Labor Day: Are Young Workers the ‘Lost Decade’

This Labor Day, nearly one in three young workers will be at work. This statistic is just one symptom of a far deeper economic reality for workers younger than 35, according to the AFL-CIO report, “Young Workers: A Lost Decade.”

According to the report, not only have young workers lost financial ground over the past 10 years, they also have lost some of their optimism. More than one in three young workers say they are currently living at home with their parents. Thirty-one percent of young workers reports being uninsured, up from 24 percent without health insurance coverage 10 years ago. One-third of young workers cannot pay the bills and seven in 10 do not have enough saved to cover two months of living expenses.

Based on a nationwide survey of 1,156 people by Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the AFL-CIO and the AFL-CIO community affiliate Working America, the report examines young workers’ economic standing, attitudes and hopes for the future. It also draws a comparison with findings from a similar 1999 AFL-CIO study, as well as with attitudes of workers older than 35.

“We’re calling the report ‘A Lost Decade’ because we’re seeing 10 years of opportunity lost as young workers across the board are struggling to keep their heads above water and often not succeeding,” said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka. “They’ve put off adulthood – put off having kids, put off education – and a full 34 percent of workers under 35 live with their parents for financial reasons.

Just last week we learned that about 1.7 million fewer teenagers and young adults were employed in July than a year before, hitting a record low of 51.4 percent.”

Some of the report’s other key findings include:

  • 37 percent have put off education or professional development because they can’t afford it.
  • When asked who is most responsible for the country’s economic woes, close to 50 percent of young workers place the blame on Wall Street and banks or corporate CEOs. And young workers say greed by corporations and CEOs is the factor most to blame for in the current financial downturn.
  • By a 22-point margin, young workers favor expanding public investment over reducing the budget deficit. Young workers rank conservative economic approaches such as reducing taxes, government spending and regulation on business among the five lowest of 16 long-term priorities for Congress and the president.
  • 35 percent say they voted for the first time in 2008, and nearly three-quarters now keep tabs on government and public affairs, even when there’s not an election going on.
  • The majority of young workers and nearly 70 percent of first-time voters are confident that Obama will take the country in the right direction.

Overall, young workers have a clear vision for reinvigorating the economy, and it’s largely summed up by one four-letter word – jobs. But few trust their own employer to do what’s best for employees. Even fewer have confidence in corporate America as a whole.

“Young workers in particular must be given the tools to lead the next generation to prosperity,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “The national survey shows just how broken our economy is for our young people…and what’s at stake if we don’t fix it.”

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