Opportunity matters. But for many young Americans, opportunity is hard to come by.
Young Americans have faced bleak job prospects for years, but the recession hit millennials particularly hard. Just 63 percent of Americans age 20-24 were employed as of September 2014, according to calculations based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data. In September 2000, 73 percent of this population had work.
All this is in addition to the massive burden of student-loan debt. (Seven in 10 college seniors who graduated in 2012 had student-loan debt, and those with loans had an average debt of $29,400, according to The Project on Student Debt.)
Older Americans aren't facing the same financial struggles. Americans age 65 and older saw their median net worth grow from 2000-2011, rising to $170,516 in 2011 from $146,205 in 2000, according to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau. Median net worth for Americans younger than 35 dropped to $6,676 from $9,765 over the same time period.
All that hurt is not distributed evenly across the country. The numbers get worse when you focus on certain states. For instance, just 59.4 percent of Illinois residents age 20-24 are employed -- the worst rate in the Midwest.
Prospects are even worse for 16- to 19-year-olds in Illinois that want to gain work experience: just 26.3 percent of these young adults are employed.
Illinois' workforce has shrunk by 76,000 people over the last six months, and that's despite the fact that Illinois' working-age population is growing. During the Great Recession, 500,000 working-age adults either dropped out of the workforce or never entered it at all. At its current pace, Illinois is still seven years away from fully recovering from the recession.
This poses a vicious cycle for young people -- when there are fewer jobs, it's harder to find work; when you can't find work, you can't gain experience; when you have no experience, you're less likely to get hired.
Young people aren't just working to cover movie tickets and new clothes. Many need the money to help pay for school or their first apartment. They also need the experience that comes with entry-level work. Employment -- and the income that comes with it -- marks the ability to move from dependence to independence, and when there are fewer opportunities to make this leap, development is stunted.
According to a report from the Alternative Schools Network: "The loss of teen employment poses serious policy implications nationally and locally including significant adverse affects on future employability, earnings, family incomes, and ... serious fiscal burdens on the rest of society associated with lower lifetime earnings, lessened tax contributions and higher correctional costs."
The Center for American Progress estimated that:
- A young person who has been unemployed for six months can expect to earn about 22,000 less over the next 10 years than they could have expected to earn had they not experienced a lengthy period of unemployment.
- In April 2010, the number of people age 20-24 who were unemployed for more than six months had reached an all-time high of 967,000 people.
- Young Americans will lose a total of 21.4 billion in earnings over the next 10 years.
It's no wonder nearly half of Americans don't think their children will be better off financially than they are.
Millennials aren't missing out on the recovery from the Great Recession because they don't want to work -- they're missing out because they're facing an economy that has too little to offer them.