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Young And Unhappy With Your Job? Just Keep Waiting. Maybe Forever.

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“Not happy with your job? Just wait,” the Associated Press instructed young people on Sunday.

Memo to 20-somethings: You might be waiting a long time.

Nine out of 10 workers aged 50 or older said they’re somewhat or totally satisfied in their jobs, according to a new AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs survey. Over the survey’s 40-year history, researchers have found that the share of workers that are satisfied with their jobs tends to grow with age. That's because as workers get further along in their careers, they usually make more money and have more control over their jobs.

But there are a few reasons why it may take today's young people longer than their Baby Boomer parents to get to that happy place.

A large share of young people are starting their careers in a field for which they feel overqualified and in which they don’t want to work, according to a report earlier this year from McKinsey on Society.


So it’s taking them a lot longer than their Baby Boomer counterparts to earn as much money. In 1980 the average worker earned the median wage by the time they were 26, according to a September study from Georgetown University researchers. Now that average age for that achievement is 30.

young adults wages

The result is that young Americans are building wealth at a slower pace relative to their older counterparts. Older Americans had 44 times as much wealth as younger Americans in 2009, up from 13 times as much in 1984.

wealth gap

At the same time young people are struggling to find a decent-paying job in their field, they’re being crippled in record numbers by student loan debt. A household with $53,000 in outstanding student loans -- the average college debt balance for a family headed by two people with college degrees -- will be $208,000 poorer on average than their counterparts with no debt, according left-leaning research organization Demos.

student loan chart

So it may take more than just 30 years of waiting for today's young workers to end up in careers that make them as happy -- and as rich -- as their older colleagues.

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