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Hurt by the recession, but still optimistic about their economic future

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 17, 2010 - The Pew Research Center is in the midst of a series of reports on the behaviors, values and opinions of teenagers and twentysomethings who are part of the so-called Millennial Generation (born after 1980). Last week’s study looked at religion among young people. This week’s installment is a much broader survey covering everything from marriage rates to political leanings.

Some of the most interesting data concern employment figures and attitudes about the country’s economic future. The report, “Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change,” shows that young people have been “badly set back by the Great Recession, (but) they are more upbeat than their elders about their own economic future as well as about the overall state of the nation.”

Roughly 37 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds are unemployed or out of the workforce (including, of course, those in school and not looking for work), the highest share among this age group in more than three decades, according to the survey. People in this age group are more likely than other Americans to report that they recently lost a job.

Among members of this generation who are employed either full or part time, less than a third say they earn enough money to lead the kind of lives they want. Thirty-six percent say they depend on financial support from their families. People who graduate from college during bad economic times often suffer the consequences for years to come. 

Despite all this, about nine out of 10 people in this age group say that they expect to earn enough in their lifetime to meet their long-term financial goals. Members of Generation X and the Baby Boomers are less hopeful in this regard, the report shows.

The wide-ranging report paints Millennials as highly educated, tattooed multi-taskers attached to their phones and social networks and largely skeptical of human nature. Some other interesting tidbits:

  • Only one in five Millennials are married. Their parents, at the same stage of life, were about twice as likely to be married. About a third of the young people are parents, and the report notes that the number of unmarried mothers is higher than in previous generations.
  • Just 2 percent of males in this age group are military veterans. That compares with 6 percent of Gen X, 13 percent of Baby Boomers and 24 percent of Boomers’ parents (the so-called ‘Greatest Generation’) at comparable stages of their lives.
  • While Millennials backed Barack Obama for president by a 2-to-1 ratio in 2008, their political enthusiasm for Obama and the Democratic Party in general has cooled. Roughly half the people in this age group say Obama hasn’t changed the way Washington works, but a minority blames the president himself. His opponents and special interests are seen as getting in the way of his agenda.

Most of the findings in this report are based on a new national survey of more than 2,000 young adults that Pew conducted last month.