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Dan Horn, The Cincinnati Enquirer6:04 a.m. EDT March 16, 2014

CINCINNATI — A swipe through her phone’s personal finance app tells Jessica Sebastian all she needs to know about retirement.

Seven more years to pay off $44,000 in student loans. At least a few years to get out from under $20,000 in credit card debt. A 401(k) with less than $4,000. And a personal savings account that’s one broken-down car away from being emptied.

All this, despite saving on rent by living with her parents in the same room she slept in as a teenager.

Jessica is just 28, still a long way from her golden years, but she doesn’t need the MBA training she completed two years ago to see she’s already fallen behind.

“Retirement?” she says. “Right now, it looks like a pipe dream. It’s like seeing a unicorn.”

Jessica’s plight is about more than her own retirement. She and millions of other millennials are caught in a chain reaction that’s redefining retirement in America.

Fundamental workplace and cultural shifts are changing the way we approach financial security in the latter stage of life. The consequences sway the entire economy and everyone who’s part of it, not just those already retired or working hard to get there.

Ultimately, the changes may be most significant for the youngest workers, who came of age in the shadow of a financial crisis, a housing bust and a job-crushing recession. Now, they’re beginning their adult lives with less wealth and more debt than their parents or grandparents – and little hope of the secure retirement that generations of Americans took for granted.

Many, like Jessica, are starting slowly and earning less, often taking jobs for low pay or accepting unpaid internships just to get a foot in the door. One-third are living with parents or are financially dependent on them.

Keep reading: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/03/16/millennials-financial-struggles/6464605/

Good Decisions Require Good Data.