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Millennials aren’t job hopping as much as previous generations. Here’s why that’s bad.

Amanda Healy, marketing manager for TIBCO Software Inc. in Boston, has worked for three employers over the past three years. Each change came with a significant boost in pay. (By Damian Strohmeyer for The Washington Post)

Amanda Healy has worked for three companies in the last three years.

She’s had her current job as a marketing manager for TIBCO Software Inc. for about eight months — and she hopes to stay there for the long run. But her stint at her previous employer lasted only 10 months.

The 26-year-old says she isn’t a habitual job hopper. (She was with her first employer for three and a half years.) But she thinks the moves she has made between employers have been vital to advancing her career — and growing her paycheck, 25 percent every time. Each move, even the internal ones she made at her first company, came with more responsibility.

“There was a gap in my skill set, and the next role really helped to fill that gap,” Healy says of her recent job changes.

Other workers her age haven’t been so lucky. For all the stereotypes that millennials are entitled, noncommittal job-hoppers, younger workers are actually staying in their jobs longer than previous generations did. In the late 1980s, about 50 percent of 20- to 25-year-olds changed jobs each year, but that dropped to 35 percent after the recession, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

It’s not clear if millennials are holding on to those jobs by choice or if they are struggling to find better opportunities. But it is clear that staying put has a cost, mostly because of the kinds of jobs millennials are likely to land these days: lower-paying positions that often don’t require a college degree.

Median wages have stagnated or decreased over the past decade in four of the five sectors hiring the most millennials today, according to a report issued this week by Young Invincibles, a group that focuses on the economic issues facing young workers. The only sector that saw a significant increase in pay was health care, where demand for workers is increasing. Pay cuts were particularly significant for people working in retail, where annual pay was $2,000 less than what it would have been 10 years ago.

“The data shows that millennials are taking jobs and keeping them,” says Konrad Mugglestone, a policy analyst for Young Invincibles and a co-author of the report. “But unfortunately, the jobs they’re taking are the ones that don’t offer high wages, and they don’t offer opportunities to grow.”

Job hopping, when it’s possible, has emerged as one of the few ways to escape those lower wages, especially since the rewards that companies have historically offered for employee loyalty — pensions and pay raises — continue to diminish.

Take raises, for instance. Wages are projected to grow by 0.3 percent in the fourth quarter from a year ago, according to PayScale, a company that tracks salary information. That is down from the 2.9 percent increase seen in the fourth quarter of 2007.

And traditional pensions, once a bastion of retirement security offered to long-term employees, are now only offered to new hires by seven percent of Fortune 500 companies, down from about 50 percent in 1998, according to benefits consulting firm Towers Watson. All of that means that employees don’t get as much for staying with the same company for long.

“In the baby boomer generation, everybody had pensions, and that really facilitated lifelong commitments to a company,” says Melissa Murray Bailey, a president with Universum, a research and consulting company. “As companies have done less and less of that there really is less of a mutual expectation that people will make that commitment.”

And since pay is actually worse for them than it was for similar workers years ago, millennials are at risk of being worse off financially than their parents were. Data released by the Census Bureau on Thursday showed that millennials aren’t much better off when compared to their older colleagues.

Young workers today are more educated than previous generations were. But they’re also less likely to have a job and more prone to living in poverty. The typical 18- to 34-year-old makes $2,000 less annually when compared to younger workers in 1980, the study found, though the difference is much bigger in some states.

Millennials have developed a reputation for caring more than previous generations about finding a job that matches their passions. But pay is becoming more important as young workers look to move out of their parents’ homes or pay off their student loan debt, says Dan Schawbel, founder of the research and consulting firm Millennial Branding. “The economy has forced millennials to focus more on money than things they used to prioritize, like work flexibility,” he says.

Things may be looking up. Hiring is on the rise, and millennials are benefiting from some of those job gains, with the unemployment rate for 25 to 34 year olds dropping to 6.1 percent in November from 7.4 percent a year earlier, according to the latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And more people are changing jobs, according to a separate report released last month, which is usually viewed as a sign of optimism in the job market.

Of course, moving from a company too quickly has its downsides. Some workers may find they are leaving before they can complete a big project or develop lasting relationships with their colleagues — things that are also vital for career advancement.

Healy says that’s why she hopes to stay a while with her current employer. She wasn’t actively searching for a job when the opportunity came up and was hesitant to leave her last company, where she was tasked with responsibilities, such as event planning and budget management, that she enjoyed. But the job offer from TIBCO came with a chance to manage people, an opportunity she hadn’t had before.

As a way to maximize her experience with both employers, Healy negotiated to push back the start date on her new job by a month so that she would be able to finish up a project with her previous employer.

Of course, many millennials who are moving from job to job are yearning for something more permanent. Some young people are finding themselves stuck in jobs that don’t require the college degrees they’ve gone into debt for. And, as my colleague Matt O’Brien has reported, the low wages associated with those jobs can drag down pay even later in their careers.

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