- The class of 2019 is the last of the millennial generation to graduate college.
- The financial crisis has already put many millennials behind, making it harder to save in the face of increased living costs.
- There are four main costs plaguing millennials: college tuition, housing, healthcare, and childcare.
- People are trying to build solutions to these problems on both private and public levels, from Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s student-loan debt proposal to one entrepreneur’s venture fund focused on millennial affordability.
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Millennials are already ageing out of higher education. The class of 2019 is the last of the generation to graduate college.
Like many of their generational peers, this year’s grads are walking into an affordability crisis for young Americans. It’s triggered by several factors, including rising living costs, increasing student debt, and the ongoing fallout of the recession.
Multiple studies show that millennials have less purchasing power than previous generations did at the same age. While millennials have benefited from a 67% rise in wages since 1970, according to Student Loan Hero, that increase isn’t enough to keep up with inflating living costs.
The Pew Research Center defines millennials as those born between 1981 and 1996, or those turning ages 23 to 38 in 2019. While younger millennials are entering into a stronger economic situation than older ones did, a variety of factors may keep them from reaching some of adulthood’s key milestones.
Student-loan debt is at record levels
College tuition has more than doubled since the 1980s. Consequently, millennials have taken on at least 300% more student debt than their parents, according to Michael Hobbes of HuffPost. Baby boomers had to work only 306 hours of minimum wage to pay off four years of college, he found, while millennials would have to work 4,459 hours.
As of 2019, student-loan debt is at an all-time high with a national total of $US1.5 trillion. According to Student Loan Hero, the average student-loan debt per graduating student in 2018 who took out loans was a whopping $US29,800.
The weight of this debt is hindering millennials’ ability to save. More than half of indebted millennial respondents in an INSIDER and Morning Consult survey said attending college wasn’t worth the student loans.
Debt makes it hard to afford increasingly expensive housing
When in debt, it’s harder to save for milestones such as buying a house – especially when the cost to do so is rising.
Homes are 39% more expensive than they were nearly 40 years ago, according to Student Loan Hero. It would take the median earner in the 25 largest US cities between four and 10 years to save enough cash for a 20% down payment on a median-priced home, a recent SmartAsset study found. That’s assuming they’re saving 20% of their annual income for the down payment, but most probably aren’t.
Consequently, millennials are renting longer and buying later.
But saving up for a home can be hard to do when shelling out money for climbing rents in the meantime. In 1960, the median gross rent was $US71, or $US588 in today’s dollars. The current median US rent is $US1,700.
Healthcare and childcare costs are also on the rise
Millennials are also shelling out what could be savings for rising childcare and healthcare costs.
It costs more than ever to raise a child in the US. Finances are one of the top reasons why American millennials aren’t having kids or are having fewer kids than they considered ideal, Business Insider’s Shana Lebowitz reported.
The amount the average worker paid for a family health insurance plan increased by 3% to $US5,417 from 2012 to 2017. That’s contributing to a generation gap of a different sort: In 1960, the average annual health-insurance cost per person was $US146 – in 2016, it hit $US10,345. CNBC reported that’s a full nine times higher when adjusted for inflation. Costs are expected to increase to $US14,944 in 2023.
Simple solutions to the affordability crisis
These affordability problems make it harder to save for a generation that’s already lagging from economic events. Many millennials don’t yet have the capacity to put away meaningful savings. More than half of millennials don’t have a retirement account, and more than half also have less than $US5,000 in their savings accounts.
Millennials are financially behind, but experts say it’s possible they will catch up, thanks to things like low unemployment rates, their risk-averse behaviour, and, for those fortunate enough to have it, the possibility of baby-boomer inheritances.
Leaders in both public and private sectors are making inroads to alleviate the affordability crisis.
Consider the Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s student-loan-debt proposal. If enacted, it would forgive $US50,000 in student-loan debt for every American whose family makes up to $US100,000, and households that make between $US100,000 and $US250,000 would get a sliding portion of their debt canceled. The plan would also make all public higher education, including community colleges, tuition- and fee-free.
On a more entrepreneurial level is Kairos. Founded by 29-year-old Ankur Jain, the venture fund invests in organisations facing down affordability problems. To date, Kairos has incubated five companies and invested in 24 more, putting $US20 million into solutions that tackle the rising costs of student loans, housing, childcare, student loans, and healthcare.
Kairos has implemented several solutions for housing affordability. June Homes is a housing network that saves renters thousands of dollars on rent in major cities – its fully furnished rentals require no long-term commitments or fees. Rhino helps people avoid security deposits – rather than tie up thousands of dollars when signing a lease, the startup replaces the security deposit with a $US5-per-month insurance plan that allows renters to save money while still protecting landlords. It’s already helped save tens of millions in security deposits, Jain told Business Insider.
But to really make a dent in the affordability crisis, Jain said, “we need more millennials helping to rethink the business models that hold our generation back.”