Study Finds Record Numbers Of Millennials Identify As Working Class

Photographed by Winnie Au.
If you’re one of those people who doesn’t quite understand how being saddled with heavy student debt and poor job opportunities are supposed to lend themselves to social or economic advancement, you’re not alone. Data analyzed by The Guardian finds that record numbers of millennials identify as working class, a downshift from previous generations.

According to data obtained from University of Chicago’s 40-year General Social Survey, more than 56.5% of millennials (or Generation Y) identified as working class in 2014, more than any other generation since the survey started collecting data. It’s also the most any generation has identified with that label since 1982, when 56.1% of baby boomers called themselves working class.

Additionally, millennials are much less likely to identify as middle class. Only just over one-third of millennials thought of themselves as middle class, as opposed to 40% of Gen X'ers and 44% of baby boomers. That number has fallen every survey year. In 2002, 45% of millennials thought of themselves as working class. In 2014, it was 34%.

It’s depressing, but not surprising, news for anyone who’s been faced with a student loan horror story. Studies have repeatedly indicated that the millennial generation is likely to be the first generation to do worse than their parents, thanks to decreasing wages, the effects of the Great Recession, and the crippling burden of student debt.

The downturn could help to explain the growing appeal of anti-establishment political candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the United States. Sanders has made income inequality and the redistribution of wealth a central tenet of his platform. Trump has quite literally promised to make America “rich again,” in a Super Tuesday speech cited by The Hill.

Activists are campaigning to address some of the big issues, like low wages and student debt, that are affecting the financial situation of young people, but it may be too little too late for those in their 20s and early 30s right now. The money you earn early in your career tends to predict the overall earnings of your lifetime, according to federal studies. In other words, a slow start is hard to recover from.
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