Eugene Steurle, one of the co-authors of the study, points to a host of reasons for young people's low net worth. Yes, they took a hit during the recession, but they've also been in less of a position to benefit from the recent recovery as they're less likely to own houses or hold lots of stocks. Instead, Steurle lists other longer-term factors that have contributed to the trend:
a lower rate of employment when in the workforce;
delayed entry into the workforce and into periods of accumulating saving; reduced relative pay, partly due to their first-time-ever lack of any higher educational achievement relative to past generations;
their delayed family formation, usually a harbinger and motivator of thrift and homebuilding;
lower relative minimum wages; and
higher shares of compensation taken out to pay for Social Security and health care, with less left over to save.
What to do? The Urban Institute doesn't offer many specific prescriptions—but it does want the government to reconsider making the tax code more favorable to lower-income homeowners and strengthening pension contributions for young people, among other changes.