1980s millennials are finally recovering from the Great Recession

1980s millennials are finally recovering from the Great Recession
The oldest millennials are finally advancing their careers and wealth.Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Nearly 15 years after the Great Recession hit, the eldest millennials are finally doing alright.

Graduating into a blighted job market put them on a rocky road to building both their career and wealth, which was only further hampered by massive student debt and soaring living costs for things like homes and health care. But data over the past year has revealed that the cohort is making a comeback from their economic challenges in the job market and in their bank accounts.

Research shows that those who graduate during a recession could see stagnation in financial growth for up to 15 years. The St. Louis Fed previously deemed millennials born in the 1980s at risk of becoming a "lost generation" for wealth accumulation. As of 2016, their median wealth levels were 34% below older generations when they were a similar age, making them the slowest cohort to recover from the Great Recession.

"Not only is their wealth shortfall in 2016 very large in percentage terms, but the typical 1980s family actually lost ground in relative terms between 2010 and 2016, a period of rapidly rising asset values that buoyed the wealth of all older cohorts," the St. Louis Fed report read.

But a follow-up report last year found "millennials may not be as 'lost' as we once thought." It revealed that the cohort made serious ground in building wealth. As of 2019, they had narrowed their wealth deficit to 11%. Of course, this doesn't take into consideration effects from coronavirus recession, as full data for this period isn't yet available.


Winning at work

If the recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is any indication, though, the pandemic may not have set the 1980s millennials back too much. It found that Americans aged 35 to 44 — which includes the oldest millennials and the youngest Gen Xers — are the only cohort among six age groups tracked to be at or above its pre-pandemic employment level as of December 2021.

December was the first month that the age group surpassed pre-pandemic employment. The unemployment rate for those 35- to 44-years-old was 3.3% in December, below the national unemployment rate of 3.9%.

Not only are they the most employed age cohort, but they also bring the most skills to the table. As author and leadership expert Erica Dhawan previously explained to Insider, these "geriatric millennials" have the skills of both older and younger generations, which helps them bridge communication styles in the workplace.

"They can help straddle the divide," she said. "They can teach traditional communication skills to some of those younger employees and digital body language to older team members."

It's an in-demand skillset that's given midcareer employees the freedom to drive the Great Resignation. With the upper hand in the workforce, they're able to leave their job for a better one. Switching jobs is often the key to earning more money, which will help them further close that wealth deficit as they move toward their prime earning and working years.


Of course, there are still plenty of challenges like debt and inflation. These data points can't speak for the entirety of the generation, but, in broad strokes, older millennials seem to finally be getting back on economic track.

Are you an elder millennial who has overcome financial challenges? Email hhoffower@insider.com.