As I’ve gotten older, I’ve also gotten crankier. Particularly in the way I view our younger generations. In fact, on more than one occasion I have used this very platform to air my grievances about “kids these days”
Today however, I want to defend them a little bit. For the past few years, we have heard many from the Millennial and Gen Z generations voicing concerns about how unfair the economic system is and how much difficulty they are having getting ahead.
A recent Harris Poll found that 65% of Gen Zers and 74% of Millennials believe they face more economic challenges than previous generations did. When reading this poll, I’ll admit my first instinct was to disregard such complaints as whining, just like my grandfather, who always claimed to walk to school uphill both ways in the snow did when I complained. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that I was just starting out my adult life and I managed to get ahead. Why can’t they do the same?
However, as much as it pains me to admit this, I believe the economic challenges young people face today are different. No, not different…. harder. In fact, they may be the toughest any generation has faced since perhaps the Great Depression. Personally, I believe this is part of why the number of young adults starting families is going down and the number of them still living at home is going up.
Looking back on my early 20’s I purchased my first home while still in college using only money I acquired working part time at a restaurant. I paid $70,000 for a 3-bedroom starter home in 2002. With 10% down and a rate of just over 5% I was able to keep the $450 a month payment under 25% of my monthly income.
I looked up that exact house today on Zillow and the approximate value of it is $190,000. At current interest rates of 8.5% and a 10% down payment that same monthly payment today would be around $1,400 meaning a young person would need to be making roughly $67,000 a year to do what I did 20 years ago. I know wages have gone up, but they haven’t gone up that much!
Housing isn’t the only thing that has skyrocketed in cost over the past 20 years. According to a recent study by U.S. News and World Report the price of in-state public education has gone up by over 158% that’s nearly three times more than the rate of inflation over that period. With this massive increase in price, it is not surprising that according to the Department of Education, the average student loan balance is over $37,000. https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/see-20-years-of-tuition-growth-at-national-universities
Healthcare costs much more as well. After adjusting for inflation, young people today are paying 25% more for medical care than my generation did, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Then when you just factor in the increased cost of other necessities such as transportation, utilities, food, and childcare the picture is pretty bleak.
For other curmudgeons like myself reading this, I hope some of this information has given you some pause. Too often, I think we like to pretend all of today’s young people’s financial problems could be solved if they stopped going to Starbucks or buying designer clothes. The reality is this a very difficult time to be starting out in life. As our national debt continues to grow the financial burdens, they will be forced to bear are likely to get even heavier.
So, the next time you hear a young person complaining about being broke, fight the urge to assume they are just not being good stewards of what they have been given. Instead, offer them some empathy and perhaps a few words of encouragement. They probably need it.