The Second Lost Generation: Why So Many Millennials Are Failing To Launch

President Obama took an optimistic tone in his State of the Union address last month, noting the economic gains and social progress our nation has made during his tenure in office.

However, a report commissioned by the US Department of Education and published last month indicates that Millennials are faring worse than preceding generations in this post-recession climate.

The findings highlight some disturbing, yet unsurprising trends that face America’s neophyte adult class.

In a follow-up assessment of 13,000 individuals who were high school sophomores when first enlisted to participate in 2002, the Department of Education found that the Great Recession significantly stifled the social and economic progress of the Millennial generation.

One of the more disturbing trends we can derive from the study is the growing proclivity of people in their mid-20s to seek the comfort of home, fearing the exposure that comes with forgoing the parental safety net in order to cultivate an independent life.

According to the report’s findings:

“Overall percentages for all 2002 sophomores as of 2012 were as follows: 19 percent were living alone, 42 percent were living with a spouse or partner, 10 percent were living with roommate(s), 23 percent were living with their parents, and 6 percent had some other arrangement.”

This includes those who had earned a bachelor’s degree, of which only 34 percent did out of those who expected to finish college in 2002. Moreover, more than half of those surveyed lived fewer than 10 miles from their high school home.

This also means that more 26- and 27-year-olds are shaking up with their parents than living with roommates. In other words, Millennials now face nearly a one-in-four chance of having to meet the parents the morning after a one-night stand (though the study fails to elaborate on that consequence of these shifting realities).

While the findings illustrates this and other troubling social trends, the most disconcerting conclusions they draw are on the economic front.

Nearly 80 percent of those surveyed are in debt, be it from student loans, credit cards or mortgages. Since the year after President Obama first took office, 40 percent of the participants have been unemployed, with nearly 23 percent having endured extended unemployment that lasted six months or more.

In 2011, when the report subjects were roughly 25, they were more likely to be earning under $15,000 in annual salary than they were to be earning more than $40,000, according to The Atlantic.

Money remains the primary source of anxiety for the Millennial generation, which makes sense considering 53.8 percent pulled in under $25,000 in 2011.

When you consider that these Millennials were more likely to earn minimum wage than a liveable salary, the news that 68 percent of 27-year-old high school dropouts are parents indicates that our nation is on a trajectory that will require the government to do more to subsidize struggling families. Further, only 53 percent of those dropout parents are either married or cohabitating with the other parent.

There are a few nuggets of good news in the report that are cause for optimism, however.

Of those who were employed, nearly 57 percent believed their current job had them on the right “path toward career goals,” while more than 10 percent felt that their current employment fulfilled their career goals.

However, a contracted post-recession job market and an elevated cost of living has compelled a healthy number of 20-somethings to return home after venturing out on their own.

According to a Pew survey conducted in December 2011:

“Young adults (ages 18 to 34) say that the sluggish economy has had an impact on a wide array of coming-of-age decisions about career, marriage, parenthood and schooling. For example, nearly half (49 percent) say that in the past few years they have taken a job they didn’t really want just to pay the bills. Smaller but still sizable shares say that because of the tough economy they have gone back to school (35 percent), moved back in with their parents after living on their own (24%), postponed having children (22 percent) or postponed getting married (20 percent).”

This newfound acceptance that financial independence should be postponed until individuals are well into their 20s is a view shared across generational lines.

In a 1993 Newsweek poll, 80 percent of parents with young children believed their offspring should be financially independent from them by the time they turned 22.

Today, only 67 percent of parents feel that way, while 31 percent believe financial independence shouldn’t come until a child reaches age 25 or older.

So what does this all mean for the generation considered to have been most deeply impacted by the Great Recession?

We’re less likely to buy a car or a house. We’re less likely to start a family at a young age, or to find fulfillment in our careers early in life. Financial solvency is a tenuous dream for many who are plagued by bills, debt and a salary that is insufficient to carve away at either.

Still, we remain hopeful. We're optimistic in spite of having to “start life” a little later than generations prior, determined to figure out a way to make it all work.

Perhaps when we figure out how to make it on our own, we’ll turn to these statistics as a source of validation, proving to the world that we weren’t content to cling to the label of “the most coddled generation.”

We're choosing to forgo the lure of obsessing over our collective misfortune of having come-of-age in the midst of economic calamity and instead prevailing, despite our circumstances.

If we don’t, we run the risk of forever being known as America’s second Lost Generation.

Photo credit: The Breakfast Club