20 Years Old and $20,000 in Debt: The Status of Millennial Women

Attachment-1Congratulations to all 20-something year-old North Carolina women – it finally and officially sucks to be us. The report on The Status of North Carolina Women reveals that women in NC earn a median salary of $33,000 a year, while men in NC earn a whopping $40,000 a year. This gender wage gap of 17 percent, while enviable compared to the national average, presents particular obstacles for millennial women in our state.

The Millennial generation has been touted as paradoxically both underemployed and overeducated, living at home with our parents and weeping ourselves to sleep by the comforting glow of our iPads, iPods and iPhones. The New York Times gave every person under the age of 30 a heart attack when it asked, in all seriousness: Do Millennials stand a chance in the real world?  (If you don’t answer yes to that question, I’ll un-friend you on Facebook.) In this recession, the millennial workforce takes the greatest hit as companies revert to the mantra of last hired, first fired – or don’t hire anyone at all. This means that millennial women are underpaid because we are both millennials and women.

You may wonder, as many have wondered, whether women contribute to the wage gap. Maybe men choose college majors that lead to higher-paying jobs and, after having secured a job, negotiate for higher pay. This claim, while tempting in its simplicity, ignores the basic facts: men earn more than women even in the same professions. A study found that women with computer science degrees—one of few professions which actively seeks out female hires—earn an average of $52,531 per year. Meanwhile, men with computer science degrees earn $56,227 a year. What gives?

“Lower earnings have an immediate effect after college, setting into motion a chain of disparities that will follow women throughout their careers,” say the researchers of the nationwide report, Graduating to a Pay Gap. But graduating women aren’t worrying about the gender pay gap—we’re worrying about getting paid at all. Student debt has reached an all-time high. The average North Carolina college grad will require eleven years to pay off all student loans. Eleven years! Eleven years ago, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston lived together harmoniously; Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone debuted on VHS; and postage stamps cost only 34 cents. A lot can happen in eleven years.

Baby boomers may protest, but the Millennial economy puts theirs to shame.  Students at four-year colleges in 1982 graduated with an average of $4,483 in debt. North Carolina students in 2011 graduated with an average of $20,800 in debt. The worst part? These numbers even account for inflation.

Millennial women may just have a monopoly on financial challenges. Young North Carolina women are underpaid because we’re women; unemployed because we’re Millennials; and, poor because of student debt. Next time you see a recent college grad, give her a hug—then give her a job.

This is the final post in a series reflecting on the findings of the Status of North Carolina Women report.




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