Millennials Face a Dark Economic Present, but See a Bright Future

BY Judy Woodruff  March 10, 2010 at 10:18 AM EDT

If there was any doubt that the recession has had a big impact on Americans who are 18 to 29 years old, two national polls done in January and February shed new light on the issue.
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According to the Pew Research Center poll done in January, 52 percent of Baby Boomers say they are currently earning enough money to get by. But only 31 percent of employed millennials say the same thing. And that doesn’t count the 35 percent of the younger cohort who are not working – either because they’re still in school, or because they can’t find a job.

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The poll done for the Harvard University Institute of Politics, which was conducted in January and February and released Tuesday, shows a similarly tough picture of this younger cohort: 45 percent report their personal financial situation is either very bad or fairly bad. Just a slight majority, 52 percent, say things are very good or fairly good. Looking deeper into the numbers, it’s clear that times are even harder for some, like Latinos. The Harvard poll shows 59 percent of Hispanics rate their personal financial situation either very or fairly bad – more than any other ethnic or racial group.

Still other poll results show how concerned millennials are about paying their bills, paying for their education, and even affording a place to live.

That’s why it is surprising to see the optimism among young people. The Pew poll found 88 percent of millennials who are employed, believe they will earn enough in the future, in contrast to what they’re earning today. The Institute of Politics surveyors found 70 percent of all young people believe they will be better off, or in the same financial circumstance as their parents, when they reach the same age. I know some have focused on the 11 percent who say they think they will be worse off than their parents, or the 18 percent who aren’t sure, but given the current economic challenges, I think the 70 percent figure is pretty remarkable.

It causes me to wonder, yet again, from what source these young people are drawing their optimism? Some have speculated it’s the way they were raised by their parents – with frequent reassurances that they could “climb any mountain” and “accomplish any goal.” It looks as if many still believe that. If so, it demonstrates an attitude and a resilience that will likely come in handy in the years to come.