No Real Gains in Living Standards for Young People in 2017

September 12, 2018

Today’s report from Census on income, poverty, and health insurance in 2017 holds little good news for young people.

  • Overall median household income increased modestly (1.8 percent) in 2017. This increase was largely due to increases in income for households headed by people age 34–64. By contrast, there was no significant increase in median income for households headed by people age 25–34, and a decline for households headed by those under age 25.

  • The overall health uninsurance rate remained flat at 8.8 percent. It also remained flat (at 15.6 percent) for people age 26–34, but increased by nearly 1 percentage point (to 14 percent) among people age 19–25.

  • The percentage of young people (18–34) who worked full-time, year-round increased slightly (about 0.7 of a percentage point).  There was no change in the percentage (about one-in-four) who did not work during the year.

  • Median earnings for full-time, year-round young workers (18–34) were effectively flat (at about $38,000) in 2017.

  • Median earnings for young women working full-time, year-round in 2017 were $35,000 compared to $40,000 for young men working full-time, year round. There was no change in the gender wage gap.

  • The overall poverty rate trend depends on the measure used — it was effectively flat (down a non-statistically significant 0.1 percentage point) using the Supplemental Poverty Measure (which includes a more comprehensive, post-tax, post-transfer income measure) and down slightly (0.4 percentage points, to 12.3 percent) using the antiquated, but still official poverty measure. Among young people (18–34), the official poverty rate was 13.6 percent in 2017, a probably insignificant decline from 13.9 percent in 2016. We don’t have an SPM poverty rate for young people yet, but there is little reason to think the trend differs from the overall SPM rate.

Young people are more educated than ever. The share of adults age 25–34 with a B.A. degree (39 percent) is now 10 percentage points higher than it was at the start of the millennium. Just under 8 percent of young adults lack a high school degree, compared to about 12 percent in 2000. Yet, 25–34 year-olds are more likely to be poor today than they were in both 1990 and 2000. Perhaps this explains some of young people’s well-documented dissatisfaction with US-style capitalism.

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