Former Vice President Joe Biden — who came from a generation where union jobs were plentiful and college was almost free — thinks millennials have it easy. He likely hasn’t seen the data showing how wrong that claim is.
When examining various facets of what most Americans would view as part of the American Dream, like homeownership, marriage/children, and a good-paying stable job, most millennials still have a long way to go despite being more educated than their parents’ generation. A set of charts created by Axios, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the College Board, and Pew Research, show that millennials (Americans aged 25-34) are missing out on the American Dream that most Baby Boomers easily obtained due to persistent systemic issues.
In 2016 inflation-adjusted dollars, data from the College Board showed that the cost of a college education at a public university more than doubled from just $8,000 on average in 1977 to $20,000 by 2016. However, median income for Americans aged 25-34 remained virtually unchanged over the same 40-year period. This has understandably caused a spike in median debt levels, more than tripling from $10,000 in 1977 to $33,000 by 2016. The fact that median income has stagnated is all the more remarkable considering that 37 percent of young Americans had a four-year degree in 2016, compared to just 24 percent of young Americans in 1977.
Perhaps as a consequence of stagnant incomes and rising debt levels, marriage and homeownership rates for the millennial generation are starkly lower today than they were in the late 1970s. While only 20 percent of Americans aged 25-34 in 1977 were never married, more than half of all young Americans today never married. As Forbes has noted, the trend of millennials to not have children has left the birth rate at an all-time low, and for boomers whose wealth is primarily in their home equity, that asset may prove to be worthless if millennials can’t afford to buy homes.
In response to their generation’s dim economic prospects, young Americans are overwhelmingly backing politicians like Bernie Sanders, who captured more youth votes than both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton combined with his platform of single-payer healthcare, tuition-free public college, and a living wage.
The needs of the millennial generation will likely have to be something that politicians of all stripes speak to in future elections. Following the 2016 election, the Brookings Institution found that, if current demographic trends continue, the millennial vote will soon be the largest voting bloc in America. This could mean that politicians will have to take a decidedly friendlier tone toward bread-and-butter issues like college affordability, a pathway to homeownership, and a solution to stagnant wages.
In other words, Joe Biden should probably change his tune about millennials if he’s seriously planning on running in 2020.
Logan Espinoza is a freelance contributor specializing in economic issues. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona with his wife and daughter. Contact him at logan DOT espinoza AT yahoo DOT com.