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More millennials have higher salaries than Gen Xers, boomers

According to new data from polling company YouGov exclusively shared with Yahoo Finance, just 9% of Americans are earning $100,000 or more a year. The survey checked in with more than 2,000 people on their maximum earning potential, also asking how much they currently earned.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median weekly earnings across all ages, races, and both genders was $908 for the most recent quarter of 2019. That translates into just over $47,000 for the year.

Despite having more opportunities to earn a salary of $100,000 or more in their lifetime, a sizable portion of millennials were downbeat about their future earning potential. Over a third said they didn’t believe they would ever achieve a six-figure salary.

Thirty-one percent of both millennials and Gen X-ers didn’t believe they would ever pull in $100,000 or more. Unsurprisingly, the number rose for older generations: 36% of baby boomers were downbeat about a potential six-figure salary.


But despite a gloomy outlook for their own potential earnings, more millennials are earning higher wages than Gen X. A 10th of millennials said they already earn $100,000, compared to 9% of Gen X and 11% of baby boomers – the only income bracket where boomers earn more than millennials.

As the income brackets go higher, so does the proportion of millennials earning more than older generations. Four percent of millennials said they earned $250,000, compared to 3% of Gen X-ers and 1% of boomers. At the $500,000 income level, 3% of millennials said they earned that much, compared with 1% for both Gen X and boomers. And surprisingly, 2% percent of millennials are already millionaires, compared to just 1% of boomers surveyed.

Pay disparities

Though household net worth increased, and the economy has continued to grow over the past decade, it’s clear that not all Americans are equally making those gains. According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), wage growth hasn’t bounced back to pre-recession levels, and remains fairly flat. In August, wages grew by 3.2% over the year — below targets of 3.5%-4%. And most of the gains made in the last decade of economic recovery went to the wealthy.

On a national level, the top 1% captured 85% of post-recession income growth from 2009 to 2013, according to an Economic Policy Institute study on income inequality. In some states, they recovered 100% of those gains.

Smiling colleagues working together at desk in office discussing papers
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This matches data from Bankrate that shows that nearly a quarter of Americans believe they are financially “worse” now than they were before the Great Recession. That’s just under 50 million Americans. Another 25% said in the June survey that they are doing the “same.” In all, just over half believed their “overall finances” are better than before.

According to IRS figures for tax year 2016 (filed in 2017), less than 20% of all tax returns filed were for an adjusted gross income of $100,000 or more.

And of the 9% earning at least $100,000 or more, more than twice as many men earn a six-figure salary than women. Only 6% of women said they earned $100,000 or more, compared to 13% of men surveyed by YouGov.

This disparity in pay is evident in median weekly earnings, according to the BLS. Women earned a median weekly salary of $814, compared to $1,000 for men.

Racial gaps

There were also surprising outlooks on earning potential when considering race.

Close to 40% of white respondents didn’t believe they would ever earn $100,000. Despite large pay gaps between blacks, Hispanics, and whites, only 20% of black respondents were downbeat about their future earnings. The number ticked upward for Hispanics; roughly a third of them said they didn’t believe they’d ever reach six figures.

According to the BLS, the median weekly salary for whites stood at $933, but $724 for blacks. The picture was even bleaker for Hispanics, who on average earn $696 a week.

Higher education = higher salaries

Despite a current student debt crisis topping $1.5 trillion, the YouGov data shows there is a benefit to obtaining a college degree – namely higher earnings.

Across income brackets $100,000 and higher, more respondents with an undergraduate or postgraduate degree already earned six figures, when compared to those with only “some college” (two years), or none at all.

And as the income brackets increased, twice as many people with postgraduate degrees earned higher salaries than those with less education. Just under a third of Americans with a graduate degree earned at least $100,000 a year, compared to 14% of those with an undergraduate, and 6% who only attended some college.

Only 6% of those without higher education were able to earn a six-figure salary.

Kristin Myers is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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