The Economic Hardships of Millennials

evilmaniacal - [original thread]

If GDP is calculated correctly, it should correspond to mean income levels, which means that the mean income among people alive today is nearly four times higher than it was in 1950.

It's true that you can calculate GDP from income, but this "includ[es] the wages paid to labor, the rent earned by land, the return on capital in the form of interest, and corporate profits" in addition to adjusting for sales tax, property tax, and depreciation. In the hypothetical world where young people's wages have stagnated and all growth goes into the pockets of the older generation land and capital owners, this chart would look no different- so it doesn't do any work to differentiate a world where millennials have it worse than previous generations from one where they don't. All it tells you is that *someone* is better off today, not who it is.

We can also look at the growth in average personal consumption, which has risen about 950% since 1950, clearly indicating that Americans today have far more disposable income than in the past.

PCE is just CPI with different weights- if I understand the chart you linked correctly (and it's possible I don't) that's just saying inflation was ~950% over the last 70 years. This doesn't imply people have seen a 950% increase in real disposable income. To understand whether people are better off, you have to compare the CPE growth to nominal wage growth.

Another way to prod this question is to ask is what people are spending money on. According to the 2018 Mary Meeker report spending has drastically increased on housing, healthcare, and insurance, and decreased on entertainment, food, and apparel. Again, this doesn't help differentiate the world where quality of life goods are becoming cheaper from the world where fulfilling Maslow's basic needs takes almost all your income so you can't afford entertainment anymore.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that median household income in 1984 was $52,679, but was $68,703 in 2019, a 30% gain.

This is true, but it went up 10% from 1985-2014, then 20% from 2014-2019. So not exactly a story of consistent long term growth, and the area under the curve is pretty anemic.

When you try to include these benefits, the growth in real income has been much larger than these statistics generally show

I'm not sure that link says what you think it says :) (looks like an incorrect copy-paste?)

even if these gains merely reflected the fact that old people are getting richer, rather than young people, it wouldn't make much of a difference to my general argument, as millennials will eventually get older, and thus benefit from these gains just as old people do now.

This does not follow. The whole argument is that the older generation has benefited from policies that transfer wealth from younger generations to them. Sometimes that's in the form of capturing land and capital then decreasing returns to labor and increasing returns to land and capital. Sometimes that's in the form of policies that externalize costs to future society for the benefit of current power holders (restricting housing supply, capping property tax growth rate, environmental policies with disastrous long term effects, etc). If wealth were static then sure, eventually the older generation will die and leave their money to the younger generation, but 1) that ignores the time value of money and that the younger generation would be much better off if they got that money earlier, and 2) it ignores the fact that the younger generation will need to spend wealth to fix problems caused by the older generation. It also ignores that wealth centralization is bad in its own right, although you deal with that later

Health care and education are in many ways positional goods, though it would probably take a book to compellingly argue for this thesis (here are two: education and health care).

I don't think you'll get many takers on the idea that health care is a positional good. I appreciate that you linked a source, and I admittedly haven't read it, but in the absence of a concise argument or a consensus of experts, I (and I suspect most people) will reject this out of hand.

If you believed that rising healthcare costs were indicative of a lowering standard of living, then you should also probably believe that people in the poorest nations on Earth have the highest standards of living—which is obviously absurd.

I think most people would say health outcomes are indicative of a higher standard of living. The point is whether the cost is commensurate with the outcome, and if you are in fact being way more money for healthcare that's not any better than previous generations, that is evidence of you being worse off than previous generations.

The average cost of housing has gone up over time, but this trend is mainly driven by the fact that modern houses are larger and built better than houses in the past. For example, the average house size has more than doubled since the 1950s

The average size of an apartment is decreasing while the percentage of people under 35 renting increased by 14% relative (8% absolute) from 2006 to 2016. Again, the numbers you've quoted are totally consistent with a world where huge amounts of wealth have been generated but have mostly been captured by the older generations, and they're building nicer and bigger houses while the younger generations are renting smaller and smaller places for more money, all without building equity in their home.

In an illustration of just how nuanced debates about housing prices can get, a user on Reddit pointed out that the median age of homebuyers has gone from 31 to 47 in the last 4 decades as evidence that the above chart was misleading. But that’s all homebuyers. When you look at the age of first-home buyers, the trend has barely budged, rising by a few years since 1981. So, lots people are buying more than one home now—not exactly economic decline.

The article you link shows an increase in median first home buying age from 29 in 1981 to 33 in 2019. Far from barely budging, 4 years is an enormous increase- particularly when most people spend their first few decades not accumulating any wealth. If the y-axis were 9 vs. 13 it would be a better reflection of the underlying change.

Aren't millennials swimming in debt? Not right now, no. Although student loan debt has increased greatly in recent decades, the generation with the most debt is technically Generation X. The baby boomers aren't that far behind either.

Again, only because they're not buying houses. They're paying rent instead of mortgage payments, which is the same thing except you don't end up owning a house at the end. Again from the 2018 Meeker report, debt-to-annual-income ratio has risen from 13% to 22% from 1968 to 2018, and household savings rate has dropped from 12% to 3%.

I actually agree with your overall thesis- in general the past was terrible, and it's just rosy retrospection that makes us think otherwise. But I don't think the present is all that great for the younger generation either, and they're clearly facing some economic hardships previous generations didn't, some of which have been directly caused by public policy over the last 70 years.