2010 May 11 Tuesday
Young Americans Unable To Make It On Their Own

Researchers at Oregon State University find that The kids aren't able or willing to achieve independence as fast as they used to.

In the post-World War II boom, high-paying industrial jobs were plentiful, and a prosperous economy enabled workers with high school degrees (or less) and college degrees alike to find secure employment with decent wages and benefits. Since then, downward trends in wages and economic opportunities can be directly linked to young people staying at home longer, returning home later, and postponing or even forgoing marriage and children.

“Having an income that’s adequate to support oneself and a family — or at least the ability to earn one — has always been a precursor to living independently and taking on adult roles, such as marrying and settling down,” he said.

Some key facts from their article include:

  • In 2005, even before the current recession, roughly three in 10 white men (up to age 34) with a high school degree were not in school, in the military or at work. For young black men, the numbers were even higher: More than half were not in school, in the military or at work.
  • Even those who do get an education are not as likely as their counterparts in the 1960s and 1970s to get a good paying job. Young men (25-34 years) with a high school degree or less earned about $4,000 less in 2002 than in 1975 (with earnings adjusted for inflation). Men with some college also lost ground, earning about $3,500 a year less in 2002 than in 1975.
  • Every single group, except those with graduate-level college education, had greater amounts of people earning below poverty level in 2002 than in 1975.
  • In 1969, only about 10 percent of men in their early thirties had wages that were below poverty level. By 2004, the share had more than doubled. Overall, the share of young adults in 2005 living in poverty was higher than the national average.

There are also many differences between now and the early decades of the last century, of course, which Settersten and Ray illustrate. One of the biggest differences is that young people today don’t contribute to the household as they once did. Instead, parents shoulder the burden of launching their children into adulthood.

You have to have sufficient high intelligence (even more than the training received in college) to compete in a job market where automation, an influx of unskilled immigrants (legal and illegal), and the shift of jobs abroad has really gutted the supply of jobs for less intelligent people. This spells much bigger problems for America in the future as the new generation is much less white and has much higher rates of high school drop-out, low achievement in college, higher college drop-out, and otherwise really not up to competing with the Chinese or with robots.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2010 May 11 11:59 PM  Economics Labor

A.Prole said at May 12, 2010 12:16 AM:

In other words 'neo-liberal' economics were a disaster.

Peter A said at May 12, 2010 6:48 AM:

Sorry to be a luddite, but the easy access to cheap absorbing entertainment has to play a role. Bored? Anxious? Frustrated? Just play a video game, listen to your iPod or surf the web. Escapist entertainment is the most dangerous drug out there and it's pushed on us all the time.

Sgt. Joe Friday said at May 12, 2010 7:07 AM:

So it's starting to look like that horrible, racist, un-diverse era from 1945 to 1965 really was a golden age of sorts, America's high water mark.

Bracket creep said at May 13, 2010 4:27 AM:

Maybe the costs of housing contribute.

When I was a kid the next door neighbor, a bus driver, raised a family fairly comfortably.

His house sold two years ago for $550k. How many young people can touch that? A bus driver might be lucky to get a 2br apartment in a mediocre area.

Horus said at May 13, 2010 8:19 PM:

I have heard the term "psychological neoteny" somewhere on the internet, and I suspect that they relate to the problem being discussed here. I have also heard the terms "Peter Pan Syndrome" and "Cinderella Complex" and cannot help but feel that they are relevant here.
When children are sheltered from the real world until they are 22 or 25, at what point were they supposed to learn how to be independent and take care of themselves? What is the modern rite of passage which demonstrate that a boy has become a man, or a girl a woman?

The transition simply never occurs.

mike said at May 13, 2010 8:45 PM:

To the first comment:

It would be comforting to think that this was all the result of bad policy (and I can't deny that it wasn't in part) but the unfortunate reality is that technological advancement is the biggest culprit in all of this. And while it seems overly morbid to wish for it, an oil supply contraction would be the event most certain to reverse some of these trends.

no i don't said at May 16, 2010 5:34 PM:

Yeap; Neo-liberalism has done quite some harm. I'm not sure the Western World will recover soon after all that abuse.

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