The (not so bright) hopes of the future

Chart 3 final.png

In problem-solving, literacy and numeracy, 16- to 24-year-old Americans rank at or near the bottom on the OECD’s new international survey of adult literacy skills, reports the New Yorker. These young adults are “the folks who will be manning the global economy” for the next 30 or 40 years. Our 16- to 24-year-olds edge young Italians in literacy. That’s the bright spot.

Young people read more? Not really

Young people (age 16 to 29) read and use libraries more than older people, according to a Pew survey.  Millenials are “a rising generation of book lovers,” proclaimed the Christian Science Monitor.

Hold the hallelujahs, advises Dan Willingham. Young people are said to be reading “a lot,” but Pew set a low bar: 83 percent read a book in the previous year. One book per year. Of course, young people spend a lot of time reading texts, Tweets and Facebook updates, but it’s not quite the same thing.

Americans spend much more time watching television each day than they do reading. This chart  by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows how Americans of all ages use their leisure time.


It doesn’t change much for younger folks, Willingham writes. They read more for school work than their elders, but are somewhat less likely to read for pleasure or to keep up with current events.

Growing up is hard to do

Growing up is hard to do: Young people are extending their school years and delaying work and marriage, according to America’s Youth Transitions to Adulthood (pdf), an analysis of Americans 14 to 24 from the 1980s to 2010 by the National Center for Education Statistics.

In 1980, 16 percent of young adults ages 22 to 24 were enrolled in college compared to 30 percent in 2010, NCES found.

Fewer teen-agers hold jobs, notes Inside School Research.

From 1980 to 1999, 30 percent or more of 16- and 17-year-olds were employed at least part-time, but that percentage has been plummeting since 2000, and by 2009, only about 15 percent of teenagers in that age group had a job.

Only 49 percent of high school dropouts held a job in the year they left school, compared to 64 percent in 1980.

Educational expectations are higher:  “Among the poorest 25 percent of young people, only 11 percent of high school seniors in 2004 said they did not expect to complete high school, compared with more than a third of the poorest students in 1972.”


Parents subsidize 'kidadults'

More parents are subsidizing their “kidadults” through their 20s and longer, reports the Arizona Republic.

Research from the University of Michigan indicates that 56 percent of young adults are living a life of quasi-independence. They have jobs and their own homes but they still get help from their parents when the bills come in.

Young people are staying in school longer, then struggling to find jobs, earn a living and pay off college loans. They’re marrying later and having children later than earlier generations. And they’ve got “helicopter parents.”

“Parents want to have more control, they want to be involved, and in general young people welcome it,” said Patricia Somers, an associate professor of education at the University of Texas-Austin who studies family dynamics.

The recession has made it harder for young people to “launch.” From 2006 to 2010, the employment rate for 18- to 29-year-olds fell by nine points,  reports the Pew Research Center. Employment held steady or rose slightly for those 30 to 64 years old. Young workers are earning less.

The annual earnings of all full-time workers ages 25 to 34 have decreased since 1980, when adjusted for inflation, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

While college graduates earn more and are more likely to be employed, their debt load is increasing: In 1993, the average graduate owed $9,297; by 2008, the average debt was $23,118.

Update: A Brookings study on The Long and Twisting Road to Adulthood estimates that parents spend 10 percent of their income “helping their children begin adult lives.” The percentage of 25-year-olds living independently dropped sharply from the 1970s to the turn of the 21st century.