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America's younger workers losing ground on income

From 2001 to 2004, median income fell 8 percent for householders under 35, a survey shows.

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In the race to get ahead economically, America's young workers are falling behind.

A new survey shows that median incomes fell for householders under 45, even as they rose for older ones, between 2001 and 2004.

Income fell 8 percent, adjusted for inflation, for those under 35 and 9 percent for those aged 35 to 44. The numbers add new weight to longstanding concerns about whether younger generations of Americans will achieve living standards that are better - or at least equal to - those of their parents.

"It's a scary question," says Carrie Brown, who runs the Blue Frog Bakery in Boston. She says that for now, at least, she's not keeping pace. And if she and her husband have children, she says she's not sure if her children will enjoy the same lifestyle she did while growing up.

Her concern is shared by many Americans who follow the baby-boom generation. One often-voiced worry is about generational fairness in tax burdens, given the prospect of a soaring federal tab in coming decades for Medicare and Social Security as the number of elderly Americans rises.

But today, even long before any such fiscal shock arrives, younger workers are already feeling squeezed by other trends. An increasingly competitive global economy, the rising cost of higher education and healthcare, and changing patterns of family life are among the factors that have combined to make the career environment tougher, economists say.

"There's no guarantee" that US living standards will continue to rise, says Laurence Kotlikoff, a Boston University specialist in generational economics.

For now, the prospect of a generation underperforming their parents may be more of a fear than a reality. By many measures, America continues to grow more prosperous with each passing decade.

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