While the current economic downturn has affected all Americans, the impact is falling quite heavily on young people. A larger share of those younger than age 30 say they have had trouble paying rent or mortgage or have faced job losses in their household than those ages 30 or older. On the plus side for young people, the downturn in the stock market had less effect on their retirement accounts, although young people are far less likely than older Americans to have money in the market.

Younger Americans have also found some unique ways to respond to the financial situation. Nearly four-in-ten people ages 18 to 29 say they have cut back spending on alcohol or cigarettes, and a third report having changed to a less expensive cell phone plan or cancelled their service altogether.

About one-in-five young adults (21%) say they have either moved in with a friend or relative or have had a friend or relative move in with them because of the recession. This is the case for fewer than 10% of people 30 and older.

While the economic downturn clearly affects younger Americans in some substantial ways, their overall outlook remains optimistic. Fully 76% of young adults believe their personal financial situation will improve over the course of the next year, compared with fewer than half of those ages 30 and older. Overall, 71% of adults say they are confident they will have enough income and assets to last throughout their retirement years, and this spans all age ranges. But adults under age 30 are more likely than those ages 30-64 to say they are very confident about getting through retirement with ease.

Political Values: Stark Age Divides

The most recent report on core political values by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, released May 21, found that Generation Next, which is also referred to as Generation Y (born in 1977 or later), expresses more liberal views in a number of areas when compared with older age cohorts (see the box “Long-Term Generational Trends in Political Values” below). Gen Nexters have much more positive attitudes about government — they are more likely to see government as effective and efficient.

This also is a generation that is far more supportive than older age cohorts of ensuring equal opportunity for all citizens. For instance, those younger than 30 are far more likely than older people to say that every possible effort should be made to improve the position of blacks and other minorities “even if it means giving them preferential treatment.”

The values survey finds that young Americans are far less conservative on traditional and social values — including attitudes toward homosexuality, women’s roles, censorship, and whether there are clear guidelines about good and evil. And the youngest generation’s level of religious commitment is currently lower than any other age cohort’s.

This generation also now stands out for being less supportive of an assertive approach to national security. In fact, the proportion of young people who favor an assertive national security policy has fallen in the last two years — the only age cohort where this is the case. Among the three older age groups, support for an assertive approach has increased since 2007.

However, it is important to note that the attitudes of young adults are not uniformly liberal. In the current values survey, young people are not significantly more supportive of the social safety net than are older Americans. In addition, they are about as likely to express pro-business attitudes — and are no more likely to support environmental protection — than those in older age cohorts.

The values survey also includes evidence of increased political engagement among young people in the aftermath of the election. However, they still rate lower than older Americans in interest in politics and in the proportion completely agreeing that it is their duty to always vote. A majority (62%) of young people completely agrees that “it’s my duty to always vote,” a 14-point increase from 2007.

Gen Next and Social Networking

Fully 70% of those younger than 30 say they use social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook or Twitter — by far the largest proportion of any age group. Perhaps not surprisingly, young people also are far less troubled by the sharing of personal information on the internet than are older Americans.

More than six-in-ten (62%) of those younger than 30 say that it is a good thing that the internet makes it possible for people to share pictures and other personal things about themselves; a plurality of those ages 30 to 49 (48%) also have a positive view of online sharing of personal information. Far fewer of those in older age groups — including just 19% of those 65 and older — agree.