America’s economic health remains the No. 1 concern among young adults, but they're optimistic about where their finances are heading.
In a Fusion poll of likely voters aged 18-34, 28 percent of respondents said the economy was the most important issue confronting the U.S., followed by debt and spending at 16 percent, terrorism and national security at 15 percent, and education at 14 percent.
At the same time, 64 percent said their personal financial had improved from the previous year, with 44 percent saying it was "a little better" and and 20 percent saying it was "a lot better."
And 68 percent said their economic prospects are better than their parents', with 44 percent saying they would be "a little better" and 24 percent saying it would be "much better."
Jordan Lillegard, 22, will graduate from USC's Marshall School of Business in December. He says he's already received a job offer from one of the largest tech companies in the world to work on their business development team. Neither of his parents went to college.
"I've taken it upon myself to get an education,” he said. “I decided that I was going to totally change my family's legacy, because I've seen how bad it can get."
While his Marshall classmates also seem to be well-positioned for life after graduation, Lillegard said, his friends in Long Beach, where he grew up and where he still commutes to school from, face longer odds of thriving. Many attend junior college, he said, but don’t seem to have a career plan, in part because they believe job openings are scarce.
"Some are just going to school because they feel like they should,” he said. “For these people it's much harder — I feel like a lot of people are struggling, they don't have anything to look forward to for the next few years, don't have as many opportunities open to them. You can see the stark difference."
Debt remains a major issue for 18-34 year-olds, with 60 percent saying they owed money. At 31 percent, an equal number said they were "very concerned" and "not concerned" about their ability to pay it off. Thirty-eight percent said they were “somewhat concerned.”
Among debt types, 39 percent of respondents said student loan debt was their largest financial obligation. Twenty-one percent said mortgages were the biggest. Just nine percent said credit card debt accounted for their largest financial drag.
Last year, 650,000 students defaulted on federal student loans they’d begun repaying in the past three years, according to data released in September. Though at 13.7 percent that represented a decline from 2012, it’s still above rates seen in 2011. And it comes despite the availability of programs that allow students great flexibility in financing, according to Debbie Cochrane, research director at The Institute for College Access and Success.
“The numbers are actually quite shocking,” she said.
Minorities saw the heaviest student debt burdens, according to the survey, with 47 percent of blacks and 46 percent of Hispanics saying student loans accounted for their largest financial obligation, compared with just 36 percent among white respondents.
“Students of color and African-Americans and Latinos are disproportionately enrolled in for-profit colleges, where student debt loads are the highest,” Cochrane said. These schools aggressively recruit low-income students because they are eligible for the most federal aid, she said.
Twenty-six percent of whites said mortgages comprised their greatest financial obligation, compared with 15 percent for Hispanics and 8 percent for blacks.
Finally, while 21 percent said they have mortgage debt, almost the same number still live at home with their parents:
David Weingrad, 27, is a general news editor at a community newspaper on Long Island. He told Fusion that while he was looking to avoid the high cost of living in the area by crashing with his parents, old stereotypes about young adults living at home no longer apply.
"What bothers me very much is the stigma — people automatically assume you’re lazy, an underachiever, unsuccessful, and I just don't think that's the case at all," he said. "I think you can be living at home late 20 early 30s and still be successful and be on the right track."
Fusion canvassed 1,200 likely voters between Sept. 12-22.
For our complete coverage of the Fusion Millennial Attitudes Poll, click here.
To see the raw poll data provided by our polling firm, Bendixen & Amandi International, click here.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.