Families with some college, but no bachelor's degree, had especially high debt levels in 2013, a CBO economist says. (Photo: Allison Bell/LifeHealthPro)

For life insurance agents and brokers, consumers ages 35 to 49 make especially attractive prospects.

People in that age range tend to have steady jobs, families and homes to protect, and decent health.

But today, the U.S. consumers in that category are part of an especially small generation, Generation X. And Nadia Karamcheva, an economist at the Congressional Budget Office, has come out with a presentation showing that, on average, households with heads in that age group tend to be much more broke now than they were in 1989.

Related: Medicare trustees look ahead to the year 2090

Karamcheva used the presentation earlier this week in Washington, at a Savings and Retirement Foundation event.

She used data from the government’s Survey of Consumer Finances, and the latest data she had was from 2013.  

The 49-year-olds in the data were born in 1964, the last year of the U.S. baby boom, and the 35-year-olds were born in 1978, in the middle of ‘Generation X,” or the “baby bust” period.

During the baby bust period, the arrival of modern birth control methods cut the number of babies born in the United States each year by about 25 percent from the baby boom level.

The birth rate may have fallen partly because families had more control over the number of children they had, and partly because the move of women into the workforce changed families’ child-bearing preferences.

When Karamcheva broke out median family wealth, expressed in thousands of 2013 dollars and including home equity, by age group, she found that the median wealth of households with heads under 35 in 2013 hovered around $10,000 in 1989 and stayed at about the same low level through 2013.

The median wealth of households with heads ages 65 and older started around $130,000 in 1989, peaked at close to $250,000 in 2007, then eased back to a little over $200,000.

The median wealth of baby boomer households, with heads ages 50 to 64, rode a home equity rollercoaster. Their median wealth started at about $170,000 at the beginning of the study period, soared to over $250,000 in 2007, then fell to about $150,000.

The median wealth trajectory of the Generation X households looked even worse. They started in 1989 with median wealth of $100,000, crept up to about $120,000 in 20017, and sank to about $60,000 for the period from 2010 through 2013.

Karamcheva presents other charts, broken out by income levels rather than by age, showing that financial asset levels for non-wealthy households were about the same or higher in 2013 than in 1989, but that home equity values were flat or lower, and that nonmortgage debt levels were much higher.

The share of families in debt with outstanding student loans increased to 64 percent in 2013, from 56 percent in 2007, and the average amount of student loan debt weighing down households with that kind of debt increased to $41,000, from $29,000, over that same period.

Related:

Medicare trustees look ahead to the year 2090

The future got $7 trillion more expensive in U.S. since crisis

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