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A Wake Up Call for Generation Y

Millennials may be the first generation in American history to make less on average than their parents. “The average net worth of someone 29 to 37 has fallen 21 percent since 1983; the average net worth of someone 56 to 64 has more than doubled,” says this Urban Institute study. Meanwhile, average incomes for the 25–34 demographic have dropped by 8 percent since 2007.

As the NYT notes, a number of studies suggest that these income differences will last a lifetime:

Lisa Kahn, a labor economist at the Yale School of Management, studied the earnings of men who left college and joined the work force during the deep recession of the early 1980s. Unsurprisingly, she found that the higher the unemployment rate upon graduation, the less graduates earned right out of school. But those workers never really caught up. “The effects were still present 15 or 20 years later,” she said. “They never made that money back.”

Kahn worries that the same pattern is repeating itself.

Obviously, the recession is a leading cause of this bad news, but the boomers in many cases have made matters worse. Over the past few decades, they have consistently put their own interests over those of their children, with disastrous consequences. First they voted themselves comfortable pensions and stuck the next generations with the bill; now they are forcing their children to buy expensive insurance plans they don’t need to keep the insurance rolls full.

The bright side is that millennials have the lowest levels of total debt that this demographic has held for 15 years. Unfortunately for the millennials, there’s a storm cloud behind every silver lining: Their debt levels are so low because they aren’t spending on mortgages or cars (the rental industry is booming), credit cards (many can’t qualify for one), or starting families (marriages or child-bearing are increasingly delayed). These past markers of social stability and ownership are increasingly rare for the younger generations.

While millennials were looking the other way, boomers have been robbing them blind. For the sake of its future, Generation Y needs to wake up, organize, and make its voice heard.

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