Smart SpendingSmart Spending

Many millennials can't afford basics

Yet another survey explores what many young people already know: Money is tight and prospects are gloomy.

By Karen Datko May 11, 2012 12:42PM

Image: Woman looking through purse (© Meiko Arquillos/Getty Images/Getty Images)Nearly a quarter of millennials -- people between ages 18 and 34 -- are unable to make ends meet, a new online survey says. It's no wonder. The generation faces lackluster job prospects and mounds of student loan debt.


The millennials are worse off than any other age group, says the survey by WSL/Strategic Retail. Only 17% of those between 35 and 54 said they can't afford basics, and the percentage dropped to 13% for older folks.


The survey is one of a number of recent reports that indicate tough times for many young people.


A survey conducted in December by the Pew Research Center (.pdf file) provided other data about the 18-to-34 group:

  • 49% have taken a job they don't want just to pay the bills.
  • 24% have taken an unpaid job. You need to put something on the résumé
  • 35% have gone back to school because of the economy.
  • 24% had their own place but then moved back to their parents' home.

Living with Mom and/or Dad is so common it seems almost normal. Says another Pew

Research Center report:

Among adults ages 25 to 34, 61% say they have friends or family members who have moved back in with their parents over the past few years because of economic conditions. Furthermore, three in 10 parents of adult children (29%) report that a child of theirs has moved back in with them in the past few years because of the economy.

Employment, even for those young people with a college degree, has been downright gloomy. In February, the Pew Research Center said:

… since 2010, the share of young adults ages 18 to 24 currently employed (54%) has been its lowest since the government began collecting these data in 1948. And the gap in employment between the young and all working-age adults -- roughly 15 percentage points -- is the widest in recorded history. In addition, young adults employed full time have experienced a greater drop in weekly earnings (down 6%) than any other age group over the past five years.

(Post continues below.)

And that's not all:

  • Another analysis found that nearly 54% of those under 25 with a bachelor's degree were unemployed or underemployed last year, The Associated Press said.
  • A survey last year (.pdf file) of people who graduated from college between 2006 and 2010 found that only 53% had full-time jobs and 21% were continuing their education. The rest were underemployed or unemployed.
  • "Back in 1984, households headed by Americans 65 and older used to have 10 times the wealth of those 35 and under; by 2009, according to Pew Research, that spread had multiplied to 47 times," Reuters says.

The economy has improved somewhat in the last year, and job prospects are looking up for the new crop of grads. U.S. News & World Report says:

Companies say they will hire 10.2% more grads from this year's class of graduates compared to the previous year, and they'll also pay them more. The median starting salary for 2012 graduates will be $42,569, up 4.5% from 2011.

Let's hope that takes place. Meanwhile, there is a bright spot in the WSL/Strategic Retail report:

A shortage of cash is turning many millennials into top-notch frugal shoppers. 

  • 80% said it's important to get the lowest price on most things they buy, compared with 69% two years ago.
  • 60% said they'd pick a lower-priced item instead of their usual brand.

The Star of Toronto adds:

Only 50% of shoppers ages 35-54 said they would shop off-brand to save money. Only 42% of shoppers ages 55 and up said they are willing to choose a lower-priced brand.

Times were tough when I graduated from college in 1975. I spent a year in VISTA, then went back to school for a master's degree. Sound familiar?

My advice? As the song said back in my college days, "Keep your head to the sky," whether it's faith in yourself or a higher power. Work hard, keep a close eye on your spending, and avoid debt as you would the walking dead.


Are you a new or recent graduate? What do you think about your prospects? What steps have you taken to make ends meet? 


More on MSN Money:

May 14, 2012 12:04PM
 I graduated in a recession years ago, so I definitely feel their pain.   But when I see young 20-somethings toting around their $4 grande mocha caramel macchiatos and flipping through their I-whatevers, then remember the packs of ramen noodles I ate at their age, there seems to be a bit of a disconnect with what is considered a "necessity".
May 12, 2012 11:55AM
Oh no...having to take a job you don't like right out of school!!!  Give me a break.  Most of my life (am 55) I've had to take jobs I didn't like so I could pay the friggin bills.  I never once collected unemployment and that sometimes meant working multiple part-time jobs, but I pulled thru and survived.  Now I have a good paying career that I mostly enjoy.
May 22, 2012 9:08AM
I graduated college in 2008 and i worked full time while in college. It was tough but you dont have to take student loans, go to community college for the first two years then transfer.  The problem is that people feel entitled to having these things that are marketed so heavily to them.  People spend money they havent earned to buy things they dont need to impress people they dont like.  
May 12, 2012 4:45PM

What, exactly, do the millennials consider basics and essentials? If you don't have kids and live and spend carefully, you can make it on minimum wage. It's not fun, but it can be done. You can get 25 pounds of potatoes for five dollars and eat for a month. It's boring and not extremely nutritious, but the Irish did it for hundreds of years and they are still around. Drinking water is free or close to it if it comes out of the tap. Rent a studio apartment. Use public transportation, etc. Yeah, minimum wage may mean 'underemployment' but it also means employment - and I'd rather hire someone who's been working for minimum wage than someone who moved back home rather than get a job that was considered not good enough.


Also, what are their degrees in? Obviously not the areas needed in this country. We are headed towards desperate deficits in engineering and medicine (general practitioners) and are bringing thousands of people from other countries to work here because American kids want to major in something 'fun' not something that there's a need for.

May 12, 2012 9:31PM
I have 2 millennials. Both having a good life.
May 14, 2012 11:19AM
Graduating right before the 2008 banking mess was not easy. I found two internships and one turned into a well paying career that I enjoy. Networking and working hard don't show on the degree but are worth so much more. I got a degree in Geography and am now working towards a Computer Science degree.  I feel for those that struggle after college and hope that they don't enter the workforce trying to create their dream job. Take what is available and do your job well. It will come together.
Aug 19, 2012 6:24PM
I lived on chicken dogs and macaroni and cheese for two years.  A TV with 13 channels.  No computer.  No cell phone.  No iPad.  A very old (paid for) car.  I had a roommate.  No government assistance.  That's what living on your own is like when you start out.  You learn to prioritize.  You learn to manage your money.  You learn to save.  You learn what is important and what is not.  Or you don't.  Either way, it's what you make of it.
May I add, that to get job is a privilege, not a right. Once you have a job, you have to show a good work ethic......i.e. be on time, be early by half an hour if possible, do your job and not stand around BSing, accept that you will probably be working while your friends are out partying, but not working. Build your resume on a good foundation of being reliable and dependable.

My background for these comments is that I am retired from two career's...and receiving benefits from both. Since my wife died, I have applied for three jobs, I was hired by all three. The first I hated and left during the probationary period, I took an intermediate job to keep busy, and I still do part time with them while working a full time job.

You do what you have to do, and that's it

Jun 5, 2012 8:49AM
Join the military.  Seems like they have plenty of work.
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.