Young adults among most ‘poverty-prone’ age groups, UC Berkeley research center finds

Sam Albillo/Staff

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An issue brief from the Berkeley Institute for the Future of Young Americans, or BIFYA, showed that the number of young adults aged 18 to 24 experiencing poverty has increased over several decades, making young adults one of the most “poverty-prone” age groups since the Great Recession, according to a press release that the institute sent out Wednesday.

BIFYA, a research organization affiliated with the campus Goldman School of Public Policy, analyzed data from the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University and the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series from the University of Minnesota to release the brief.

“Poverty is one of the most important economic and social metrics we have in this country, and I was interested to see how poverty broke out across the entire age distribution,” said BIFYA Associate Director James Hawkins. “A lot of studies bin or group ages into larger categories — what we’re showing is, you get a very interesting picture when you break it up in age groups.”

According to the press release, the brief stated that 20- to 22 year-olds experienced greater concentrations of poverty between 2008 and 2015 while poverty rates for other age groups have flattened, and that social safety net programs that target the oldest and youngest in society have helped t0 lower poverty rates among children and the elderly. The brief also detailed that the number of young adults in poverty and in full-time university programs has doubled and that the Earned Income Tax Credit helps reduce poverty for children more effectively than for young adults.

The data used to draft the brief did not include homeless individuals, according to Hawkins, so the poverty rates reported in the brief are likely lower than they are in reality.

Hawkins said BIFYA had a difficult time determining to what extent the change in poverty is determined by college enrollment. According to the brief, college enrollment may be part of what is driving the jump in young adult poverty rates, but this cannot be directly attributed to increases in student loans and tuition costs.

“Our main finding is that about one in five young adults are in poverty or were in poverty in the last decade. We also find that poverty, particularly among 20- to 22-year-olds, has worsened since the 1970s,” Hawkins said. “The social safety net is helping young adults comparatively less compared to other age groups.”

According to Hawkins, the next step for digging deeper into the subject of the increase in youth poverty rates would be to look at data associated with young adults in various categories, including employment status, sex and race.

Sabrina Dong is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Sabrina_Dong_.