48 percent of baby boomers, and 65 percent of the earlier Silent Generation had all tied the knot.
Despite coming of age in historically turbulent economic conditions, many young adults are moving ahead — and beginning to reshape the economy, the civic sector, and the political sphere as they do. Millennials are at the beginning of a demographic shift transforming America: More than two-fifths of them are nonwhite. They are also the best-educated generation ever. In 2012, 90 percent of young adults held a high school diploma, a record high. That year, for the first time, a third of young people held at least a four year-college degree.
And they are uniquely wired. "While every generation writes their page in history, this generation's page is entirely digital," Cooper said.
Millennials aren't using their digital savvy just to share vacation snaps. The advances in communications technology are making it easier for young people to start their own businesses or nonprofit organizations. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, millennials launched about 160,000 start-ups each month in 2011.
Despite their economic challenges, millennials remain hopeful about the future and confident in their abilities. Seventy percent say they're optimistic about their "economic prospects for the next few years," according to a recent online poll of young adults conducted by Democratic pollster Paul Harstad.
Millennials are shaping the political landscape, too. Their votes were instrumental in President Obama's 2008 and 2012 victories. In 2016, they are projected to represent 30 percent of the adult population, up from 17 percent in 2008. To assess the generation's effect on politics, Reps. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and Aaron Schock, R-Ill., recently spoke with Ronald Brownstein and Steve Clemons, editor of AtlanticLIVE, at last month's millennial town hall in Washington. Gabbard and Schock cochair the Congressional Future Caucus, founded in cooperation with the nonpartisan Millennial Action Project. Edited excerpts follow.
You are one of the first millennials in Congress. Looking at what you have seen so far, do you think there is any common perspective on issues among millennials that offers a way out of the persistent partisan divide?