It’s frequently said that youth is wasted on the young, and there’s some truth to that. But now no one can rightly say that any money is wasted on the young. Turns out that one in four Americans between 18 and 34 can’t afford basic necessities. Welcome to post-recessionary America, college graduates!

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A study conducted by WSL Strategic Retail, a market research firm, found that 25 percent of Gen Y (or Millenials or young people: the 18-34 cohort) do not earn enough cash to cover basic necessities, reports the Chicago Tribune. This figure is substantially lower as you move up the age brackets: 17 percent for the 35-54 cohort and just 13 percent for the 55 and up group. Guess which group gets free healthcare and monthly checks from the federal government and which does not?

Politics aside, the negative result for retailers is that young consumers are far less loyal to any brand in particular, the report points out — their wallets are so squeezed. The negative result of this for young people is that one in four of us cannot afford basic necessities.

The Chicago Tribune reports that businesses might need to rethink whether, given all this, young people are going to help their brands grow:

The findings present a significant challenge to brands and retailers who have, for years, thought of millenials as their “golden ticket” to growth, according to Wendy Liebmann, CEO of WSL Strategic Retail, which published the report, titled “How America Shops.” “Businesses must begin rethinking their strategy to lure these shoppers to buy,” added Liebmann. “At the same time, they must reevaluate the power of this generation to support new brands and stores.”

This is consistent with the news that came out last November: the wealth gap between young and old is wider than ever. Certain lifecycle factors figure into this, naturally: longer careers mean higher salaries, more savings, less debt, etc. But the gap between young and old now is disturbingly wide and growing — it has doubled in size since 2005. Our federal government spends a massive chunk of its budget on the old and aging, through Social Security and Medicare. But they’re rolling in the dough compared to young people, so it warrants asking whether this is a good arrangement or not. Our current tax regime will effectively transfer wealth from the young to the old, despite this massive gap in wealth.

Here’s a funny thought: perhaps large corporations will eventually convince the government to invest in young people’s future, in order to protect their long-term growth. That, or young people can get out and vote. France and Greece tossed out the austerity hawks this past weekend in favor of socialist governments. What this means for the Eurozone is unclear, but it may be good news for young people in both Athens and Paris — and, maybe, for big retail?

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