Time Is On Millennials’ Side

The Millennials are the generation born between 1983 and 2004.  The youngest is 11 and the oldest is 30 years of age.  They have experienced different cultural, technological and economic conditions in their early formative years than did predecessor generations; Generation X (Gen Xers) born during 1965 to 1982 and the Boomer generation born 1946 to 1964.  Millennials face three to five decades before retirement. In that period they will accumulate assets and pass through the highest-earning years of their careers. Earlier generations’ financial failures should encourage them to do hands-on assessment of their own needs and to plan for resources to fund their own retirement.

Harvard found that 49% of young Americans believe the nation is headed down the wrong track today, and just 14% say it’s headed down the right track. Despite a sour view of today’s politics, Millennials are more upbeat than older adults about America’s longer term future. Half of Millennials say the country’s best years are ahead, a view held by 42% of Gen Xers and 44% of Boomers.

Perhaps explaining some of the Millennials’ optimism, 53% of Millennials favor bigger government and more services. Just 43% of Gen Xers and 32% of Boomers take that view.  While government-run plans may sound righteous, there are thousands of pension and retirement plans cases headed toward bankruptcy, unlike solid company-run pensions where they still exist. Millennials should be wide awake to these failures and the bureaucrats, union officials and political culprits who loot the retirees’ assets.

Just 26% of eligible Millennials are married. At that same age of eligibility, 36% of Gen Xers and 48% of Boomers were married. Most unmarried Millennials (69%) say they would like to marry, but they lack a sufficiently solid economic foundation.

Millennials who are already in the job market were disappointed by the post-recession period (starting in 2009). The economy offered few jobs and the pay was poor. In 2013, median income for house­holders aged 15 to 24 years was $34,311, slightly lower than the median income of $34,623 during 2009.  In 2013, the median income of householders aged 25-34 years was $52,702 — up modestly after a 4.5% drop in the recession’s wake, but it was much higher than younger workers.

Millennials currently have little wealth. Householders under age 40 had accumulated an average of $108,000 in net assets by the end of the third quarter of 2013, while Millennial householders averaged $13,000 in student debt. Home ownership for this group is less prevalent than earlier for Gen X or Boomers at the same age. The 31% who moved back to a parent’s home is even more disheartening.

We can expect most Millennials to gradually move into higher wage and salary categories as their skills and experience improve, and we can hope that they begin habits of investing and saving. This contradicts evidence that, among adults below age 35, the savings rate is minus 2%. About 40% of Millennials are not saving anything yet, but we can hope for a change in behavior.  Of course a 401(k) with employer match is a superior plan, followed by a Roth IRA or a traditional IRA, but even a simple self-administered savings program is a good strategy. A plan that sets aside 6% of an average income of $52,702 (increasing by 2%) and earning 4% per year, will accumulate about $235,000 in current dollars over a 30-year period or, assuming 2% inflation, an accumulation of $128,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars. Of course the quickest way to scuttle a savings plan would be to take on credit card debt at a hideous interest rate.

Retirement Social Security might be available to Millennials when they need it, although 51% do not think Social Security will survive for them. Instead of a complete collapse, the more likely event is an adjustment of full retirement age upward from 67 to 70.

Currently the average annual social security retirement benefit is $15,240, so assuming Social Security remains inflation-adjusted (and not rigged to shortchange beneficiaries and payers), savings plus social security could support a Millennial with an inflation-adjusted pretax income of about $23,000. The outlook is not dismal, but Millennials will be better off if they continue working, get a post-grad degree, share accommodations, save more money or marry.

Alan Daley is a retired businessman who writes for The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research