It’s no secret that the milestones our parents reached, and their parents reached, are becoming more and more impossible for younger generations. And no, it’s not because millennials buy too much fancy coffee or avocado toast or whatever. Higher education, marriage, the house and yard and kids — who can afford all that? So when I saw an article this week claiming that “adolescence now lasts from 10 to 24” I kinda thought… well, duh. Part of their argument is physical — that our brains continue to develop into our 20s, for example — and part of it is the fact that people are getting married and having kids later than ever. But think about it: If you can’t afford to move out of your mom’s basement (and you’re not alone — more than a third of Americans age 18-34 live at home!), then yeah — you might still feel like a kid. It’s not that people are inherently more immature now, it’s that landmarks of “maturity” are shifting. Starting a family is less important now than starting a career. And delaying those key milestones — financial independence, investments, families — may be out of necessity as much as choice. NBC illustrated the point very well:
For the sake of a comparison, consider that under a classic rule of thumb, you shouldn’t spend more than 28 percent of your income on housing costs. (Though millions do).
The median price of a new home in 1970 was about $24,000, according to BLS data. So to afford it under the old-school rule, you only needed to make $6,720 a year — just a hair above the median income at the time, about $6,000.
Adjusted for inflation, that house that would cost $144,000 and you would only need to make $40,000 a year in order to be able to safely afford it.
According to the latest available comparable data, in 2015 the median price of a new home was about $300,000. To afford that, you would have to be making $84,000. That’s well above the median income of $55,775.
Sure, perhaps employers are paying for more additional benefits than they used to — health insurance, travel reimbursements, 401k contributions, etc. — but they also used to provide real pensions, so I don’t think the stagnant wages can be waved away by pointing to how much more our jobs give us these days. And if you doubt that wages ARE stagnant, there has been interesting research on the starting salaries of new grads heading out into the workforce. Though 2017 grads appeared to be making on average a bit more than previous years, they were making almost $10K less than graduates from 1969 made (when wages were adjusted for inflation).
Making ends meet now is hard, and guess what — we’re gonna be fucked when retirement rolls around too. Relying on 401ks and IRAs for retirement means basically becoming a hobbyist investment banker, and if I’d wanted to study economics I fucking would have IN COLLEGE. WHICH I PAID OUT THE NOSE FOR. Nevermind that almost half of Millennials aren’t even saving for retirement (possibly because they’re so in debt they don’t have the money to sock away). And Social Security, at least as we know it now, won’t cover the population past 2035. That doesn’t mean we’re shit out of luck, but it means that we may need to pay more into it now, or expect less from it later when we need it the most.
In terms of job prospects, there’s a really disturbing article out this week from The Atlantic about unregulated, low-paid online work — filling out surveys, performing transcription, etc. — which is a growing employment sector. Currently about 5 percent of Americans perform this kind of work, but in another ten years a third of workers could be earning money from online, on-demand gig work. But because it’s unregulated, and because the workers are considered independent contractors, the idea of minimum wage doesn’t apply. Some tasks pay decently, while others may low-ball the amount of time expected to complete the task, making what could appear to be a reasonable pay rate anything but. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service is one such marketplace, and recent research has shown that workers earned a median hourly wage of about $2 an hour on the platform (with only 4 percent earning more than $7.25 an hour). Part of the issue is that the time spent performing the task is only part of the story — there is additional time spent researching and competing for assignments, and even trying to understand the assignment once it’s been received, that goes unpaid.
But if there’s a silver lining, it’s that In-N-Out Burger is expanding. And not just because I’m hungry (ANIMAL STYLE 4 EVA), but because the fast food chain actually pays their employees well. Like, really really well. So well that store managers can earn an average of $160,000 a year with no degree or prior experience. That’s about triple the yearly income average, just from working at a burger joint long enough to move up the ranks. And here’s the thing: research shows that paying employees well is GOOD FOR BUSINESS. It leads to higher productivity, less employee turnover, and more.
If the best job we can hope for is to flip burgers for a living, and we won’t be retiring until we’re in our 70s anyway, then yeah — I guess it pays to not grow up.