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Generation Y remains upbeat, thanks to Mom and Dad

The economic funk of the past four years has made it tough for younger workers trying to grow up and get a good job. Lucky for them, a growing number of their parents don't really expect their 20-something children to be financially self-sufficient.

A study being released Thursday found that only 67 percent of parents expect their children to be independent by age 22 or younger, compared with 80 percent in a similar survey conducted two decades ago.

The shift appears to be at least partly a reaction to the difficult economic environment, according to the Pew Research Center study.

“These accommodations to a tough economy appear to have contributed to a broader change in social norms about when adulthood begins,” the report stated.

The report on younger workers and the economy also found that despite high unemployment, workers under 25 are optimistic about their future prospects and their ability to make ends meet. Perhaps that is related to the generous support many of them still enjoy from their parents.

“While young people are less likely now than they were before the recession to say they currently have enough income, their level of optimism is undiminished from where it was in 2004,” according to the Pew report.

Among the study's other findings:

  • Nine out of 10 young employed adults said they don’t earn enough money to lead the kind of life they want but believe they’ll earn enough in the future.
  • Among young adults who are not working and say they don’t currently have enough income, 75 percent are confident they will have enough income in the future (18 percent believe they won’t).

It’s a lot of positive thinking for a group that has had sustained double-digit unemployment. At the end of last year the jobless rate among  workers aged 18 to 24 was 16.3 percent, compared to 8.8 percent for all adults under 64.

“The gap in the unemployment rate between 18- to 24-year-olds and all working-age adults is the widest in recorded history,” the Pew study said.

The numbers would be even worse if more young workers were in the labor market. The labor force participation rate among the under 25-crowd has been on the decline for years, as a growing number of younger workers have opted to focus on school. The rate continued its decline last year, dipping to about 65 percent, compared with 69 percent in 2007.

Gen Yers are making less money too. Pew reviewed government data and found “young adults employed full time have experienced a greater drop in weekly earnings (down 6 percent) than any other age group over the past five years.”

In the face of such economic realities, actions by Gen Yers may speak more loudly than their optimistic words.

The survey found that about half have taken jobs they didn’t want just to pay the bills; and 24 percent said they took unpaid work to gain experience. More than a third said the tough job market forced them to go back to school.

Their personal lives have also been hit: 31 percent said they’ve postponed marriage and 20 percent have put off the nuptials altogether because of the dismal jobs picture. And 22 percent are opting to wait for better times before having babies.

The Pew study was based in part on a nationwide survey of more than 2,000 adults.