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By Courtney Hamilton
May 31, 2016
Caption : Despite media characterizations as a generation of startup kids, many Millennials find themselves living close to the financial edge. And according to new research by American Women, that financial anxiety is especially palpable for today’s young women.     

If the media is to be believed, Millennials all follow a similar narrative arc in their lives. The term, defined by the Pew Research Center as anyone born between 1981 and 1997, conjures the idea of a generation of startup kids. Gifted by digital literacy and bolstered by middle class, college-educated upbringings, the stereotypical Millennial practically creates for themselves a fulfilling, well-paid job with their innovation and optimism.

As Nona Willis Aronowitz points out in Fusion’s series “Uncovered,” for the majority of Millennials, that life is a laughable myth. “I understood then just how much talk of ‘Millennials’ had been aggressively focused on college-educated, upper-middle-class young people, even though they were hardly in the majority. There was a swath of Millennials out there who grew up with entirely different financial baselines and cultural values, and they were being ignored,” she writes.

Those “different financial baselines” often mean a life spent in financial anxiety, borne out by the fact that one in five young adults lives in poverty, compared to one in seven in 1980. And according to new research by American Women, that financial anxiety is especially palpable for today’s young women.

“Women, especially younger, unmarried and minority women, are particularly stressed especially if they have caregiving or financial responsibility for their children or their parents,” the research memo explains. For these Millennial women, current policy fails to adequately address their economic realities. From equal pay to paid family leave to student debt relief, here are some the most critical economic issues young women face today.

Economic Security

“Having enough money to meet bills and expenses is the biggest source of stress for all voters, but women–especially Millennial, unmarried and minority women–are significantly more likely than men to express economic anxiety,” the research memo says. While women earn less than men on the whole and tend to have less in retirement savings, they’re more likely than men to be caregivers to children and other relatives, as well as have adult children living at home.

Economic struggle defines a majority of female respondent’s lives. “Not surprisingly older women are more concerned about retirement and health than younger women, while moms have greater stress associated with family than women without children,” the memo says. “Still, it is striking how simply not having enough money unites women, even if the actual economic experiences of women differ.”

Student Loans and Other Debt

American Women’s Millennial women respondents were the most likely to cite bills and expenses as their greatest sources of stress—a full 72 percent of them said as much, compared with 48 percent of men and 59 percent of total women respondents. Minority women were even more likely to stress over bills and expenses, with 76 percent saying as much. Women of color, who are disproportionately impacted by student loan debt, listed college affordability as their highest priority economic issue.

“It is also the case that in this information economy, there are few good paying jobs for people without a college education and even young college graduates struggle to find work and pay off student loans,” the research memo explains. Almost half of Millennial women respondents said they’d struggled to pay tuition or student loans—around 30 percent of them still live at home. Another third reported falling behind on rent or mortgage payments, having to take a second job or losing a job and facing significant reductions in hours or wages at their jobs.

Understandably, these issues impact younger Millennials and older Millennials differently. “While we tend to lump Millennials together, there are important differences,” the research memo says. “Younger Millennial women (18-24 years of age) are much more likely to report a reduction in hours and wages (47 percent to 23 percent) than older Millennial women (25-35 years of age). They are also more likely to have to take a second job (42 percent compared to 28 percent). Forty-one percent of younger Millennials have moved back home.”

Paid Family and Sick Leave

While older Millennial women and women in general see more value in maternity-friendly policies at work, the ability to balance work and family responsibilities comes up as a leading economic issue in the survey. Seventy percent of Millennial women agreed that we should “require employers to provide paid family and medical leave,” compared to 58 percent of men. Similarly, 66 percent of all women respondents and 65 percent of Millennial women respondents support tax credits and subsidies to help working parents pay for childcare. Seventy-five percent of all women and 68 percent of Millennial women believe workers should be allowed to earn paid sick days.

Raising the Minimum Wage

With so much financial strife, many Millennial women have found themselves living on the edge. Millennials make up the biggest share of minimum wage earners (71 percent) and young Millennials especially struggle with unemployment, underemployment, and inconsistent work.

More than half of American Women’s Millennial women respondents recognize the minimum wage struggle, supporting raising the minimum wage to $12 and adjusting for the skyrocketing cost of living. An even bigger majority (70 percent) believe policy should require employers to provide stable and predictable schedules for hourly employees.

Equal Pay

A full 45 percent of women say they’ve experienced wage discrimination or know someone who has.Thus, it’s no surprise that support for equal pay crosses party and political boundaries.

“Support for ending gender discrimination in pay is a policy proposal that has broad appeal for all women voters because it is rooted in their lived experience,” the research memo explains.A majority of Democratic women (88 percent) and Independent women (83 percent) say they’re more likely to support a candidate who supports initiatives for equal pay. A similar 70 percent of Republican women say the same. For Millennial women under 24, equal pay topped their list of priority issues.

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