(Bloomberg) — The members of Generation X have plenty to be grumpy about. For starters, no one talks about them anymore. It’s all millennials all the time. There’s another reason Americans born between 1965 and 1980 are gloomy: Gen Xers are in even worse shape financially than the baby boomers who preceded them or the millennials who followed.
Sure, many boomers haven’t saved enough for retirement. And millennials are squeezed by high student-loan debt. But Gen Xers are still paying off student loans while raising families on wages that have barely budged in recent years. They have more debt than other age groups and are more pessimistic about ever being able to afford to retire, according to many surveys.
Almost 40 percent say they “don’t at all feel financially secure,” and 38 percent have more debt than savings, more than any other generation, according to a recent survey of 5,474 Americans by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. On average, people in their 40s had saved $62,087 in 401(k) retirement plans at the end of 2013, according to the Employee Benefits Research Institute. That means Gen Xers who plan to retire at 65 have a considerable way to go to accumulate the $1 million they’ll need to generate $40,000 a year as seniors.
“Generation Xers are the forgotten middle child generation,” says Faith Popcorn, a trend consultant who advises companies on generational differences. “They’re worried about both the present and future. They understand more than millennials that they could be replaced by robots and a lot of them don’t think they’ll ever be able to afford kids or qualify for mortgages.”
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Popcorn says “6 in 10 boomers and millennials think their generations are special but only one-third of Gen Xers do. You wouldn’t want to be a Gen Xer.”
The term Generation X was popularized by Douglas Coupland, whose novel, “Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture,” was published in 1991. Gen X is a relatively small cohort of about 65.7 million people, compared with about 74.9 million boomers and 75.3 million millennials, according to Census Bureau projections for 2015.
When they came of age in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Gen Xers were depicted as slacker-cynics who listened to grunge music and lionized Kurt Cobain. That was always a caricature. Gen Xers were molded more by ill-timed jolts of economic hardship.
They entered the workforce during the recession of the 1990s and then, just as they were getting their footing, the dot-com bubble burst. As the housing market picked up in the 2000s, some bought homes at high prices only to see real estate values plummet during the financial crisis.
They were the hardest hit generation during the Great Recession, losing almost half their wealth when the stock market slumped, compared with about 25 percent for baby boomers, according to a 2013 Pew Charitable Trusts survey.
“For me and many of my friends, it’s scary not to yet have a decent safety net, and we’re surprised that economically it’s still so hard,” says Jennifer O’Neill, 35, who got an MBA from University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School five years ago and works in marketing at a large corporation.
O’Neill and her husband earn a combined six-figure income from their marketing jobs in New Jersey. But they’re still renting instead of buying a home, something her schoolteacher parents had at her age, because of worries about job security and high housing prices.