Why Gen Xers Are Way More Worried About Money Than Boomers

By Richard Eisenberg, Next Avenue Editor

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You might not think there’d be much difference between the way members of Generation X (who are 40 to 55) and boomers (56 to 74) feel about money, since they’re age-adjacent. But truth is, survey after survey is showing that Gen Xers are far more financially fragile and stressed about money right now.

The Bank of America BAC 2020 Workplace Benefits Report, which surveyed 996 full-time and part-time employees participating in 401(k) plans, found that just 23% of GenXers feel a sense of progress saving for retirement; only 22% feel progress about growing their savings to pay for unexpected expenses and a mere 14% feel progress paying for current and future health care expenses.

By contrast, the percentages were twice as high (or more) for boomers and Silent Generation members surveyed.

“It is not surprising that the findings reflect the lifestage Gen Xers and boomers are in,” said Surya Kolluri, managing director of Bank of America. “But the particular level of difference expressed was sharp and noticeable and remarkable.”

And take a look at these results from other recent surveys comparing the often-overlooked Generation X — who comprise about 20% of the U.S. population — and boomers:

  • 42% of Gen Xers feel stressed about their finances, while 23% of boomers do (Allianz Life)
  • The median household retirement savings for Generation X is $64,000, less than half the $144,000 of boomers. And 27% of Gen Xers have saved less than $50,000, vs. 18% of boomers. (Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies)
  • As of late 2019, GenXers had saved just $5,000 for emergencies (median) compared to $15,000 for boomers (Transamerica)
  • As a result of the pandemic, 27% of GenXers have taken a loan and/or a withdrawal from their retirement plan or expect to; 11% of boomers have or plan to (Transamerica)
  • 81% of Gen Xers are concerned that when they’re ready to retire, Social Security will not be there for them; 61% of boomers feel this way (Transamerica)
  • COVID-19 has made 26% of GenXers less confident in their ability to retire comfortably vs. 19% of boomers (Transamerica)
  • 22% of Gen Xers saw their household income fall by half or more during the first few months of the pandemic; just 8% of boomers did (Prudential Financial Wellness Census 2020)

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Is it any surprise then that in a Edward Jones/AgeWave survey conducted in May and June, only 47% of Xers described their mental health as very good to excellent, while 62% of boomers did?

Or that a 2020 University of British Columbia study that my Next Avenue colleague Grace Birnstengel wrote about noted that Gen Xers felt more stress and threatened by the pandemic than boomers?

From my reading of these studies and interviewing a few money experts, it looks like caregiving challenges, significant debt and job problems account for much of why Generation X is hurting financially and hurting much more than boomers, generally speaking.

Kolluri calls this “360-degree pressures,” particularly when it comes to retirement planning.

“Boomers may have a sharper view of the goal posts getting to age sixty-five,” he notes. “Many have paid down their mortgages and their kids are out of college, so they can do extra catch-up contributions” in their retirement plans. But for Gen Xers: “They’ll have other financial challenges to deal with before they can get to the boomer lifestage,” says Kolluri.

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Let me take Gen X’s big three money challenges one at a time.

Caregiving

A New York Life survey said that 34% of Gen Xers are caring for an aging parent during the pandemic, while just 13% of boomers are.

Debt is especially oppressive for many Gen Xers, who are often saddled with mortgages, student loans and credit card interest.

According to AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, Gen X caregivers are typically employed and most say caregiving has had at least one impact on their work — such as needing to go in late, leave early or take time off to provide care. They’re also more likely than older caregivers to report financial impacts due to providing care; often they’ve stopped saving or have used up short-term savings or taken on more debt.

Since women are more likely to be caregivers than men, financial planner Kimberly Foss says many Gen X women are especially feeling pinched financially.

“Gen X women are disproportionately more likely to be caretakers, both for their older boomer family members and their millennial kids,” said Foss, founder of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville, Calif. “So, they’re kind of caught in a double bind in terms of ability to spend as many years focusing on a career as their male Gen X counterparts.”

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Debt

Debt is especially oppressive for many Gen Xers, who are often saddled with mortgages, student loans and credit card interest. In Bank of America’s survey, while 55% of boomers said they felt in control of debt, only 35% of Gen Xers did.

Catherine Collinson, CEO and president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, fears that the credit card debt may pose a threat to Generation X’s retirement security. In Transamerica’s survey, 45% of Gen Xers called paying off credit card debt a financial priority, vs. 35% of boomers who said so.

And staggering college loans, for tuitions of both the Gen Xers and their kids, are “hampering their ability to save,” said Foss.

Jobs

During the pandemic, Gen Xers have been more likely than boomers to have been laid off. In a September 2020 Morning Consult poll, 10% of Gen Xers said they’d lost jobs, compared to 4% of boomers.

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And a Magnify Money survey in December reported that 32% of Gen Xers have had a pay cut during COVID-19, vs. 20% of boomers.

Looking for a Financial Roadmap

All in all, Kolluri says, Gen Xers are looking for a financial roadmap and for help developing their financial skills.

In fact, the Bank of America survey found that 42% of Gen Xers said the most important thing they needed financially was help creating that roadmap; only 29% of boomers said so.

“As we are busy leading our lives, we don’t have time to step back and say: ‘What is the financial cost of what I’m doing?'” says Kolluri.

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So, Gen Xers: try to squeeze in the time to take a step back before year’s end or in early January. See if there’s a way you can increase the amount you’re saving for emergencies and for retirement and to decrease the amount of debt you owe and take on. Understandably, none of that will be easy.

For those who are caregivers, know that your loved ones truly appreciate your kindness and assistance.

Here’s hoping for a less stressed and more financially solid 2021 for America’s Generation X.

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