You’ve heard the stereotypes about millennials and Gen Z in the workforce. There’s the old trope that they spend too much money on avocado toast or the newer one that they waste too much time on TikTok, and of course the underlying assumption that the youngest employees are supposedly lazy or not hardworking. But these beliefs couldn’t be further from the truth. These young people just might seem checked out of their job because they are struggling to make ends meet and working another job after hours that their boss doesn’t know about. After all, 22,000 workers from around the world is a pretty big sample size.
Deloitte, one of the Big Four consulting firms and an authority on workplace research, conducted a massive global survey of Gen Z and millennials last November and December, and found that half of them reported that they live from paycheck to paycheck. Finding the bills increasingly difficult to pay with just one source of income, 46% of Gen Zers and 37% of millennials have added another part-time or full-time gig in addition to their primary job. These young generations aren’t just working hard for the money, they’re going overtime to make ends meet and address the financial concerns. That’s a far cry from “quiet quitting.”
Listing the high cost of living as their primary concern for the second year in a row, Gen Z and millennials also cite unemployment and climate change as other major concerns. “The cost of living has been their top concern for two consecutive years now, and finances are consistently their top stress driver,” Deloitte’s global people and purpose leader Michele Parmelee tells Fortune. “Interestingly, these concerns are really consistent across both generations, so it’s not just a matter of Gen Zs being young and just getting started in their careers.”
Popular side gigs include selling products or services online, working for a food delivery or transportation service app, “pursuing artistic ambitions,” and becoming a social media influencer. Parmelee also said that many of the cultural signifiers of the younger generations seem to be rooted in economics and just trying to save money in a less affordable world. These generations are “also making lifestyle choices that help save money and protect the environment such as buying secondhand clothes and avoiding fast fashion, choosing not to drive a car, and eating a vegetarian or vegan diet,” she explains.
The youngest employees aren’t the only ones feeling their wallet get a little cramped. About 64.4% of all U.S. adults said they had no money left over when the end of the month came around this past December, according to PYMNTS’ report. There was a stroke of optimism, though, as 40% of those surviving paycheck to paycheck believed their salary would increase to combat the high cost of living. Younger generations are also cautiously positive about the future, as Deloitte found that 44% of Gen Z and 35% of millennials expect their personal finances to improve within the next year.
To be sure, some Americans are living paycheck to paycheck with a large rainy-day fund under their belt. People with an emergency savings account have an average balance of $16,800, per the 2023 New York Life Wealth Watch Survey. Gen Z had on average a bit under $10,000 stashed away, and millennials had $14,000. During the pandemic, many were able to build wealth and sizable savings. Unsurprisingly, when the restrictions ended and life resumed (with a high cost of living to boot), many dipped into their savings. It didn’t feel good, though, as many reported greater financial anxiety despite having greater amounts of wealth than before the pandemic started. And even with some money saved, these younger generations have less of a substantial savings account than their older counterparts, exacerbating the need to find another job.
Perhaps due to a fear of unemployment and financial stressors even with two jobs, respondents who are worried about economic precarity report feeling nervous about asking for a promotion or finding a new job. Low salary remains the top reason that younger employees leave their jobs, although Deloitte finds that workers who have been in their job for less than two years are more likely to report living paycheck to paycheck than those who have been in their position for five years. Money or a concern of a lack thereof is holding younger generations back from their aspirations. “Because of their concerns about the economy, over half or more worry it will become harder or impossible to ask for a raise, get a new job, receive a promotion, and even start a family or buy a house. It’s clear these financial concerns are impacting both their career and personal lives,” adds Parmelee.