Not All Millennials are Middle Class

Not All Millennials are Middle ClassAs you know if you’re a frequent reader, I often hear complaints that members of the millennial generation are entitled, lazy and narcissistic. The pervasive stereotype, often perpetuated by the media and late-night TV, is that young people today are all coddled trust fund kids with nothing better to do than whine while posting selfies to Instagram.

While there are some millennials who conform to this stereotype, they are far from the majority. In fact, very few young adults in the U.S. have the luxury of rejecting jobs from companies without pool tables or seeking passion over profit in their workplace.

I admit that my blog posts and speeches often focus on college-educated, middle-class young professionals and their issues. Today I’d like to acknowledge my own bias and present more of the millennial story. In actual fact, most millennials are struggling to get by in a time of great economic disparity.

I credit many of my blog readers’ comments and the new book, Misunderstood Millennial Talent: The Other Ninety-One Percent, for helping to widen my lens. The book on a study from the Center for Talent Innovation that found that although 99 percent of human resources professionals believe that millennials are a “flighty bunch, with one foot out the door,” that is true for only 9 percent of what they call “financially privileged millennials” — identified as those whose families could support them indefinitely should they quit or lose their job, or those who receive at least $5,000 from family per year. The other 91 percent have quite a different economic reality.

So, let’s take a moment to look at the facts:

College degrees and earnings are not rising together

A third of millennials (34 percent) have at least a bachelor’s degree. That’s 10 percentage points higher than the 24 percent of baby boomers who had college degrees in the late 1970s and 1980s. But even though the percentage of the generation with college degrees has increased, salaries have stayed flat. $35,000 is the overall median earnings of today’s millennials, which isn’t much higher than that of the early boomers, who earned an adjusted $34,883 at a comparable age.

That could be why 20 percent of 18- to-34-year-olds lived in poverty in 2009-2013. That compares with 14 percent of that age group who lived in poverty in 1980.

Student loan debt is crushing them

As you’ve probably read before, the average student loan debt of 2016 graduates was $37,172. Millennials have been hit hard for years: Between 2008 and 2014, student loan debt rose a startling 84 percent, according to a study by Experian.

Ageism? Millennials have a higher jobless rate than those 55+

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 5 percent of men ages 25 to 34 and 5.4 percent of similarly aged women were unemployed as of August, compared with 3.6 percent of men and 3.4 percent of women in the 55-and-up cohort.

Many others are underemployed

And that doesn’t even speak to those millennials who are “underemployed” (not having enough paid work or not doing work that makes full use of their skills and abilities). According to research from Accenture, more than half (51 percent) this year report being underemployed, 10 percentage points more than in 2013.

Many see the value in blue-collar jobs

Although there are no concrete numbers, anecdotal evidence indicates that many millennials are turning to manufacturing and other blue-collar jobs for the stability and rising wages they offer. It’s a smart choice: A report by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute found that 2 million manufacturing positions are likely to go unfilled in the next decade due to a lack of skilled workers.

When you consider these facts, it’s clear that this is a generation grappling with difficult financial realities.

So, the next time you hear someone paint an entire generation with a broad stroke, consider reminding them of the less-buzzed-about millennials who are living, working and looking for work in your community. Every generation is made up of many faces, and it’s important to remember that not everyone’s reality is pampered and privileged. I personally vow to write, speak and advocate more for millennials in all economic situations.

Are any of these stats surprising to you? I’d love to hear your take on the financial realities facing millennials. Please share in the comments below.

Lindsey Pollak is the leading voice on millennials in the workplace, trusted by global companies, universities, the world’s top media outlets — and, most importantly, by millennials themselves. A New York Times bestselling author, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her keynote speeches have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.

12 Responses to “Not All Millennials are Middle Class”

  1. Celeste Stewart

    Hi Lindsey

    I’m happy you wrote about this because the notion that all millennials are super wealthy and ‘entitled’ has bothered me for the longest time. Here in South Africa, I do work with NGOs who focus specifically on youth leadership development in poorer communities. We mentor the scholars making a transition from high school to university. Many of them come from exceptionally poor homes and they’ve never matched the profile as you’ve mentioned in your blog.

    One specific person I am mentoring, is currently able to study only because she has received a full funded bursary (studies, accommodation, books, food). Had she not received this, she couldn’t afford to study at all.

    I agree, let’s not generalise and paint everyone with the same brush.


  2. Leann Morgan

    I’m curious how you account for the high un/under employment rate of millennials versus boomers. Do you believe they were lead to believe that a college education would equate to a living wage when they were in high school (i.e., rhetoric around “all kids should go to college”)? Also, what is preventing them from retraining to work in manufacturing if that’s where the jobs are? It seems that job creation is useless if the people that need jobs are not trained or interested in actually doing those jobs. What are your thoughts on young people choosing to live in poverty instead of training for jobs that would provide them with a living wage? Is it the stigma of the blue collar, or unrealistic expectations of society to provide for them? So many questions…

    • Lindsey Pollak

      @Leann – Thank you for raising these questions. I’m still working on my answers and learning more about the issues. Would love to know what you and other readers think. – Lindsey

  3. Alexandria Fontanez

    Thank you for continuing to debunk millennial stereotypes through your work! It’s great to read an article that reflects the economic reality of this generation, rather than reflecting the media-driven stereotype of trust fund millennials. Looking forward to your next post!

  4. Areya

    Thank you for writing this article. I come from a lower economic class. I’ve been out of college for 4 years and although I am one of the lucky ones who got enough scholarship money to cover all expenses, my peers (I would argue most of my peers) have not been so lucky and they are either unemployed or underemployed. These are highly skilled, hardworking individuals whose talents are not being utilized to their full potential and my heart goes out to them. I was very fortunate; I myself ran my own successful video and photography business after college for 2 years before a lack of clients in 2015 forced me to take a second job. I am now transitioning into the music industry while using rideshare to pay the bills. I have seen time and again my peers taking on underpaying jobs that they were overqualified for just so that they can be independent from their parents who are also struggling to make ends meet every day. This is the reality. Over-privileged and entitled millennials? Perhaps they exist, but I sure don’t know them. The media and hiring companies need to stop painting such a skewed picture and then we can begin to solve the actual problem.

  5. Jim Peacock

    Lindsey, this is a great article and rings true for me. I was just speaking to a colleague and we both felt that much of the millennial stereotypes certainly do NOT describe our children.
    We can never forget that these generational views are very broad brushed and that people are individuals first.

    I also must commend you on reaching out here and representing more young people in our country than just college educated. We live in a country that NEEDS a more manufacturing and “hands on” trained workforce. There are so many great jobs that do not require a college degree and millennials will need to fill these positions that require hands on skills matched with intelligence & creativity. (Whew…I’ll stop now…these are two of my soapbox issues 🙂

    • Lindsey Pollak

      @Jim – Thank you for your very kind comments. Please share any articles you have on manufacturing careers — I am trying to learn more about the opportunities there for Millennials. Thanks! – Lindsey


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