Millennials outnumber everyone else in America. On paper they should be the perfect consumers to help a robust economy well into the second half of the 21t century.

But a new report suggests that big companies are having a sudden realization--something that almost every one of the 83.1 million Millennial Americans knew a long time ago, and in fact that they've been screaming from the proverbial rooftops.

It's that while as a generation Millennials are "digitally native, mobile oriented, media savvy, politically progressive, ethnically diverse, well-educated and culturally savvy," as Adweek put it recently, they also have one other giant defining characteristic:

They're kinda broke. 

Deloitte's Center for Consumer Insights surveyed 4,000 Americans to figure out their spending habits, and the big takeaway they found is that the average net worth of Americans under 35 has fallen 35 percent since 1996. As Adweek summarizes:

Now that millennials are in that labor market as fully vested consumers, a slightly soberer picture is emerging about their buying power. The problem is not their size, as millennials represent a larger consumer group than the baby boomers. And it's not the block of money they control, as millennials spend about $600 billion a year and are on track to spend $1.4 trillion by 2020, according to Accenture data.

The problem, rather, is that millennials are saddled with very large and unavoidable expenses that reduce their spending power when it comes to the discretionary purchasing that gets marketers so excited.

The big culprits? There are two (neither is a big surprise). 

  • Number 1 is housing. Millennials are spending far more than their predecessors just to keep a roof over their heads. Half are still renting, and they're paying a larger share of their income in rent than previous generations did.
  • Number 2 is student debt. Americans under 30 owe $384 billion in student loans. Go back to 2004 -- and honestly, student loans were a big issue then already -- and the number was just $148 billion for that cohort.

I suppose this is the part of the article where I'm supposed to offer some good news to wrap the whole thing up.

For entrepreneurs, perhaps it's that challenges always mean opportunities, if you're the one who can find them.

But if you were born around say, 1989, took out big student loans, graduated right into the Great Recession, and have seen your income grow slower and your economic footholds a little slower than you might have liked, the numbers show you're not alone.