Credit: Contributed

Bad luck, poor timing and unfortunate economic trends have put local New York City millennials at risk of becoming the lost generation, amid the death and job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The pandemic’s pain and suffering have created a “double whammy” for millennials – people born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 24 to 39 this year). Before the pandemic, older millennials now in their 30s never fully recovered from the once-in-a-generation Great Recession of 2008-2009 that depressed their wages for years. These dual calamities have put millennials at a huge disadvantage in achieving the same level of financial stability that their parents had and in finding good-paying jobs and stable, affordable homes.

Millennials are not a single, uniform group. In New York, too many young people born and raised in the five boroughs, as well as young immigrants, are at a clear disadvantage in obtaining the education, skills and support they need to compete against young people relocating here from other parts of the United States. These are the findings of a new study by the Community Service Society (CSS).

An estimated 2.2 million millennials call New York City home. They make up the largest share – 26 percent – of New York City residents, according to the report. But through no fault of their own, New York-born millenials are struggling to gain an economic foothold in their hometown. There is no dancing around this point: These local New Yorkers need our support to avoid a cascade of negative effects in the years and months ahead.

The CSS report, Uneven Outcomes: Millennials in NYC, from the Great Recession to COVID-19, found millennials comprised 43 percent of the city’s workforce in low-wage service sectors such as retail, hospitality and food-service industries decimated by the pandemic. Before the pandemic, only nine percent of millennial transplants were out of the labor force. However, among New York-born and immigrant millennials, the rate was more than double that figure. COVID-19 has thrown the lion’s share of this group into deeper economic despair, with the report estimating that 360,000 of these millennials have lost their jobs.

A sizable share — 40 percent — of millennials born in New York State lived with their parents before the pandemic, a trend likely driven by the housing affordability crisis and economic insecurity. They tend to live in low-income communities of color hard hit by COVID-19, such as Mott Haven/Hunts Point in the South Bronx and Brownsville in Brooklyn, where the median household income is below $30,000 a year.

Report co-authors Irene Lew and Oksana Mironova said help for millennials might include increased investment in CUNY, reorienting high school and community college to focus on career development, retraining programs for displaced workers, a green infrastructure jobs program, expanding home down-payment assistance and enacting laws that protect unregulated tenants, including Good Cause Eviction legislation.

New York City transplants from other states tend to have college degrees and high-paid, white-collar jobs that give them the option to work remotely from home. On the other hand, lower-paid service jobs tend to be filled by locals born in New York City or abroad. This truth is reflected in the wage gap between local and transplant millennials. Adjusted for inflation, the median earnings of transplant millennials were at least $23,000 higher than New York-born and immigrant millennials in 2018, according to the report.

The nightmare that New York City young people and their families face is disturbingly common nationwide, according to a Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis study. About one in four families have negative net worth, meaning their debts exceed their assets. Roughly one in six say they would not be able to pay a $400 emergency expense without using credit cards, borrowing or selling assets, the study found.

For millennials, the timing of the pandemic—just a decade after the Great Recession—has been particularly damaging. The typical college graduate entering a labor market with high unemployment typically see a 10 percent hit to income in the first year, with the effect averaging out to a 1.8 percent reduction in yearly earnings over 10 years, according to a paper by economists at Yale University and the University of Rochester. Researchers also found the impact of the Great Recession on wages was “much larger” than previous downturns.

With all the challenges COVID-19 presents, it’s easy to gloss over the crisis of millennials. Yet, they are an important population for New York City’s future prosperity. We must not repeat the mistakes of New York City’s inequitable recovery after the Great Recession. Any COVID-19 recovery plan should prioritize the needs of low-income immigrant and New York-born millennials, who will only continue to fall further behind their transplant counterparts if the city fails to invest in CUNY—an important engine of economic mobility—and to better integrate career development into the city’s public education systems.

We cannot pretend – this young generation of local New Yorkers faces a catastrophic economic future in their hometown without sufficient support and a pathway to economic independence.

David R. Jones, Esq., is President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York (CSS), the leading voice on behalf of low-income New Yorkers for more than 170 years. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. The Urban Agenda is available on CSS’s website: www.cssny.org.