With or without a pandemic, parents know how to worry about big and little things when it comes to their kids.

The pandemic is fueling that angst, and a new Pew Research Center survey shows Americans are particularly pessimistic right now about the financial future of younger generations.

The majority of people polled on the question in America and other countries since 2013 have already been saying children will be financially worse off than they are. But 2021 marks the largest share of Americans — 68% — to say children will have it harder since the question has been asked.

Among more than 10 countries, Americans had the second-steepest increase from 2019 to 2021 in people saying children would be financially worse off than their parents.

America’s sharp, eight-point increase from 60% to 68% was second to Italy, where there was an 11-point climb. There, 72% of poll participants said the younger generation would be in a worse spot. German poll participants also said children would be worse off in an eight-point increase from 2019 to 2021.


In America, at least, the gloom was consistent, with 71% saying the country’s current economic situation was bad.

As America — and the rest of the world — tries to emerge from the pandemic with a slow and uneven vaccination rate in the face of COVID-19’s delta variant, the Pew study captures a bit of a paradox in some places.

From 2020 to 2021, the number of people who agreed that their country’s current economic situation is good grew in 11 countries. At the same time, people in six countries increasingly thought children would be financially worse off — and sometimes, it was in places where they increasingly said the current economy was good.

For example, 60% of Germans said their country’s economic situation now was good, up from 51% last year. At the same time, 50% of Germans also said children would be in a worse money situation, up from 42% in 2019.

Overall, the survey polled 18,850 people across 17 countries.

In America, at least, the gloom was consistent, with 71% saying the country’s current economic situation was bad. Pollsters talked to American survey participants in early February. That was a time when case counts were higher than now, and another round of economic stimulus was still more than one month away.

The National Bureau of Economic Research’s Business Cycle Dating Committee said Monday that technically speaking, the pandemic-induced recession lasted from March 2020 to April 2020. That certainly doesn’t mean the financial pain ended there, and some experts say there’s still much room for improvement.

Earlier this year, Pew researchers said there were 54 million fewer people in the global middle class in the wake of the pandemic. (They counted that as families making $10-$20 daily.)

The latest survey doesn’t delve into what it means for younger people to be in a worse financial state than their parents. But other data points to some clues.

For example, the 2019 median wealth of older millenials (born during the 1980s) was 11% below the expectations of researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. That’s a smaller gap than the 40% deficit the researchers found in 2016, but it’s still a gap.

“Given that the oldest among them are entering their 40s, there is less time to catch up and take advantage of wealth-building avenues,” the researchers said, noting this demographic had the largest debt burden, making them “particularly vulnerable to economic setbacks.”

Right now, people just starting their financial lives may have a heavy student debt load, steep child care bills and a hot housing market that’s potentially cost-prohibitive.

On the plus side for children in cash-strapped homes, July 15 marked the first advance payments under the enhanced Child Tax Credit. The money, combined with other financial assistance under the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, could cut child poverty in half, researchers estimate. But, for now, the enhanced payments are only happening this year.

In America, people on both sides of the aisle were worried about the financial future of kids, the Pew study showed.

Republican-leaning poll participant swung the hardest to worry, speaking during the early days of the Democratic Biden administration. In 2020, 36% of the conservative Republicans polled said children today would be worse off than their parents. In 2021, 76% said children would be worse off.

On the other side, 76% of liberal Democrats in 2020 said kids would have it tougher financially than their parents, but 70% felt the same way in 2021.

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