A hotter world could mean less wealth for millennials, according to a new report from environmental advocate NextGen Climate and research center Demos. They found inaction could cost Americans currently in their 20s and 30s $8.8 trillion in potential earnings over their lifetime.
Of the nearly 75 million millennials in the U.S., those with a college degree will lose $126,000 in lifetime income, and $187,000 in wealth. Those earning a median income will lose $100,000 in lifetime income and $142,000 in wealth. The financial loss is even greater for children of millennials: A child born last year who earns a college degree will lose $467,000 in lifetime income, and $764,000 in wealth.
This would outrank income lost due to wage stagnation from the Great Recession or student debt, which costs the median-earning college-educated individual about $113,000 in lost wealth over a lifetime, due to reduced savings for retirement and homeownership. The report says: “Politicians have made a series of policy choices that are leaving the millennial generation in bad shape … . Unless our elected leaders take aggressive and immediate action, the millennial generation will have to live with the devastating economic, health, and environmental impacts of climate change.”
The impacts of climate change — both physical and financial — are becoming evident more forcefully and quickly than previously predicted. July 2016 was the 15th-straight month of record-breaking heat, and the 21st century has seen 15 of the 16 hottest years on record. Due to rising sea levels, tidal flooding in many coastal cities is the new normal.
The report’s authors attribute the anticipated fiscal damages to millennials to bad public policies, including policy inaction, calling it a “massive betrayal of young people by our political leaders.”
These “devastating impacts” of bad policy could be somewhat mitigated by good policy. Making a transition to a 100 percent clean energy economy by 2050 could create up to 2 million new jobs, save families $41 billion on energy bills, boost the economy by $290 billion and increase household disposable income by $650 billion, according to a recent study from ICF International.
NextGen Climate and Demos also point out that the lost income from climate change comes on top of other rising financial concerns for young people, including student debt, housing affordability, stagnant wages, childcare and general financial insecurity.
Kelsey E. Thomas is a writer and editor based in the most upper-left corner of the country. She writes about urban policy, equitable development and the outdoors (but also about nearly everything else) with a focus on solutions-oriented journalism. She is a former associate editor and current contributing editor at Next City.