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Generation stress

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Young people in this country are stressed about their finances and there is really no reason why they shouldn’t be. For those of us who were lucky enough to land jobs after college in the midst of the Great Recession, our wages have stagnated or gone up paltry amounts.

And don’t feed me the tired tale and frankly fabricated scenario: Art History majors can’t expect to land a job right out of school because they whimsically decided on a major that satisfied their aesthetic cravings and ignored the pragmatism one needs to flourish in the ‘real world’. I am talking about CPAs, teachers, media professionals, salespeople, lawyers, and other practical professions in major urban areas throughout the country. I am talking about young people, fresh out of the military that languish on waiting lists for municipal fire or police positions. Yes, I think it is safe to say that we are stressed about our finances.

That is why I was not all shocked when I read the findings of a recent report sponsored by New York Life that found members of Generation X and Y (Millennials) are feeling higher levels of stress than Baby Boomers approaching retirement and members of the silent generation that are currently in retirement. One may posit that it is natural for younger people who are in or are entering their prime earning years to be more stressed than those who are nearing or in retirement, but I would counter that that is not a safe assumption. Take, for example, the swaths of Baby Boomers who, before the fall of 2008, thought they were going to slip right into to retirement only to see their retirement savings decimated by the crash and their golden years postponed indefinitely. Or, the retiree who is beginning to realize he is running out of money and his living situation will decline. Those sound like pretty stressful situations to me. Even more so when you take into account that time is not on the side of the individuals in those scenarios. But the young, according to the report, are also consumed by stress over their finances.

The “Keep the Good Going Report” surveyed more than 2,000 Americans, exploring their expectations and attitudes regarding how they cultivate goodness in their lives. As you can expect, one’s financial situation plays an essential part in the “goodness” of their lives. Setting aside the subjective nature of the word “good” let’s just say that if you are constantly worrying about money your life is probably not as “good” as it could be. The report found that more than half of Americans reported that in order to live life as a good person, it is extremely important to have enough money, to be financially self-sufficient in retirement and to protect one’s family against life’s uncertainties. I’m not saying that I think that is true, but half of Americans surveyed do.

The report also found that Generation X and Y are acutely aware of what the economic crisis has done to them and how it will impact their future. The financial goals set by Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation are not manifesting themselves for younger people. Home ownership, rising incomes and secure retirement are pretty hard to count on for young people these days. I asked various Millennials ranging from an accountant at a large Manhattan hedge fund to a social worker in suburban New Jersey if they had received any incremental increase in their incomes over the last two years. Less than 2 percent had.

We are putting off getting engaged and having children and buying homes (so good luck downsizing into that condo for your retirement when there are no young families to move in). This, above all is sad. The trend by the younger generations to delay settling down and having a family was happening before the economic crash, but now many members of Generation X and Y are ready but cannot afford it. Heck, many of us can’t even afford an engagement ring because our stagnant wages are going to rising rents. This will have profound socio-economic and cultural changes for our country. For many, full adulthood is arrested.

The report found that one way to remedy the situation and alleviate some stress for the younger generations would be for them to have a more active role in understanding their finances. I think I am going to call my financial advisor today, I just hope that the industry is ready to listen and help, we are counting on them to do so.