Millennials aren't as well-off as their parents were at the same age: Their net worth is lower and they're not making more money. "The individual earnings for young workers have remained mostly flat over the past 50 years," the Pew Research Center finds in a 2019 report.
One group of young workers in particular is earning even less than others: those without a bachelor's degree.
"For millennials with some college or less, annual earnings were lower than their counterparts in prior generations," Pew reports. "Millennial workers with some college education reported making $36,000 [in 2018], lower than the $38,900 early baby boomer workers made at the same age in 1982. The pattern is similar for those young adults who never attended college."
Millennials with at least a bachelor's degree earned $56,000 in 2018, about the same as what college-educated Gen-Xers earned at the same age in 2001 and slightly more than what college-educated boomers earned. The analysis is in 2017 dollars.
"The growing gap by education is even more apparent when looking at annual household income," Pew reports. Household income includes the income of the young adult plus that of anyone else living in the household.
In 2018, households headed by millennials with a bachelor's degree or more earned about $105,000. Households headed by millennials with some college (those with an associate degree and those who attended college but didn't get a degree) made $62,000, a difference of $43,000. And households headed by high school graduates earned about $49,000, a difference of $56,000.
The gap was less significant for prior generations. The income difference between late boomers with a bachelor's degree and late boomers with some college was about $29,000. For late boomers with a bachelor's degree and those with a high school degree, the difference was $41,000.
As Pew's chart shows, the older the generation, the smaller the education gap in household income. Click on the chart to enlarge.
Earning a college degree is more expensive than ever. As a result, compared with earlier generations, more millennials have student loans. "The share of young adult households with any student debt doubled from 1998 (when Gen Xers were ages 20 to 35) to 2016 (when millennials were that age)," Pew reports.
Millennials also tend to owe more. "The median amount of debt was nearly 50% greater for millennials with outstanding student debt ($19,000) than for Gen X debt holders when they were young ($12,800)," the report says.
Still, many experts agree that a college education is worth the price.
"If anyone tells you, 'You don't need to get a college degree,' absolutely ignore that advice," says Peter Mallouk, a certified financial planner and president of wealth management firm Creative Planning. "The greatest separation between you and your wealth is having a college degree."
Ramit Sethi, author of "I Will Teach You to be Rich," is on the same page as Mallouk. Taking out student loans to get a college education can definitely be worth it in the long run, he tells CNBC Make It: "Don't buy the typical advice that everyone seems to be throwing around these days saying college loans are the worst thing on earth. They're not."
That doesn't mean you should borrow recklessly. "I'm not saying everyone should graduate with $150,000 in student loan debt," Sethi says. Run the numbers and be deliberate about what you'll be able to repay.
Mallouk agrees. When picking a college that works for you and your budget, think about your career path, he says. "You really have to look at the degree that you're getting and how that translates into future income to determine what that degree is worth."
"If you are getting a medical degree, by all means spend hundreds of thousands of dollars," he continues. "I'd rather see you spend a couple hundred thousand dollars on something like a medical degree than even half of that on a degree that won't translate into future earnings."
To get an idea of what your degree may be worth, research the different careers that it may lead to and how much they pay. When choosing your major, think about the future job market, Mallouk says: "Make sure the degree you're getting is translatable."
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