Issue Brief – Economy

“Economic mobility is diminishing. Millennials and Gen Z are projected to be the first generations to be worse off than our parents. Youth in minority communities, rural communities and countless other communities struggle to make ends meet. Our economic futures are not as bright as the American Dream has promised for centuries. But our political system has not addressed the lack of economic mobility.”

The Problem of Intergenerational Wealth

Already, Millennials have slightly less wealth than Baby Boomers did at the same age. In 2016, the median net worth of Millennial households was about $12,500 in 2016, compared to $20,700 for Boomer households of the same age in 1983. Additionally, The United States prime-age labor force participation continues to lag that of major industrialized countries by a significant margin.

The Problem of the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to exacerbate this wealth gap for Millennials and Gen Z, with a long-term negative impact on the lifetime earnings and prosperity of young Americans as they miss key formative job experience early in their careers. Further, at the height of quarantine, the U.S. youth unemployment rate peaked at 26.9%— the highest recorded rate since the government started collecting data in 1948—despite having one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in the developed world before the pandemic. 

The Problem of Inefficient Government Spending

Every year, federal and state governments spend trillions of dollars to end poverty and in entitlement programs, yet millions (Census Bureau) of Americans continue to be trapped in intergenerational cycles of poverty. With inefficient spending, the government will continue to add to the multi-trillion dollar debt burden, which is an intergenerational transfer that will result in higher taxes and lower government benefits for young people in the future.

Shared Values on Economic Mobility

– We should work towards making sure young people should have access to benefits such as health insurance and family leave no matter the sector in which they work.

– All work has value, so we should aim for all workers to be able to afford basic necessities for themselves and their families, and enjoy an increasing quality of life.

– Educational attainment is one of the best indicators of lifelong earning potential and can be used to expand opportunities for economic mobility.

– Everybody should have the freedom to engage in the work they love and negotiate employment arrangements that benefit them.

– Government resources and private charity should be targeted to those who need it the most.

Bipartisan Policy Starting Points

– Increase wages or improve job prospects for younger and less skilled workers.

– Address the long-standing barriers that impede entry into quality employment and job training programs for young people.

– Refocus public policy towards building strong families and cohesive communities.

– Coordinate and connect our critical data systems to make the best-informed decisions about policies and needed system changes.

– Decrease arbitrary and punitive restrictions in federal policies that severely limit young adults’ access to food, housing and other basic needs.

– Dismantle structural barriers to youth employment.

Authored by:

Jesse Barba

Senior Director, Young Invincibles

Daniel Di Martino

Activist, Speaker, Writer