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More and more people are finding themselves living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region. In some places, rent has doubled. The cost of everyday goods — like gas and groceries — keeps creeping up. All the while, wages lag behind and the affordable housing crisis looms. Amid cost-of-living increases, WUSF is focused on documenting how people are making ends meet.

Gen Z’s net worth is being undercut by college debt

Woman sits at a desk in front of a laptop and holds her head in her hands distressed.
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Not only are more people missing work for their mental health, they're also staying out for longer periods of time, the survey found.

Generation Z, with members aged 11 to 26 years old, is the most recent generation to enter the workforce. Experts say their financial futures are uncertain.

The first members of Generation Z to enter the workforce are making more, by comparison, than earlier generations.

While these young adults have higher incomes, personal finance expert Robert Farrington said they also have higher average debts and expenses.

“Even though younger adults are earning more ... the cost of life today — and servicing the debt that they went to college for — are not letting them grow their net worth and build those assets like earlier generations were able to,” he said.

Farrington's analysis of Gen Z workers, for those aged 23 to 26 years old, found their average net worth to be around negative $22,000.

For Gen Z workers who are 26 years old, their net worth averages negative $17,347. For 23-year-olds in the workforce, their net worth sits at about negative $31,000, according to the College Investor analysis.

Farrington said inflation is largely to blame for the growing starting salaries — and the growing debts — for younger cohorts entering the workforce.

According to Forbes, the cost of college tuition has outpaced every other U.S. good or service outside of medical expenses.

For Gen Z college graduates, that means significant student loan debt.

Looking at college graduating classes 2019 through 2022, Gen Z borrowers owe an average of $36,600 in student debt.

Research by Pew Charitable Trusts suggests that the double-blow of resuming student loan repayments amid record cost-of-living increases has left borrowers with very little extra room in the budget.

In turn, Farrington said Gen Z workers are making very different lifestyle choices compared to earlier generations.

“A lot of these milestones that older adults in the United States had earlier are just going to happen later,” he said.

Beyond delaying major life expenses, like buying a home or raising children, he said younger members of Gen Z are more likely to skip college because of the cost.

In the workforce, it’s becoming more common for this age group to work remotely and work multiple jobs.

Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region for WUSF. She's also a Report for America corps member. Here’s how you can share your story with her.

I tell stories about living paycheck to paycheck for public radio at WUSF News. I’m also a corps member of Report For America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.
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