It’s a bad time to grow up.
Many adults aged 18 to 34 feel life is just simply harder for them than it was for their parents at their age, according to a Youth & Money in the USA poll by CNBC and Generation Lab. Over half (55%) of the 1,039 respondents say it’s “much harder” to purchase a home now, and things are no less bleak at the office: 44% said it’s harder to find a job and 55% said it’s harder to get promoted.
“The baby-boom generation went to work for a corporation and, for a lot [of] cases, stayed in one job for their entire career and retired with a pension—that doesn’t exist anymore,”Blair duQuesnay, a certified financial planner and lead advisor at Ritholtz Wealth Management, told CNBC.
The picture has long been grim for the youngest workforce entrants, whose college careers or early adulthoods coincided with a recession—the 2008 financial crisis for millennials and the shorter-lived coronavirus recession for Gen Z. Three quarters of millennials and two-thirds of Gen Z respondents to a recent poll conducted for USA Today by the Harris Poll said they’re “starting further behind financially” than their forebears.
Indeed, young people feel “they can’t buy into that American Dream the way that their parents and grandparents thought about it—because it’s not attainable,” Harris Poll CEO John Gerzema told USA Today. “An entire generation that feels like they’re coming of age in…this fractured, divisive world.”
That’s hardly a surprise. In their short lives, young adults have had to shoulder relentless inflation, a student debt crisis, generational wealth inequality, and an all-but-dissolving middle class. No wonder they’re convinced the American Dream is a relic of an earlier time. Even a worker making six figures “really struggles to live the American Dream,” SoFi CEO Anthony Noto said recently. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon echoed him, calling the dream “frayed.” A secure, well-paying job and a house with a white picket fence are symbolic of the American Dream—but both have often eluded younger generations.
Millennials make up the majority of homebuyers, but many still can’t afford a home
Millennials, who are in their prime homebuying years, “make up the biggest piece of the homebuying pie,” as Redfin puts it, having purchased about 60% of homes bought with mortgages during the past several years. But with mortgage rates near and at 8% and home prices on the rise, housing affordability is the worst it’s been since the Great Financial Crisis of 2008.
The median-priced home in the U.S. costs more than $311,000, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index—a homebuyer putting down a standard 20% would need to come up with more than $62,000 to buy a house. That’s shut many millennials, who have long struggled to save for a down payment as they try to catch up on building wealth, out of the housing market.
“Millennials have never fully been able to participate in the housing market as their prior generations have, but the large millennial generation has been—and continues to be—ready to build their families,” Julia Wasserman, chief operations officer of equity investment platform Home Construction Collective, told Fortune. “Millennials, however, have come of age over the course of troubling economic times.”
Data released by Fannie Mae on Wednesday also shows that 85% of consumers say it’s a bad time to buy a house. While they don’t break this data down by generation, other reports this year have shown that millennials and Gen Zers bear the brunt of the housing market crisis. A separate Redfin study finds that every two in five Gen Zers and millennials work side hustles in order to save up for a down payment.
Some millennials have turned to more creative ways of getting the money they need to buy a home, like straight up asking for it on their wedding registry or living with their parents to save enough cash.
It’s harder out there than it used to be
The labor market is no less grim than housing. Graduating directly into a recession and its aftermath hamstrung many of early job prospects for millennials. Unemployment peaked at 10% during the Great Recession, per Federal Reserve data. Millennials were affected “by different economic conditions and realities” than their parents, economist Ernie Tedeschi told Business Insider, adding that it made it more difficult for them to get a solid career footing.
And when the workers who lost their jobs (or never got one in the first place) finally inched towards regaining their footing, along came the pandemic, which left many workers furloughed and sent unemployment rates soaring up to over 14%.
While the coronavirus recession was more short lived, it also hit as the oldest Gren Zers graduated. Their outlook has much improved—see their outsize participation in the Great Resignation—but the labor market has since taken a turn. There have been hundreds of thousands of cross-industry layoffs, hiring freezes, and those lucky enough to remain gainfully employed shouldn’t expect a pay bump that will keep pace with inflation. Those are just the immediate challenges. For young workers, remote onboarding hasn’t helped matters, and depending on who you ask, it might even have cut them off from ever being a CEO in the future.
These years of economic turmoil has left both millennials and Gen Z deeply frustrated with the cards they were dealt, making costly sacrifices to stay afloat. They’re significantly more likely to move back home than adults of prior generations were. In a recent Experian survey, most Gen Zers and millennials said the current state of the economy is “hurting their ability to be a financially independent adult.”
But “in spite of pessimism about the nation and the world,” there are “glimmers of optimism” for young workers, Cyrus Beschloss, founder of Generation Lab, told CNBC. Namely, 40% of Gen Zers and millennials said they’ve found it easier to gain economic opportunities outside of traditional employment.
It is the age of the side hustle, after all, and juggling multiple income streams is only becoming easier amid the remote work boom. But it’s still not as easy as it was for boomers.