The coronavirus crisis is not an equal-opportunity oppressor. One of the pandemic’s defining features has been the way it’s rendered race- and class-based inequities in the U.S. more visible, profound, and grotesque. Those with the privilege and resources necessary to work remotely from a single-family home have faced a much lower risk of infection than those who toil in meat-processing plants and live in crowded multigenerational apartments (in the event of illness, meanwhile, the former are also more likely to have access to employer-subsidized health insurance). And then, of course, COVID-19 poses a far more menacing threat to America’s elderly than to its young.
But if our nation’s young adults are relatively insulated from the pandemic’s worst health consequences, they’ve been disproportionately harmed by its economic ones. As Bloomberg reports, the number of American adults under 30 living with their parents in the U.S. is nearly 3 million higher today than it would have been absent the pandemic, according to an analysis from University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen. This is surely due to a variety of factors. But one is that many of the industries that disproportionately employ 20-somethings — including retail, leisure, and hospitality — are also among the hardest hit by the pandemic.
Even before the COVID-19 crisis, America’s rising generations were on shaky economic footing. One analysis by the Center for Household Financial Stability at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that millennial households lay claim to 34 percent less wealth than an extrapolation from the experience of preceding generations would have predicted. As Bloomberg’s Noah Smith notes, this aberration is reflected in the declining median net worth of U.S. households headed by those 35 or younger.
The fact that both the (older) Zoomer and millennial generations have been greeted by world-historic economic crises upon entering the labor market — while millennials have had the additional bad fortune of facing a second such crisis at the onset of their prime earning years — bodes poorly for our nation’s economic future, absent sweeping reforms. Fortunately, it also bodes poorly for any proponent of our plutocratic status quo who’s banking on the “kids” aging out of their socialist sympathies.