Millennials Not Quite as Pathetic as Everyone Thinks



For the better part of a decade now, folks have been fretting about "boomerang" kids, the 20- and sometimes 30-something children of boomers who've come flocking back to their parents' nests under the duress of a poor economy. "Everybody's moving into their parents' basements," The Washington Post warned in 2012. "A rising share of young adults live in their parents homes," Pew Research trumpeted last year. "One third of millennials are living with their parents," the headlines read in June. 

The dire pronouncements tend to be based on U.S. Census Bureau data, which does show an increasing number of young adults—more than half of those under 25, according to the most recent data—to be living with their parents. But Derek Thompson at The Atlantic tears through this gloomy prognosis with one simple fact: The Census counted students who live on college campuses as living in their parents' homes. 

The share of young people living "at home" is at a half-century high because more young adults than ever before are going to college: 

As you can see in the graph (above) the share of 18-to-24-year-olds living at home who aren't in college has declined since 1986. But the share of college students living "at home" (i.e.: in dorms, often) has increased. So the Millennials-living-in-our-parents meme is almost entirely a result of higher college attendance. 

That's crucial to know, because the share of 25- to 29-year-olds with a bachelor degree has grown by almost 50 percent since the early 1980s. More than 84 percent of today's 27-year-olds spend at least some time in college and now 40 percent have a bachelor's or associate's degree. More young people going to school means more young people living in dorms, which means more young people "living with their parents," according to the weird Census. 

Millennial generation doomsaying is fun and popular because it allows young folks to feel aggrieved and older folks to feel schadenfreude, writes Thompson. But if we're going to lament Gen Y's prospects, than we should at least focus on the real reasons today's kids are not okay—like unemployment: The latest jobs report shows that about 40 percent of unemployed workers are millennials.

Even this isn't quite as scary—or at least not as singularly scary for young adults—when you put it into perspective. When (if) the job market improves, young adults will likely have an easier time slipping back into it than their older counterparts simply by virtue of being younger and cheaper, said Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding management and consulting firm.

Meanwhile millennials are only barely less employed than Gen X'ers, who make up 37 percent of unemployed Americans. The oldest Gen X'ers turn 50 next year, while the youngest hover around age 35. This is the generation in the prime of their "prime earning years." Whither the concern for Gen X everybody?