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April 2018
Too Big To Fail: Millennials on the Margins
Anita Sands and Madeline Goodman

Many in the Millennial Generation Face a Challenging Future

All Americans should have viable opportunities to build and enhance the skills needed to thrive, yet nearly half of America's millennials — around 36 million — have low literacy skills, and more than half — around 46 million — have low numeracy skills. This is a serious problem because those who lack opportunities to build and hone these essential skills will struggle in today's advanced economy and society.

Too Big to Fail: Millennials on the Margins, authored by Anita Sands and Madeline Goodman of the ETS Center for Research on Human Capital & Education reveals troubling statistics about the size of our low-skilled millennial population and describes how lacking sufficient skills marginalizes these individuals as they seek to cope with the transition to adulthood.

SKILLS LACKING FOR MANY: For large proportions of America's millennials, higher skills have proven elusive. According to PIAAC 2012–2014 results, 36.2 million scored below minimum levels in literacy (nearly half), while 46.1 million scored below minimum levels in numeracy (nearly 60 percent).

Note: *At or Below Level 2 = At or Below Level 1, and Level 2. **At or Above Level 3 = Levels 3, 4, & 5

The authors show that even though the vast majority of low-skilled millennials are employed or engaged in formal education or training (31 million in literacy, 39 million in numeracy), they may nevertheless face stark economic outcomes:

  • Many hourly jobs in the growing services sector — where so many with low skills find employment — do not provide health insurance, retirement benefits, sustainable wages, or even reliable hours.
  • Millennials with low skills have difficulty successfully advancing their education — at a time when having more skills is critical for success in our economy.

The authors also find that having a large low-skilled population has implication for society more broadly: low-skilled millennials report feeling less connected to the larger society, are less likely to have trust in others, be civically engaged, and feel as though they can influence government than their higher skilled peers.

The report draws on data from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Skills, or PIAAC, administered in 2012 and 2014. Millennials were defined as those ages 16 to 34 at the time of the first assessment.

Too Big To Fail: Millennials on the Margins

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Anita Sands and Madeline Goodman

Publication Date

April 2018

The ETS Center for Research on Human Capital & Education

produces high-quality, evidence-based research that explores critical issues impacting opportunity in America today.

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