Millennials are worth less on paper than members of older generations are, and are worth less on paper than members of older generations were at the same point in their lives. The net worth of your average Millennial household is 40 percent lower than for Gen X households in 2001 and 20 percent lower than for Baby Boomers’ households at the end of the 1980s.
Could the Millennials make up this lost ground? Perhaps, if wage growth suddenly and dramatically accelerates, urban cores start to build millions of new homes, and Congress announces a student-loan debt jubilee. But financial experts consider it unlikely. Millennials missed out on the big asset boom that occurred between 2010 and the present, and “appreciation is unlikely to be as rapid in the near future as it was during the recent period,” argue economists at the Federal Reserve. “With the baby boomers occupying most of the top jobs and much of the housing, Millennials are doing less well than their parents,” concluded Credit Suisse. “We expect only a minority of high achievers and those in high-demand sectors such as technology or finance to effectively overcome the ‘millennial disadvantage.’”
The next recession—this year, next year, whenever it comes—will likely make that Millennial disadvantage even worse. Already, Millennials have put off saving and buying homes, as well as getting married and having babies, because of their crummy jobs and weighty student loans. A downturn that leads to higher unemployment and lower wages will force Millennials to wait even longer to start accumulating wealth, making it far harder for them to accumulate any wealth at all. (Compound interest is magic, after all.) Their trajectory, already terrible, might get even worse.