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The Weight of Financial Wellness on Generation X

Mac Gardner September 23, 2021

Generation X is taking care of children and parents.

Study after study is revealing the stress Generation X—born between 1965 and 1980—is experiencing due to the pressures on their personal finances. One reason? Their current age. Caught between raising their own kids and providing care for aging parents, they are the new sandwich generation—likely to have a parent aged 65 or older and be supporting a child.

In addition to caregiving challenges, this generation has significant debt and job insecurity. There has been a lot of focus on Millennials and the economic turmoil they have witnessed in their lifetimes, but work-life for Gen Xers has seen some significant upheaval. There was the Crash of 1987 followed by the bursting dot-com bubble in 2000 then the Great Recession in 2008 and finally the current pandemic, all causing many in this generation to be cycled in and out of the workforce numerous times.

As a smaller generational cohort than Millennials and Baby Boomers, Gen X is often overlooked in research. But there are serious implications resulting from the above triple-threat of financial pressures.

The Burden of Caregiving

According to a survey by New York Life, 34 percent of Gen Xers have been providing care for an aging parent during the pandemic while also caring for children of their own.1 Because Gen X caregivers are typically employed, this often impacts their work. Things like needing to go in late, leave early, or take time off may require them to seek employment that prioritizes flexibility over salary and robust benefits packages. It also means they may focus less on saving or be forced to take on more debt.

Caregiving can be especially burdensome to Gen X women who are disproportionately more likely to be the ones taking on this role. The pandemic even saw economists coin a new term to describe the high volume of women being forced to leave the workforce to become caregivers—she-cession.

Too Much Debt

Generation X is dealing with a good deal of debt in the form of mortgages, credit cards, and student loans. In fact, this generation carries more debt across nearly all credit products than any other.2

  • Mortgages—The leading source of debt for Gen X with 30 percent of its members having one. American mortgage debt tops out at over $10 trillion, so at 42 percent, Gen X carries the most mortgage debt of any generation.3
  • Credit Cards—This group is again the highest among five generations carrying an average of $7,750 in total credit card debt per person.4
  • Student Loans—While it has increased across all generations according to a study by Experian, Gen Xers carry the highest average balance of student loan debt at $45,095 per borrower.2

Diverting funds to pay off debt poses a threat to the retirement security of Gen X. The Experian study cited above indicates that 44 percent of Generation X say they are not confident they can save enough for retirement—compared to 35 percent of Millennials and 40 percent of Baby Boomers.5

Job Instability

Gen X workers aged 45 and older may be bearing the brunt of a global unemployment crisis as the pandemic adds to existing challenges for older workers, according to a new report6. Rapid digital adoption during the pandemic has accelerated the automation of jobs and worsened underlying ageism, making it harder for mid-career workers to secure roles, according to the report from Generation, a non-profit employment organization.

The survey concluded that entry-level and intermediate workers between the age of 45 and 60 face increased barriers due to biases among hiring managers, as well as reluctance among workers to learn new skills.

Financial Professionals Can Provide a Roadmap

These financial pressures have resulted in some specific characteristics of Generation X as they look for ways to plan for their futures. Financial professionals who seek to work with these clients can reassure them by understanding what their hurdles are. Research conducted by T. Rowe Price7 found that as a group, Gen Xers:

  • Don’t feel on track towards goals
  • Seek security and overall financial health
  • Focus on shorter-term goals, such as establishing an emergency fund, buying a home, and education savings
  • Are open to new ways to consume and pay for advice
  • Want coaching, not just advice

Overall, Generation X is looking for a financial roadmap as well as financial education to develop their financial skills. Financial professionals can assist their Gen X clients by helping them find the time to take a step back from their demanding daily lives to look for ways to increase saving for emergencies and retirement, as well as decrease the amount of debt they owe and take on.

This group wants and needs financial strategies, programs, advice, and encouragement—in other words—a financial plan. Financial professionals should view their Generation X clients as unique from other cohorts. With help identifying their strengths and weaknesses, they can figure out what about their finances needs to change, identify their priorities, and create a vision for their financial life.

It may not be easy, but there are tools financial professionals can provide to help get them on track.

DISCLAIMER: The eMoney Advisor Blog is meant as an educational and informative resource for financial professionals and individuals alike. It is not meant to be, and should not be taken as financial, legal, tax or other professional advice. Those seeking professional advice may do so by consulting with a professional advisor. eMoney Advisor will not be liable for any actions you may take based on the content of this blog.

The views and opinions expressed by this blog post guest are solely those of the guest and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of eMoney Advisor, LLC. eMoney Advisor is not responsible for the content, views or opinions presented by our guest, nor may eMoney Advisor be held liable for any actions taken by you based on the content, views or opinions of the guest.

Sources:

1 New York Life. Caregiving and COVID-19 How the pandemic is expanding the sandwich generation. New York: New York Life Insurance Company, 2021 https://www.newyorklife.com/assets/newsroom/docs/pdfs/New_York_Life_Sandwich_Gen_White_Paper.pdf

2 Stolba, Stefan L. “Generation X: Caught in the Middle of Heavy-Debt Years.” Experian, 2019. April 17. https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/gen-xers-have-the-highest-average-total-debt-balances/.

3 Ali, Aran. “Visualizing U.S. Household Debt, by Generation.” Visual Capitalist, 2021. July 16. https://www.visualcapitalist.com/visualizing-u-s-household-debt-by-generation/.

4 “Average Credit Card Debt Statistics.” Shift Credit Card Processing, 2021. January 1. https://shiftprocessing.com/credit-card-debt/.

5 Stolba, Stefan L. “Student Loan Debt Reaches Record High as Most Repayment Is Paused.” Experian, 2021. February 24. https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/state-of-student-loan-debt/.

6 Jaffer, Ali, Helen Cashman, Karen Salazar Ruiz, and Jennifer Sikes. “Meeting the World’s Midcareer Moment.” Generation, 2021. July 1. https://www.generation.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Meeting-the-Worlds-Midcareer-Moment-July-2021.pdf.

7 T. Rowe Price. Are you prepared for the “Next Wave” of wealth? Baltimore: T. Rowe Price Investment Services, Inc., 2021 https://www.troweprice.com/financial-intermediary/us/en/insights/articles/2021/q1/next-wave-of-wealth.html

About the Author

Mac Gardner has served in the financial services industry for more than 20 years. His passion for financial literacy led him to publish his first book, “Motivate Your Money!” in 2013. As his family grew and his clients began to ask him for ways to teach their kids about managing money he decided to use elements from his first book to develop a financial literacy platform for young children. The Four Money Bears represent the four basic functions of money. When children gain exposure to money management skills at an early age they are likely to develop healthy financial planning habits as adults. Mac is a true believer in the power of stories. He wants every child to know the story of “The Four Money Bears” and the benefits of sound money management for generations to come.

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