🖤 Donations of all sizes power our public service journalism Give Now
Allison Dinner/Getty Images

When Whoopi Goldberg was younger, homes were more affordable

Janet Nguyen Nov 16, 2023
Allison Dinner/Getty Images

Millennials and Gen Zers are being blamed again for their precarious financial situation. First, it was because they were buying too much avocado toast and too many lattes. This time, it’s because they don’t work hard enough, according to a baby boomer celebrity.

Whoopi Goldberg, co-host of “The View” and professional contrarian, professed last week that her generation has a stronger work ethic than those that followed. 

“I’m sorry, if you only want to work four hours, it’s going to be harder for you to get a house,” Goldberg said. “I feel for everybody that feels this, but, I’m sorry, we busted our behinds.”

Never mind that housing prices have risen persistently, becoming increasingly out of reach for first-time buyers, and that many Americans are now saddled with student debt.

Marketplace recently looked at the cost of the so-called American dream — a house, two kids, a car —  in several cities, and we found that median-income families would struggle to get by in large, medium-sized and rural communities. 

Three decades or so ago, baby boomers were navigating a different, arguably friendlier, economic environment. A report from the Research Institute for Housing America explains that by 1990, “boomers were 44 and under and occupied the prime first-time home-buying years.”

Here’s a snapshot of the difference in costs and wages between then and now. (All amounts have been adjusted for inflation.)

1990

Median housing price: $291,660
Annual cost of college at a four-year public school: $11,860
Federal minimum wage: $8.95 an hour

2023

Median housing price: $431,000
Annual cost of college at a four-year public school: $24,030
Federal minimum wage: $7.25 an hour

College costs include tuition, fees, housing and food. The 1990 amount represents tuition for the 1990-91 school year. The 2023 amount represents tuition for the 2023-24 school year.

Sources: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, College Board, U.S. Labor Department 

Prices in the overall economy have risen precipitously since the pandemic began, and inflation reached a peak of 9.1% in 2022, although price gains have cooled since then.

Despite what Whoopi says, many younger employees actually have a hard time not working. A Pew Research Center survey this year found that almost half of Americans who receive paid time off from their employers take less time than offered. A study back in 2019 found that 55% of millennials, specifically, had not taken a vacation in the prior year because they couldn’t afford it.

Americans overall are working more, yet their pay hasn’t kept up. Since the 1970s, the gap between productivity and the typical worker’s pay has widened, with productivity growing at 3.7 times the rate of hourly compensation. 

This issue has affected working Americans across the board — regardless of generation.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.