Turmoil in the real estate market could hurt the finances of many older U.S. workers who have been counting on home equity to help fund their retirement.

Dean Baker and David Rosnick, researchers at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Washington, come to that conclusion in an analysis of the effects of the current economic slump on the amount of net worth that typical families get from their homes.

The researchers have based their mid-range projections on the assumption that median, inflation-adjusted house prices will be 10% lower in 2009 than they were in March 2008.

The slump seems to have had the harshest effect on households with heads in the 35-44 age category, the researchers write.

The median Generation X household could arrive at 2009 with about $31,000 in net worth in 2008 dollars, down from an inflation-adjusted median of $57,000 in 1989 and $72,000 in 2004, the researchers write.

But the slump also is having a large effect on the inflation-adjusted net worth of households in the 45-54 and 55-64 age categories, the researchers write.

The median inflation-adjusted net worth could be about $100,000 for the 45-54 age category, which would be about the same as in 1989 but down from about $145,000 in 2004.

For the 55-64 age category, the median net worth could be about $139,000, up from $100,000 in 1989, but down from $275,000 in 2004.

If house prices hold steady over the next year, inflation-adjusted median net worth would fall 48% from the 2004 median level for people ages 35 to 44, 25% for people in the 45-54 age category, and 37% for people in the 55-64 age category, the researchers predict.

If house prices hold steady or fall further, “many retirees will find themselves far more dependent on Social Security and Medicare than would have been the case if their savings behavior had not been affected by the stock and housing bubbles,” the researchers conclude.