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Published: May 23, 2022 5 min read
Photo Illustration of a frustrated young woman working late in an empty office
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It’s official: Landing a good job these days is much harder than it used to be.

Due in large part to increasingly common college-education requirements in the workplace, most older millennials aren’t able to land good jobs until their early 30s, according to new research from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Boomers, on the other hand, were typically able to find good jobs in their mid-to-late 20s.

“To secure a good job, young adults need to acquire more education and high-quality work experience than was necessary for previous generations,” the researchers wrote.

So what is a “good job,” exactly? The researchers defined the term as a job that supports a self-sufficient life — in other words, a living wage. At the national level, a good job must pay at least $35,000 for young workers under the age of 45. However, that standard of living varies geographically, so the researchers also set a baseline salary by location, which ranged from $29,700 in South Dakota to $47,000 in Washington, D.C. The definition did not include workplace benefits such as health care or employer-sponsored retirement plans.

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The majority of older millennials did not meet this standard of employment they were 30. By contrast, most boomers had jobs that paid a living wage at the age of 27. While this three-year difference may seem small, the financial ramifications are not.

“There are consequences to the delayed transition to good jobs,” Artem Gulish, one of the authors, said in a statement. “For many young adults, not having a good job means not being able to buy a house, not being able to pay back their student loans, and not having sufficient financial security to pursue their aspirations.”

In addition to earnings, the researchers looked at the wealth of younger workers and found that older millennials are falling far behind the previous generation: Households led by 35-year-olds today have less than two-thirds of the wealth of similar households 20 years ago, after adjusting for inflation.

College degrees and good jobs

Educational debt only adds to the issue, the researchers noted. The double whammy for younger workers is that not only do good jobs require higher levels of education these days, but also college costs have skyrocketed since the '80s.

In 1985, for example, the total annual cost of attending a public, four-year university was about $9,100 on average, when adjusted for inflation. Twenty years later, it cost nearly $16,000. Ten years after that? About $21,000. In other words, between 1985 and 2015, the inflation-adjusted cost of attending a four-year public university increased more than 127%, according to data from the Education Department.

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Despite all this, older millennials in general have been able to make up much of the lost ground compared to boomers — at least in terms of earnings.

By the age of 35, older millennials were actually more likely to hold a “good job” than boomers of the same age. That’s largely thanks to the earnings boost from their degrees.

Of course, not all millennials have college degrees. And the presence of unequal education levels creates yet another chasm among young workers in terms of who’s able to land a good job these days. Georgetown’s studies found that by the age of 35, 80% of older millennials with a bachelor’s degree had good jobs.

Unsurprisingly, as the level of education goes down, so does the percentage of millennials with good jobs: 56% of workers with some college or an associate’s degree had a good job; only 42% of workers with a high school diploma had good jobs; and 26% of workers who didn’t complete high school had a good job at 35.

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