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Paychecks for young adults getting slimmer

Young adults may be facing their own version of “The Hunger Games” when entering the workforce today because they’re probably going to be hungry for more money.

Wages for young workers have been declining for more than a decade. They fell off a cliff during the Great Recession to levels not seen since the 1970s for certain groups of entry-level workers, according to new data from center-left think tank the Economic Policy Institute.

(OK, maybe it’s not exactly “The Hunger Games” just yet. In that dystopian future, depicted in a trilogy of novels and now a movie, a reality TV show follows teens fighting to their death, with the winner earning food for his/her home state. But you get our point.)

Not surprisingly, the news is worse for those with less education; and the pay gap between entry level men and women no matter what the education level is still alive and well.

Entry-level wages for high school graduates were actually lower than they were in the 1970s. For college grads, starting wages were below what their counterparts pocketed in the late 1990s. Today, the average wage for all these young adults, no matter education level, is about $15 an hour.

And whether they have a college degree or not, women still aren’t bringing home as much bacon as the men, but the gap has been narrowing. The good news, unfortunately, is partly attributable to the fact that the guys are getting paid less because of the economy.

“When the labor market is strong for workers the prospects for young workers are very strong, and when the labor market is weak their prospects are very weak,” maintained the Institute’s president Lawrence Mishel about the data that’s part of his forthcoming book ‘The State of Working America” due out in August. “The recent decade affirms this general finding, as the wages of entry-level workers have fared extremely poorly during this period of general wage stagnation.”

Here’s a breakdown of the numbers:

  • The entry-level hourly wage of a young male high school graduate in 2011 was 25.3 percent less than that for the equivalent worker in 1979, a drop of roughly $4.00 per hour in 2011.
  • Among women, the entry-level high school wage fell 14.2 percent over the same period, and dropped by $1.64 last year.
  • Wages for high-school educated women are still far below those of their male counterparts, a gap of 15 percent.
  • In 2011 the hourly wage of entry-level male college graduates was just a bit over $1.00 higher than in 1979, a rise of 5.2 percent over thirty-two years.
  • Women college grads did better, with their wages growing by 15.4 percent, or $2.50, from 1979 to 2011.
  • The gender pay gap among this group, however, still persists. The hourly wage for college educated men was $21.68 in 2011, compared with $18.80 for women.

Too bad young adults don't qualify for child ticket prices anymore. Adult tickets for the upcoming "The Hunger Games" movie are going for $11 a pop.