Generation Y – the roughly 70 million Americans born between 1977 and 2002 – came of age in a time of unprecedented prosperity. But now, with the labor market slack and a quick economic recovery looking increasingly unlikely, members of Gen Y are being forced to make some tough choices.
The recession that began in late 2007 and ended last year has hit young people especially hard. In July, Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows, the unemployment rate for 16-to-24-year-olds was a staggering 19.1 percent. That's the highest midsummer youth jobless rate since at least 1948, the Kansas City Star said last month.
Even college grads – who, historically, suffer from unemployment at lower rates than people with only a high school diploma – are struggling. The Class of 2010 joined a job market where there were 40 applications put in for every open position, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Now, in an atmosphere of persistently high unemployment and growing uncertainty about the future, even young people with jobs are paring spending and lowering their expectations.
The Miami Herald reported last week that Millennials – another name for members of Gen Y – are hunkering down at work and looking to make themselves indispensable.
"I'm seeing them much more engaged," Cesar Alvarez, the executive chairman of law firm Greenberg Traurig, said to the paper of the Gen Yers he has on staff.
And, Kiplinger.com reports, Millennials are less interested in owning cars and driving than the generation that preceded them. Even though Generation Y represents about a quarter of the nation's population, they're responsible for just 14 percent of the miles driven on American roads.
One reason, consumer researcher William Draves suggested, is Generation Y's dependence on technology. Millennials are far more likely to text than the average American: According to Forrester Research, 85 percent of Generation Y sends texts, compared to 57 percent of the population as a whole.
"This generation focuses its buying on computers, BlackBerrys, music and software and views commuting a few hours by car a huge productivity waste when they can work using PDAs," Draves said.
Generation Y, by virtue of its sheer size, will no doubt have an enormous impact on the country's future. But for now, Millennials are finding that it's in their best interests to cut back and ride out the sluggish economy.