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Laura Chapin

Laura Chapin

Posted: September 28, 2009 02:08 PM

Forgetting Sarah Marshall's Generation

What's Your Reaction?

If you're a parent whose post-college graduate child has returned to sleeping at your home, you're not alone. And if you're a recent college graduate who has been out there beating the employment bushes and finding them beating you right back, you are also not alone.

According to recent University of Colorado graduate Scott Neu from Castle Rock, "For the most part a lot of my friends got a degree, and are struggling to find jobs," he says. "A bunch of my friends are going back for grad school, or med school, because they know they won't find a job."

The sure economic ladder for 18 to 35 year olds that used to exist is no longer there, or at least is a lot more rickety. Based on a survey by Peter D Hart Research Associates for the AFL-CIO, right now there's a 'lost decade' of young workers struggling to gain a foothold in the economy.

The new information dovetails with 1999 Hart study and a 2008 Demos report that that this may indeed be the first generation to do worse than their parents. The outlook has grown bleaker for young worker over the last ten years -- wages, access to health care, and retirement security have all declined.

More than a third of young workers are living at their parents' house, according to the 2009 Hart study. More than half of young workers report making less than $30,000. Fully half of these low-income young workers live with their parents rather than living on their own. Almost 70% don't have enough saved to cover two months of expenses.

They are gloomy about their economic prospects. In 1999, more than half of young workers reported that their job gave them enough to pay their bills and put some money aside. In 2009, only a third say they make enough live on and save both. In 1999, three-fourths of young workers felt mostly hopeful and confident about their future, but now it's just over 50%.

And for young workers of color, almost half have put off furthering their education because of cost.

So what's the answer?

Surprisingly from this group, they favor more public investment, even if it means higher taxes. By a 22-point margin, young workers back expanding public investment to create jobs, even if it means increasing the deficit. They are skeptical of the right wing mantras of reducing taxes, cutting government spending, and lifting regulation on business, putting those at the bottom of the priority pile. They support President Obama and the direction he's taking the country by a 12-point margin over older workers.

Scott Neu agrees. "I've applied for some government jobs, and when I followed up with the HR person, she said they had 487 applicants for one job," he says. "I think the government could, and should do more, even if it meant higher taxes."

Colorado's unemployment rate recently declined to 7.3%, some two points below the national average, but in a state where public spending is severely constrained and higher education has no dedicated funding stream, budget analysts are concerned about the long-term effects.

"Colorado's budget has been tight for years," said Wade Buchanan, president of the Bell Policy Center, a Denver-based policy research center. "We'd only started to recover from the recession of 2003, and now the state has been forced to cut deeply in last year's and this year's budget."

Buchanan continues, "In 1982, the state paid 62 percent of the revenue per full-time college student, and 38 percent came from tuition. By 2007, the figures almost flipped: 42 percent from the state and 58 percent from tuition."

So young workers in Colorado are squeezed on both ends: an economy that shuts out less-experienced recent college graduates, and a higher education system becoming increasingly unaffordable. President Obama's economic stimulus was just a start -- we must continue to invest in our young people so that the economic next generation doesn't become the economic lost generation.