Just about everyone was hit hard by the bad economy and had to change their lifestyles in at least some small way. Now that we’re all attempting to regain our footing, there’s actually one group of people having a harder time doing so than everyone else.

A new study from the Pew Research Center, based on data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and a phone poll of more than 2,000 adults in December, found a record gap in employment levels between the young and all working-age adults.

“The economy may be improving, but in spite of the recent decline in unemployment, young people are still really struggling,” said Kim Parker, associate director of Pew’s Social and Demographic Trends Project and a coauthor of the study. In fact, nearly half of 18- to 34-year-olds have taken a job they didn’t really want just to make ends meet, and more than a third have gone back to school because of the current economic conditions.

Another third said they postponed either their plans to get married or have a child, and fully one in four have had to move back in with their parents. Even among those who are employed, fewer than half of young people think they have the education and training necessary to get ahead in their jobs.

Regardless, though, the survey also found young adults were overwhelmingly upbeat about their futures. Almost 9 in 10 said they either have or earn enough money now, or at least anticipate that they will later in life.

“We don’t know if that’s grounded in anything, but that response was one of the things we thought was so interesting,” said Parker. “In spite of all the challenges they’re facing, they’re still really optimistic about their future.”

[via Los Angeles Times]