How the Recession and a Changed Labor Market Will Affect Millennials in North Carolina for Years to Come

When someone comes of age has a lot to do with where they end up—their income, their education, their opportunities for upward mobility, and the places they can afford to live. It matters whether they start to look for work in a period of boom or bust, enter the job market at a time of technological change or disruption, or can benefit from robust institutions focused on increasing the skills and wages of its participants. These factors will shape the experience of their work and ability to achieve security and mobility. They also shape the experience of those who were born, came of age, and entered the job market at roughly the same time—the groupings of people we consider a “generation.”

In this year’s report on the state of working North Carolina in 2017, we focus primarily on the generation that entered the job market and came of age roughly starting in the year 2000—the so-called Millennial generation. We look at the long-term and short-term trends in the economy and policy environment that have shaped their experience.

So why are we focusing on Millennials? As we discuss in the following chapters, this generation has been affected by a unique combination of long-term and short-term trends in the economy and policy environment—everything from the lack of good jobs, the impact of retreating institutions that provided those jobs, rising healthcare and housing costs, and diminishing opportunities for building assets. The Millennial generation, now the majority of the labor force, also includes more people of color than any generation before, which means it is more urgent than ever that we address the barriers that are hurting people of color.

Not everyone in a generation experiences things in exactly the same way—different members of a generation may be influenced very differently depending on the place they live, their race, their ethnicity, and their gender. Longstanding barriers and historical disinvestment in communities of color, for example, tend to magnify the negative consequences of recessions and policy retreats for people in these communities, while minimizing the benefits of better times and better policies. Over the long term, these disparities can create different trajectories for income, education, and social mobility, even within the same generation.

The policy choices that North Carolina makes matter, and by embracing the policies that help Millennials, we can help build an economy that works for everyone.

And we know the problems we address can be overwhelming – that’s why, at the end of each chapter, we’ve included a recommendation for a small first step that our state can take to solve the problems that we’ve discussed.