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Economic Struggles of Young Adults Can Cause Long-term Damage

Posted by michaelm at Oct 01, 2012 04:30 PM |

Young adults in Washington state have suffered above-average unemployment and significant jumps in poverty. As our latest policy brief shows, without continued investments in higher education, economic security and public health,  long-term economic prospects for 18-34 year olds appear to be in jeopardy. 

Unemployment among young adults has traditionally been higher than among older workers. But the recession made this particular generational gap even wider. As the graph below shows, , two years after the start of the Great Recession, 13.6 percent of Washington state’s young adults were unemployed, compared to 8.3 percent of workers aged 35 to 64.


Young adults have less work experience, making it difficult for them to find and keep jobs, especially during tough economic times. Nationally, men and women between ages 25 and 34 were at least 15 percent more likely to lose their job than someone age 50 to 61; for 18- to 24-year-olds, the likelihood was 66 percent greater.

Job tenure, education and experience translate into better job security for all workers, but are difficult for young adults to gain.  As the Great Recession shrunk retirement accounts, destroyed home values, and reduced economic security for older Washingtonians, many chose to postpone retirement and keep working, further dimming job prospects for young adults.

High levels of unemployment and poverty pose numerous challenges. For many young adults, coming of age during the Great Recession will mean a lifetime of reduced earnings and limited opportunity. 

The consequences include not only immediate wage losses, but also lower-than-expected earnings for years to come. Young adults graduating from college into a recession can see annual earnings 4 to 20 percent lower than similar students who graduate into a strong economy. This earning gap can persist for decades. Men who lost their jobs during mass layoffs in 1982 were earning 20 percent less than their comparable peers 15 to 20 years later.

Washington state’s recovery and future economic prosperity depends on ensuring young workers have the opportunity to reach their full potential. To learn more about how young adults have fared through the Great Recession and recent budget cuts, read our new policy brief, “Maybe When You’re Older: Prosperity and Young Adults in Washington State.”

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