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Louisville's Millennials Face Difficult Economic Times, But It May Not Be As Bad As It Seems

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Alix Mattingly/WFPL News
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The population of young adults living in Louisville is at a 30-year low, according to a recent analysis by the U.S. Census bureau.

Though the proportion of young adults is shrinking, due mainly to an aging baby boomer population, the financial hardships they face seem to be surging. 

In many ways, Louisville's young adults of today are no better off than young adults in 1980, said Josh Pinkston, assistant professor of economics at UofL.

Residents aged 18-34 years old make up just 22 percent of the current population. In 1980, the same group accounted for nearly 30 percent of the Louisville population, according to the analysis.

More young adults in Louisville live in poverty than at any point in the past three decades, the report said.  Also, more Louisville millennials are living with their parents than in years past.

Here’s a look at how these numbers compare to national rates.

The high poverty rates for younger residents come as more young adults than ever seem to be earning a college education.

But the data, though seemingly dismal, isn’t all bad for young Louisvillians, said Matthew Ruther, director of the Kentucky State Data Center at the University of Louisville.

“I don’t think that it’s alarming,” he said.  “I don’t think it means that there is a huge swath of the millennial population that is getting ready to be homeless or live on the street—I don’t think it’s quite that dire.”

He added that this data could be a good sign that more people attending college.

Ruther said it’s not unusual for someone attending college to live with their parents, and college students are often considered to be in poverty due to low-paying, part time jobs or because they choose not to work while in school.

That could also lead to the sharp decline in employed millennials, he said.

 

What is alarming, he said, is the level of real wages being earned by young Louisville adults has significantly fallen since a decade ago and is currently at the same level it was in the 1980s.

 

Pinkston, the assistant professor of economics at UofL, said while young workers are not in a worse situation that they were in 1980, they’re certainly no better off.

Pinkston attributes the stagnation of millennial earnings in part to a “hollowing out” of jobs that require a set of mid-level skills.

“There has been a decline in manufacturing, which is a source of higher paying, blue collar jobs,” Pinkston said.

These jobs are commonly outsourced to foreign countries or fall victim to technology, he said.

Pinkston also said the broad age range in the grouping is not “apples to apples.”

“You’re looking at two big baskets of people and they’re very different baskets,” he said.

The economic and career path of an 18-year-old can greatly differ from a 34-year-old, he said.

This means some people in the group may be college students working low paying jobs during school, but are “on their way to being high-powered lawyers,” Pinkston said. Others are high school graduates working in a factory.

And Ruther echoes that.  He said to “get the whole picture” an analysis would need to be developed that could closely look at each individual millennial to determine if they were employed or if they were in school.

Despite that, he said, the data shows there is “certainly something interesting going on.”

Here are some other findings from the U.S. Census analysis for the Louisville area.

The rate at which millennials are getting married is decreasing, which Ruthers said could be a contributor to the heightened rates of poverty and increased numbers of young adults living with parents.

The number of foreign born and minority millenialls is also increasing among young Louisville adults, though still far behind national rates.

Also, the number of veterans among young adults in the Louisville area and nation is on the wane, according to the study.

Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.