clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The recession and pathetic recovery have devastated young workers' incomes

Oh, you were hoping to get paid?
Oh, you were hoping to get paid?
Stuart Jenner/Shutterstock

Chris Wilson and Dave Johnson have a cool interactive that lets you probe the demographic details of the latest Census data on personal income. But the most striking finding is right here in an old-fashioned table — twentysomethings have been absolutely devastated in economic terms by the Great Recession and the pathetic "recovery" that ensured (these are nominal figures, so that zero percent for the 26-30 cohort reflects a drop in real living standards):

Personal income by age cohort (Census data, table by Chris Wilson and Dave Johnson)

This is part of what makes periods of severe labor market weakness so cruel. Had the pain from this recession been spread around evenly, it would have been bad but survivable — the United States is a very rich country. But the way it works in practice is that the social groups with the most entrenched power — older, better-educated, more affluent, whiter workers — have been able to shelter themselves from the worst of the damage, while leaving the more vulnerable to reap the worldwind. The age element of this isn't the only one in play, but it is especially telling because Millennials are "the best-educated cohort of young adults in American history" so this can hardly be blamed on a "skills gap" or any such thing.

Young workers have taken it in the chin because they haven't had the social clout to duck the punches.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.