Great Recession Means a Diminished American Dream for Young Adults

America's young adults see delayed career development, homebuying, and childbearing.

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The Fannie Mae report says that younger cohorts' shifts in home ownership point to "the significant tenure consequences of the housing crisis," but also acknowledges that unrelated factors like increased education, delayed marriage, and delayed childbearing all could likewise contribute to these trends.

Though social shifts have indeed led to delayed childbearing, the economy might itself exacerbate that trend. According to a recent report from the Pew Research Center, the U.S. birth rate has declined since 2007, when the economy started softening.. Though social factors can also cause delayed childbearing, as with homebuying, there is historical evidence of a link between the economy and fertility, says the report: "[P]eople put off having children during the economic downturn, and then catch up on fertility once economic conditions improve."

Living through a prolonged downturn can also naturally adjust a generation's economic and political attitudes. The Occupy Wall Street movement is one pervasive sign of discontent with current economic conditions. Though there are no definitive demographics for the movement, it is undeniably fueled by young people. As von Wachter told Congress in 2010, "The evidence suggests unlucky cohorts of labor market entrants tend to believe in a higher degree of income redistribution; at the same time, they tend to mistrust public institutions"—an apt description of how many of the so-called occupiers see the world.

Even with a recovery in place, albeit slow, the recent crisis and growing inequality could still continue to mobilize Americans, and particularly young Americans. "We're still not broke. We're still a rich country, we're still going to see rising GDP per capita going forward," says Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute. "But the question is how much of that rising GDP per capita is actually going to go per capita."

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