Despite being the first generation in modern history to experience a higher level of poverty and unemployment than the two generations preceding them, millennials are generally upbeat about their economic prospects.
A Pew Research survey found that more than 80 percent of millennials (age 18 to 33) say they have enough money to fund their lifestyle or expect to have enough in the future.
Yet the survey points to some stiff economic headwinds facing this generation. Two-thirds of recent college graduates carry student loan debt, with an average debt of $27,000. Two decades ago, only about half of college graduates had debt, averaging $15,000. Additionally, the survey says millennials have lower levels of wealth and personal income than Generation X and baby boomers had at the same stage of their lives.
Older millennials who came of age during the financial crisis of 2007 to 2009 encountered a difficult job market that has yet to fully recover. The survey notes that median household income in the U.S. is still below its 1999 peak. During this period of low economic growth, the longest in the modern era, wealth and income gaps have widened.
The value of a college degree
Perhaps one of the reasons millennials are optimistic: They are the best-educated generation in history. A third of survey respondents ages 26 to 33 possess a four-year college degree. The global, knowledge-based economy of today means that those who only have a high school education have been more impacted by low wages and high unemployment than previous generations, according to the survey.
Further, another Pew survey found that young college graduates report higher earnings, job satisfaction and more full-time opportunities than their less-educated peers.
Read Bankrate's analysis of the widening income gap over the past 20 years.
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