Millennial Dilemma

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Matt Sherman
October 16, 2008

With all the election news about increased turnout from people ages 18-29, television hosts seem giddily intrigued by the political habits of “young people,” as if we were some exotic and alien demographic of the American electorate.

The truth is, we Millennials (is that what they’re calling us?) are Americans like everyone else – just younger. We may not have lived through history, but we know the story. We may not have a family right now, but we will someday.

As citizens, we’ve taken advantage of all the new opportunities afforded us in the 21st century. We’ve graduated from high school and college at higher rates than in recent memory. We’ve contributed to the increased productivity from labor in the last decade. We were the first generation to grow up with computers, and we still give our parents a computer lesson every now and then. In short, we’ve been pretty good citizens.

And yet, we’ve been the hardest hit by the wage stagnation in our economy over the last three decades. After adjusting for inflation, the wage of the typical 18-29 year-old worker was about 10 percent lower in 2007 than it had been in 1979. Despite being more tech-savvy and better educated, we’re getting paid less.

A lot of this is outside of our control, influenced by political decisions in Washington and massive fluctuations in the economy. But there is one surefire way that young people can improve their living standard – unions.

A new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) analyzes data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) and finds that unionized young workers (age 18-29) earned, on average, 12.4 percent more than their non-union peers. The trend was the same even in the lowest-wage occupations. The average non-union young worker made $8.74 per hour, while the average unionized young worker made $10.62 per hour. Unionized workers were also more likely to have good benefits, like employer-provided health care and pension plans.

You can find the full report here.

Matt Sherman is a 2008 graduate of the University of Virginia and an intern at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC.