ATLANTA — Millions of them still live with their parents. Those who live on their own aren’t buying homes. Many have postponed becoming parents themselves. They now make up the largest share of the workforce — and an even bigger share of the nation’s unemployed.
They are the millennials.
Americans born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s have been both victims and shapers of the economy. Many, of course, are doing fine. But many others — more than in other age groups — have struggled in ways that changes their economic behavior and affects the broader economy.
Caroline Herron graduated from the University of Georgia in 2013 with degrees in English and education, as well as a minor in Spanish. Yet the 24-year-old from Gwinnett County, near Atlanta, applied for more than 200 jobs over a year and a half before finally finding a teaching position in Huntsville, Ala.
”I applied for anything and everything,” Herron said. “Of the hundreds of jobs I applied for, I heard back from four.”
She passed out resumes, frequented job sites and visited schools. She considered postponing her career plans and going to graduate school or doing technical writing instead, before settling on a part-time substitute teacher gig.
The danger for millennials is that a rough start can hurt careers for a long time, said Mark Schmit, executive director of the SHRM Foundation, an affiliate of the Society for Human Resource Management that researches worker issues.
A new graduate who can’t find a good job that fits his or her skills can find prospects dampened for his career and income, Schmit said.
”We have a bit of a lost generation,” he said. “It becomes very hard, the longer that you are not in your field, to get back with it.”
Many young workers have spent years in low-skill jobs. Even though more jobs are opening, they don’t have the right experience, Schmit said.
That makes companies more reluctant to hire. To make things worse, many companies have slashed training budgets, he said. “You end up with open jobs and with lots of people in the group unemployed.”
Millennials make up more than 40 percent of the nation’s jobless, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. They account for about 25 percent of the population.
In June, while the national jobless rate was 6.1 percent, the rate for 16- to 34-year-olds was 9.1 percent. For 16- to 24-year-olds, the rate was a Depression-level 13.3 percent. It was even higher for minorities.
Moreover, many millennials have been underemployed, working fewer hours than they want or working jobs for which they are over-qualified.
With their incomes and options crimped, the number of young adults living with their parents has surged to record levels: Among those just past college age — 25- to 29-year olds — the share has risen from 15 to 19 percent, according to the Census Bureau. Among 30- to 34-year-olds, it has risen from 7 to 9 percent. The share of 20- to 24-year-olds is also up, but those numbers — from 42 to 47 percent — are inflated because they include people living in college dormitories.
”These kids — these young people — they are going to be nudged into managerial positions whether they are ready or not,” said Tim Elmore, president of Growing Leaders, an Atlanta-based, non-profit company that works with high school and college students.
Many are a long way from ready, he said.
One bright spot for millenials: Baby boomers are aging out of the workforce at a quickening clip. “In the high-value jobs, especially,” noted Schmit. “Take the oil industry — 50 percent of the engineers are retiring within 10 years.”
Jason Aldrich, the executive director of Georgia State’s Career Management Center, agreed that prospects seem to be improving — however modestly.
”We had a lot of folks who graduated 10 or 20 years ago coming to us (during the recession),” Aldrich said. “In the last 18 months, we’ve seen very little of that.”
Certain skills are already in high demand, said Andy Decker, regional vice president for staffing company Robert Half.
Workers with technology and software skills, financial expertise and the right kinds of science background are not languishing in the ranks of the jobless, he said. “Those who are younger, cheaper and are tech savvy have an advantage.”
And some young workers can squeeze ahead of their peers with persistence and smarts.
After graduating from Georgia Southern, Lindsay Coonrod, 26, of Suwanee, Georgia, sought out an internship, then networked herself into a temporary position. After that, she earned a full-time job as marketing manager for Hire Dynamics, a Duluth, Georgia, staffing company.
Just having a job puts her ahead of many peers. She’s also like previous generations in her desire for a home: She and her boyfriend plan to find and buy a house within a year.
But parenthood? Let’s not push it.
”There’s no hurry on the family side of things,” she said. “I still feel pretty young. I think I want to establish my career a little bit more.”
That attitude is widespread, said Cheryl Russell, demographer and editorial director of New Strategist Press.
”The lives of young adults have changed pretty radically in the last decade. The millenials are postponing children and family life more than any previous generation.”
Implications for the economy are huge — especially for real estate.
As young people leave home and set up housekeeping — alone or as a duo — they add to demand for homes. Those new households add demand for modestly priced homes as they become homebuyers, helping previous first-timers to move up to better homes. Now, that stream of new buyers has ebbed.
The difference represents tens of thousands of home sales that have not happened, she said. “This is wreaking havoc on the housing market. Even if they can afford a home, millennials are often opting not to buy.”
Some of that may be a preference, but much is economic necessity. So long as the labor market is weak, the finances of many millennials will be stressed.
”The jobs are out there but the problem is that hundreds of people are applying for them,” said Herron, the UGA graduate now teaching in Huntsville. “Why would anyone hire a brand-new teacher when there are a ton of people with experience?”