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Census: More in 'millennial' generation poor, jobless

More young adults today are poor and a smaller percentage are employed than their counterparts 34 years ago, though a greater percentage now have college degrees, according to Census Bureau data released Thursday.

Young adults of the so-called millennial generation, ages 18-34, also are more likely to be foreign-born and to speak a language other than English at home than their peers in 1980, according to the bureau's 2009-13 American Community Survey data.

The figures in the bureau's "Young Adults: Then and Now," a new edition of its interactive Census Explorer mapping tool, show that 1 in 5 young adults -- 13.5 million people -- live in poverty today, up from 1 in 7 -- 8.4 million -- in 1980.

Yet more millennials have college degrees: 22 percent in the data estimates from 2009-13 compared with 16 percent in 1980.

Nationwide, the total of 73 million young adults ages 18 to 34 is the largest population in that age group in the last three decades. But they are a smaller share of the country's population now, at 23 percent, than they were in 1980, at 30 percent. That's because in 1980, they included baby boomers, who were born between 1946 and 1964, and constitute one of the largest generations in U.S. history, the bureau said.

"Many of the differences between generations examined within these latest data reflect long-term demographic and societal changes," Jonathan Vespa, a Census Bureau demographer, said in a statement.

The new data illustrate growing "racial and ethnic and immigrant diversity," said William Frey, a demographer and sociologist who is a senior fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., and a research professor with the Population Studies Center and Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.

"We were not as diverse then," Frey said of 1980. Some of the differences in how young adults are faring today versus their earlier counterparts have to do with the economic climate and societal changes, he added.

Young adults in 1980 "grew up in a time when the country was in better shape," Frey said, even though "1980 was not a great economic time."

But these days, Frey continued, "We have a down economy and we have a much more diverse group, not only racially, but in terms of differences in family situations." A young adult 30 years ago, he said, was farther along in "setting a life course," such as marrying and starting a family, than many young people are today.

"It's a very different America," he said.

According to the 2009-13 data, about 3 in 10 millennials have been married, down from 6 in 10 in 1980.

The patterns shown nationally held true for New York State and for Nassau and Suffolk counties, with a few exceptions:

In Suffolk, the poverty rate among 18- to 34-year-olds was lower in 2009-13, at 7.8 percent, than in 1980, when it was 8.4 percent. In contrast, the poverty rate in Nassau during 2009-13 -- 7.6 percent -- was higher than the 1980 rate of 6.6 percent.

Suffolk showed a higher employment rate for young adults in 2009-13 -- nearly 68 percent -- than in 1980, at 66.3 percent. But in 2000, the employment rate was even higher, with 72 percent of Suffolk young adults working full time.

The Census Explorer mapping tool allows comparisons of the young adult population on various characteristics across decades, using data from the 1980, 1990 and 2000 censuses and the 2009-13 American Community Survey.

Information from American Community Survey -- which is conducted monthly and queries about 3.5 million people annually -- is part of the decennial census, replacing the long-form census questionnaire last used in 2000.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect Internet link to the U.S. Census Bureau’s online mapping tool that shows data on the nation’s young adult population.


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