Slogging their way through the aughts, avocado toast in hand, the Millennials proved those miserable studies true. During the recession, half of recent graduates were unable to find work; the Millennials’ formal unemployment rate ranged as high as 20 or 30 percent. High rates of joblessness, low wages, and stagnant earnings trajectories dogged them for the following decade. A major Pew study found that Millennials with a college degree and a full-time job were earning by 2018 roughly what Gen Xers were earning in 2001. But Millennials who did not finish their post-secondary education or never went to college were poorer than their counterparts in Generation X or the Baby Boom generation. Economic growth, in other words, left the best-off Millennials treading water and the worst-off drowning.
Crummy wages collided with a cost-of-living crisis and heavy debt loads. The cost of higher education grew by 7 percent per year through the 1980s, 1990s, and much of the 2000s, far faster than the overall rate of inflation, leaving Millennial borrowers with an average of $33,000 in debt. Worse: The return on that investment has proved dubious, particularly for black Millennials. The college wage premium has eroded, and for black students the college wealth premium has disappeared entirely. While struggling to pay down their student loans, millions of younger Americans have also found themselves shut out of the real-estate market by housing shortages and attending sky-high prices. Rich Boomers bought the houses and made building new ones impossible. Millennials were forced to keep on renting, transferring wealth from the young to the old.