11/29/2011 12:40 pm ET

Recession Leaves Young Adults Most Financially Vulnerable: Study

While the Great Recession has affected nearly all Americans in some form, it's young adults who have suffered some of the worst economic losses since the start of the downturn.

In the past four years, more than one in five 18-to-34-year-old Americans have experienced a steep drop in income without having a financial cushion in place, a recent study has found.

Millions of Americans of every age have seen their wealth decline since the start of the recession, whether because of job loss, falling incomes, market turmoil or the collapse of housing prices. But while the number of people without jobs is high -- nearly 14 million, by the most recent estimate -- higher still are the numbers of people in poverty, or struggling to meet basic needs.

The report, an update to the Economic Security Index published by Yale professor Jacob Hacker, examines Americans whose available household income has fallen by 25 percent or more since 2008, and who lack "an adequate financial safety net."

Young adults were the age group most severely affected by this measurement, but every American age group is experiencing similar trouble. Almost one in five Baby Boomers, categorized as 45 to 65 year olds, have seen their incomes fall since 2008 while lacking a safety net, according to the report. Americans age 35 to 44, as well as those 65 and older, have had the same thing happen in smaller, but comparable, proportions.

Overall, more than one in five Americans have undergone a major drop in income since 2008, while not having the financial resources to make up for the loss.

The study also noted that black and Hispanic households were far more likely to experience this problem than white households.

Much attention has been given to the plight of young adults since the recession started, with the anemic job market keeping record numbers of 20- and 30-somethings in debt, out of work and often at their parents' homes, unable to secure financial independence.

The lack of opportunities for young adults has emerged as one of the central themes of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the result of which has been hundreds of demonstrations and encampments taking place in the past two months. Many of the demonstrators are young people who say they feel frustrated by a financial and political system that has allowed the economy to wither, leaving a scarcity of jobs and most of the wealth in the hands of a small few.