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.