The Life and Hard Times of Today’s 18-29-Year-Olds

It’s bad luck to come of age amid the worst economic downturn in several generations. Today’s 18-29-year-olds are suffering the full effects of this, as an Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll reveals.

Financial independence has been one obvious casualty, with 39 percent of the 18-29-year-olds saying they regularly receive financial help from parents or other relatives to help cover ordinary expenses. Many 18-29s have had to defer setting up their own households, or have found themselves returning to the parental home after having been on their own. Even in the 25-29-year-old subgroup, 26 percent now live with parents or other relatives.

Under the circumstances, it’s easy to see why many 18-29s abstain from the traditional American belief in ending up more prosperous than one’s parents. While 36 percent believe they’ll “eventually” have a “higher standard of living” than their parents, 23 percent think it will be lower and 31 percent “about the same.” (The rest were unsure.)

In the meantime, many struggle with debt of one sort or another. Thirty-two percent are carrying credit-card debt, while 28 percent owe on student loans, 21 percent on motor-vehicle loans and 13 percent on mortgages. Just 34 percent of 18-29s in the poll (conducted last month) could boast of being debt-free.

The economic volatility of the past few years has given young adults a yen for stability that one doesn’t naturally associate with this life stage. Among those who are working, 42 percent would like to stay in their current job “for a long term, say 10 years or more.” Fifty-five percent would prefer “long-term employment with a single employer” to the “opportunity to change employers/professions” (34 percent preferred the latter). In ranking possible aspects of a career, the 18-29s gave “job security” precedence over “earning the highest pay possible” and “work that you find intellectually interesting.”

An end to this period of high unemployment won’t necessarily end its ill effects on the 18-29s. While 44 percent believe it won’t have “a lasting negative effect on our earnings potential or career opportunities,” 42 percent think it “has set us back for years” and means that “we are unlikely to have the same earnings or career opportunities we otherwise would have had.”

Despite these worries, a majority reject the notion that they’re at the mercy of large, impersonal forces. Asked to choose between two descriptions of their prospects in life, 30 percent said their financial well-being “depends more on events mostly out of your control, like what happens in the economy, decisions by your employer, an unexpected illness, and what happens in the stock market. But 60 percent said their financial fate “depends more on your own actions, like working hard, doing a good job, leading a healthy life and saving and investing carefully.”

Publish date: May 17, 2010 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT