Generation X Has the Most Financial Stress

TheStreet.com

BOSTON (MainStreet) -- The news has been saturated with reports of high unemployment, stagnant wages and worker dissatisfaction since the Great Recession. Even though the economic recovery has improved things overall, most demographics in the United States still seem to be suffering from considerable financial struggles and anxiety -- and none more than those in Generation X.

A report by the financial information and education think tank Financial Finesse found people from Generation X polled as having the most financial worries and suffering the most significant economic setbacks. Generation X -- which includes people 35 to 44 years-old -- lost nearly half its members' savings, or an average of $33,000 per person, after the economic collapse, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts study

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Generation Xers are also the age group that has the most to lose as compared with baby boomers and millennials, as they are the most likely to be maintaining the delicate balance between saving for the future while trying to care for young children and make mortgage and student debt payments -- with more than 60% being married, owning homes and having underage children.

This profile fits George, a 36-year-old insurance industry worker from Ohio, to a T. A married homeowner and father to two young children, George can't contribute fully to his pension due to large student loan and mortgage payments. He lost nearly half his 401(k) in the economic meltdown and his wife, a teacher, had her retirement fund raided by the state.

"I am constantly worried ... because if I lose what I make I'm only a few months away from losing everything, so I am stuck," George says.

Almost half (47%) of Gen Xers polled didn't believe they would be able to achieve their future financial goals. This figure is up 3% from last year. Gen Xers also seemed to be the least likely to be on track for saving an adequate amount for retirement. Like George, many hadn't been able to match their savings to their employer's retirement plan.

According to the Financial Finesse report, Gen Xers did improve their finances in 2013 when compared with the previous year; but they still lagged when compared with other generations in regard to money management and retirement planning. Additionally, Gen Xers are in the precarious situation of reaching retirement age around the time Social Security trust funds are projected to run out. If the system isn't changed by then, Gen Xers might be the first generation to get less in entitlement benefits than they paid in taxes.

Millennials (those under 30) were found vulnerable to similar risks. Being younger, though, theoretically gives them the advantage of having more time to shore up their savings to compensate for a lack of better Social Security benefits. Most millennials polled did not show that they had thought much if at all about retirement planning, though, with 71% reporting that they hadn't run a retirement plan estimate.

"The way the trends are moving, we're looking at a future of increased cost of living, decreased wages and benefits to achieve financial goals and rising health care and other costs that will almost definitely impact millennials' approach to financial planning," says Erik Carter, resident financial planner with Financial Finesse. "That said, let's consider that Gen X is still going to face many of those same issues millennials will, and they have less time to save for retirement than millennials. This is what makes them more vulnerable than millennials in terms of retirement preparedness." 

One positive note for those in Generation X was that they have the best employment rate among U.S. workers -- 77.1%, according to Bureau of Labor statistics. But still, Gen Xers reported the highest level of financial stress, with 26% responding that the level of stress they experience was often "high" or "overwhelming." That makes them much more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses and disorders such as depression and heart disease.

Larsen says Gen Xers and millennials would benefit greatly from programs that provide guidance in calculating and planning for retirement. He says employees that partook in the financial wellness program Financial Finesse offered one of its Fortune 500 clients experienced a 4.5% decrease in health care costs; those who didn't experienced a 19.4% increase.

Larsen also believes reforms in federal policy could be very helpful in easing some of the financial burdens of Gen Xers and other generations, giving them more leeway to invest in savings and retirement. This includes an expanded child tax credit for parents of younger children and a requirement for all states to offer long-term care partnership programs to help all generations as they reach retirement age.

"It's scary to think of it all at once," says 40 year-old Heidi, a veterinarian from New Hampshire who is married and has both a mortgage and six-figure student loan debt. "Long-term planning is definitely a concern of mine. We have a little stashed away for an immediate need. There's a little in retirement funds, but I worry that it won't be enough."

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