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Young, Underemployed and Optimistic

While the recession has left a lasting mark on most Americans, no group has been more impacted than our adult children, according to a new Pew Center study.

A plurality of Americans believes that our 20- and 30-something children are having a harder time hitting the traditional markers of adulthood: starting a career, paying off college loans, saving for a home, and—just maybe—getting married.

Earlier this month, the researchers at the Pew Center released Young, Underemployed and Optimistic with a dizzying amount of information on young adults, ages 18 to 34.

Some of the key findings about young adults:

  • 49% have taken a job they didn’t really want just to pay the bills.
  • 35% have gone back to school
  • 24% moved back in with their parents after living on their own
  • 22% postponed having children
  • 20% postponed getting married

And their attitudes are not simply “woe is me.” The 2011 statistics support that they are not alone:


  • Employment: The number of employed young adults fell to 54.3%—the lowest level since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began collecting such data in 1948.
  • Unemployment: .The unemployment rate at the end of was 16.3% for young adults, compared with 8.8% for all adults ages 18 to 64, the widest gap in recorded history.
  • Weekly Earnings: Median weekly earnings among full-time young adult workers ages 18 to 24 fell by 6%, while earnings basically held level for all older age groups.

The survey asked “older American” at what age should adult children should be financially independent:

  • 55% say age 22 years
  • 34% say by age 25
  • 8% say age 30 or later

And echoing other Pew research, the survey found that despite the dismal economy, an impressive 89 percent employed young adults say while they don’t earn enough they are optimistic that their earning in the future will allow them to live a better lifestyle.

Some other data mined in the survey, shows some conflicted feelings about family and marriage. While 54 say being a good parent is one of the most important goal in their life, only about a third ranked marriage as of key importance. And perhaps not surprisingly, young women value family and marriage significantly more than young men do.

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