Katie Gillespie, age 29, is smiling.
She has a full-time job she loves. A nice place to live. Friends and family. A future.
Yet her path to adulthood, like that of virtually everyone she knows, has been uneven — more pothole than pavement.
The Great Recession got in the way.
“Getting to this place,” she said, “was different than what I thought.”
Gillespie’s friends, gathered around a lunch table, nod in understanding.
Their relationships, their work, their lives unfolded in ways they might scarcely have imagined as they stepped onto the adulthood limb a decade ago.
For Gillespie and her peers — indeed, for an estimated 60 million “millennials” generally born between 1980 and 1995 — the 2008 economic collapse brought an often-volcanic disruption to life patterns their parents saw as immutable reality.
Careers have been delayed. Indeed, jobs of any kind have been tough to find, potentially costing millennials hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost lifetime earnings.
The past five years rearranged their American dream.
Postponed and canceled home purchases will likely make it harder for millennials to build wealth, while significant retirement saving is out of reach. Unprecedented student debt hangs over recent graduates. Credit scores have dropped, and loans are harder to get.
“You want to be independent more than anything, but it’s nearly impossible,” said Bree Williams, a 25-year-old retail worker who teaches yoga part-time in a studio in Kansas City, Mo. “I don’t know anyone my age who finances their life independently.”
And now millennials are expected to buy health coverage they may not need, at high premiums, in order to keep insurance costs low for sicker baby boomers. Someday, millennials may be asked to pay higher Social Security taxes, even though their own retirements will almost certainly be delayed.
It’s no surprise that some now call 20-somethings a lost generation, almost unique in the nation’s history.
Most are anxious. Some are frustrated.
“Younger millennials are contemplating how exactly they’re going to make livings and find their way in the world, while our leaders argue,” University of Kansas graduate Alex Rausch recently wrote online.
But here’s the most amazing fact of all: For all of those challenges, millennials seem supremely optimistic about their futures, more upbeat than baby boomers.
“We were the first generation raised to believe we were unique and beautiful snowflakes. The approach was, ‘We can be whatever we want to be. Justice will prevail,’ ” one millennial told The Star.
The Pew Research Center, in a major study of millennials, recently concluded: “Whatever toll a recession, a housing crisis, a financial meltdown and a pair of wars may have taken on the national psyche in the past few years, it appears to have hit the old harder than the young. … Millennials (are) confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change.”
Careers, they now know, will change. Friends will move in, move out, move on. Whatever.
“Millennials are not afraid to create their own jobs,” said Jeff Fromm, a Kansas City-based advertiser and author of a book on the generation.
“Or their own world.”