10 Ways Millennials Struggle Around the World

Editors' pick: Originally published Feb. 14.

Never underestimate how hard it is to be young today.

Between shaken economies, soaring costs of education and deep uncertainty, Millennials have struggled with some of the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression (exacerbated by costs that the Greatest Generation never had to face). As a result, a lot has been written about them.

Yet for the countless pixels that have been spilt cross-examining the Millennial psyche, it's far too easy to forget that we keep talking about a very narrow profile. Almost every Millennial think piece floating around the Internet looks at the same person: an urban-dwelling, latte-sipping, college educated American.

But we're a coalition far vaster than our Google footprint. We live around the world, with varying levels of education, and, perhaps most amazingly of all, have widely divergent opinions on the work of Lena Dunham.

Here, for example, are a few of the challenges that young people face around the world.

10. United States: Student Loans
10. United States: Student Loans

Not every Millennial might look like an American college graduate, but a whole lot of them do, so it's worth taking a moment to remember just how disastrous the U.S. experiment with student-funded education has been.

As James Capolongo, a senior vice president with TD Bank, noted, college graduates are increasingly being asked to shoulder heavier burdens, whether or not the job market is there for them. Between 2003 and 2013 alone, for example, median student debt jumped from $10,000 to $20,000.

"You look at something like that doubling especially for a young person just starting his or her career, coupled with challenges on the employment front, certainly it sets them back," he said. "Education... has to be married with opportunities on the other side."

The existence of the student loan industry speaks to its own flaws: young people are exactly the worst ones to foot a hefty bill. At the stage in life when Millennials should be getting first jobs, experimenting with skills and best career fit, and setting up for homes and families to come, they're instead struggling to pay off five- and six-figure debts. But hey, the Baby Boomers are getting a great deal out of it. First their parents paid for our universities, now their kids are.

9. United States: The Great Recession
9. United States: The Great Recession

However much we may talk about the philosopher-baristas, the reality is that college graduates have largely emerged from underneath the Recession. Hiring is back up for them, and salaries have mostly recovered (at least as much as they ever will). The story, however, isn't so good for everyone else.

And lest we forget, "everyone else" describes most of the people who live in America.

Although it's easy to forget given how we write about the cohort, only about 33% of Millennials go to college. Job and income numbers for the rest, already slipping before 2008, took an absolute beating during the Recession and have never recovered. A Millennial without a college degree is twice as likely to be employed and earns a little more than half the pay.

"If you look at the recession and the trend in employment, from 2008 to 2013 roughly 13% of Millennials would have been coming into the workforce at a time with really high unemployment," Capolongo said. "Just when they're starting their careers."

Most of those are Millennials who didn't go to college.

8. Greece: The Hellenic Depression
8. Greece: The Hellenic Depression

The young people of Greece, along with their children and their children's children, will never recover from adherence to the policies of the German-led troika. That's the conclusion of a lengthy report written earlier this year by the International Monetary Fund, which concluded in relevant part:

"Greece will continue to struggle with high unemployment rates for decades to come. Its current unemployment rate is around 25%, the highest in the OECD, and, after seven years of recession, its structural component is estimated at around 20 percent. Staff expects it to reach 18% by 2022, 12% by 2040, and 6% only by 2060."

It's that bad. As almost always happens in these circumstances, the economy has hit the young hardest. Youth unemployment rates fluctuate between 50 and 60%, leaving the average Greek Millennial more likely to be unemployed than not.

Things are worse in Greece today than they were in America in the 1930's. This has been going on for eight years already, and if the IMF is to be believed the current payment and austerity policies being imposed on the Greeks are an economic death sentence for not just one but multiple generations.

7. Greece Emigration
7. Greece Emigration

Greece is the face of modern emigration, but the problem isn't just about the land of Homer. Anywhere employment struggles, the young get hit disproportionately hard and have to look for opportunities elsewhere. It's a problem felt by Millennials across Africa and Central Asia, as well as much of Eastern Europe. For right now, however, one of the biggest emigration stories comes out of Athens.

Because young people are being forced to abandon it in droves.

Along with the many monetary issues that come with membership in the European Union, Greeks get the right to work and move freely among the treaty's member states. The young are taking advantage of that in enormous numbers, fleeing the economic shambles of their home for opportunities abroad.

According to various estimates, somewhere between 160,000 and 200,000 college educated Greeks have emigrated since the crisis began, out of a population of merely 11 million, in what CNBC has called "the world's biggest brain drain." As reported by the Migration Policy Institute, many if not most of those emigres will likely never return home, becoming instead part of a permanent diaspora. The result creates enormous pressure on today's young people to leave their country and families, and guts the talent pool for those who remain.

(Economic emigration is, it should be noted, a different issue from political refugees, and is treated as such.)

6. France/Spain/Italy: Unemployment and Underemployment
6. France/Spain/Italy: Unemployment and Underemployment

Here are a few of the Millennial unemployment rates in our favorite vacation spots.

France: 23.3%

Italy: 36.9%

Spain: 43.9%

Young people are struggling to get back on their feet over on the Continent. While few places are as bad as Greece (although Spain gives decent competition), prospects are still bleak in many of Europe's prettiest cities.

The how and why depends almost entirely on who you ask... Some economists blame the persistent unemployment on aggressive austerity measures, while others will argue that it's an artifact of Europe's aggressive regulatory state. Some of the blame, almost certainly, can be laid at the feet of a euro system which heavily favors certain countries over others.

Whatever the cause, it remains true that Paris is still a pretty bad place to be looking for a job if you're 25.

5. U.K.: The Brexit
5. U.K.: The Brexit

The Brexit was one of the greatest acts of intergenerational warfare ever committed, one waged by the old on the young. The vote split along demographic lines, with voters over-65 supporting the measure while those under 35 opposed it just as strenuously. The result created a new place for Britain, not just in the European Union but the world at large.

Now, it should be noted that the Brexit may not actually come to pass. There's no concrete reason to think so, but the referendum was indeed non-binding and the nation seems to be in the grip of buyer's remorse on the whole affair (not to mention repeated revelations about the "Leave" campaign's mendacity).

Still, for now the country is headed on course to pull out of the EU lock, stock and barrel, a move that economists say will drain about 4,300 pounds of spending power per household and send tens of thousands of jobs swarming offshore.

Who'll have to adjust to that? That's right, the U.K.'s millennials.

4. Southeast Asia: Tourism
4. Southeast Asia: Tourism

Tourist economies are tricky things.

On the one hand, tourism can create an economic boom. A single mention in a guidebook or popular website can send foreigners scurrying to import money from all across the world into your hotels, restaurants and shops. It also is a perfect case example for the double-edged sword.

A tourist economy often consumes the very place that it's benefiting. As the United Nations Environment Program observed in a relevant study, "often rich countries are better able to profit from tourism than poor ones... Among the reasons for this are large-scale transfer of tourism revenues out of the host country and exclusion of local businesses and products." For every $100 spent in a developing nation's tourist sector, the report concludes, about $5 stays local.

For children, tourist economies can often mean reduced access to education.

For the young people of Southeast Asia this is a particularly difficult problem because tourism represents so many of the jobs available to them. In some countries, 12 to 15% of the entire nation's job base depends on that sector.

3. Germany and Japan: An Aging Society
3. Germany and Japan: An Aging Society

The Baby Boomers are getting older and Millennials aren't having that many kids.

This is a truth in almost every corner of the world, and the Boomers' aging will continue to become a more important social, political and economic story over the next ten years. Indeed, the U.S. is at a minor crisis over how to handle a social services infrastructure that depends on far more young people paying in than older people drawing out.

That's nothing, however, compared to the challenges that Germany and Japan face.

Like many of their peers, German and Japanese young adults are having fewer children than before. However their problem is far more acute, so much so that these nations have two of the oldest median ages among several countries studied by the United Nations. With childbirth slipping below replacement rate, the German and Japanese populations are actively shrinking.

And today's Millennials are going to be the ones to face this Children of Men scenario head on. As the generation that will inherit all of this, Millennials from Berlin to Tokyo are already struggling with the question of how to care for a rapidly aging society.

2. China: Access to Higher Education
2. China: Access to Higher Education

The success of the Chinese economy is, rightfully, the stuff of legends. In the span of just a few decades, the country leapt from struggling to feed itself to one of the most advanced, wealthiest countries on the planet.

Yet China's success is not without flaws, one of which has been its dependence on deep, structural inequality (a problem we've re-learned all too well here in the United States). Despite the vast number of people that China has managed to elevate to the middle class, 65.6% remain "low-income" (defined as living on between $2 to $10 per day).

For young people, escaping that bottom two-thirds is made especially difficult by rigid, increasingly unequal education system which hasn't yet caught up with the country's explosive growth. Per the New York Times: "The typical undergraduate [is] someone who grew up in cities, whose parents are civil servants and teachers, go on family trips at least once a year, and have studied abroad in high school." 

In a university system with entrance determined completely by board exams, many lower-class and rural students struggle to make the cut.

1. China: Gender Imbalance
1. China: Gender Imbalance

Like the United States, China gets noted twice on this list largely because of its size and consequence on the world stage. Beijing has joined cities like London and Washington D.C. on the list of places that have vast ripple effects, whether it wants to or not.

And one of those effects will be the country's serious gender gap.

Thanks to its one-child policy and a cultural preference for boys, China has wound up with one of the most lopsided gender imbalances in the world. There are roughly 117 baby boys for every 100 girls in the Middle Kingdom, vastly outside the normal range (which is typically close to parity, with a slight preference for boys). By means of contrast, in the United States there are 104 boys born for every 100 girls.

This has enormous implications for young people in virtually every arena, from finance and family life to national security. (Countries with too many unmarried men, historically, tend to start wars.) It's an issue that Chinese Millennials, of both sexes, will have to cope with. Although not that many will get to discuss it on a first date.

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