Average Millennial $2000 poorer than parents at same age

by Vinnie Rotondaro

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The Atlantic's Derek Thompson paints an ugly picture  of the modern Millennial reality:

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 picture of young people—yes, Millennials—is a violently shaken kaleidoscope, and not all the pieces 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.

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...

Save for the East Coast (and South Dakota), Thompson writes, American Millennials are losing ground. 

The deeper explanation might be structural. Many young adults, particularly those who represent their families' first college graduates, are earning more than their parents. But young adults without a college degree have been run roughshod by technological changes, globalization, and slow wage growth that continues to this very week. Many of the cities with the largest declines in median income (Flint, Detroit, Cleveland, Youngstown, Toledo) were industrial hubs undone by the demise of manufacturing employment.

It's also worth pointing out that the United States has absorbed millions of immigrants over the past 30 years, often from poorer Latin and South American countries. (The Census notes that the share of ethnic minorities has doubled over the last 33 years.) It's possible that, even as these young families have raised their own living standards by moving to the U.S. and contributed to a growth economy, their below-average wages, when lumped into the aggregate, make it look like native-born families' wage growth is worse than it really is.

[Vinnie Rotondaro is NCR national correspondent. His email address is vrontodaro@ncronline.org.]

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