In the battle of the generations, who’s the biggest loser?
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originally posted by Mandi Woodruff, Yahoo Finance on December 11, 2013 4:45 PM
If you go by numbers alone, Millennials may come first to mind. They have the worst unemployment rate, lowest credit scores, and are saving the least for retirement. And then there are the Boomers, aka the sandwich generation, who not only have to financially support their jobless adult children but will wind up losing $300,000 in wages and benefits over their lifetime caring for their aging parents.
In our opinion, however, Generation X is worst off by a landslide.
Confronted by a rapidly growing income gap, depleted retirement savings and sky-high debt loads, people in their early 30s and mid-40s faced some of the biggest financial hurdles of any other generation this year.
We took a look back to see just how far Gen X has come since the recession — and how far they have left to go.
The real ‘Gap’ generation
The income gap in America has reached Grand Canyon-sized proportions, but in no generation is the middle class shrinking faster than Gen X, which has seen its income gap — the level of inequality between the richest and poorest people — grow at a rate of 21% over the last two decades alone, according to a new report by Bankrate.com.
That’s twice as fast as both millennials and older boomers, often considered the two generations that suffered the most during the Great Recession. In reality, it wasn’t the youngest or even oldest Americans but Generation Xers — those born roughly between 1965 and 1980 — who were in the most vulnerable financial position when the recession hit.
“There’s a lot of conjecture about why this particular age group [is getting hit] the most, but I think when you really look at what’s happening it’s easy to understand,” says Judy Martel, senior editor at Bankrate.com.
For starters, before the housing crisis brought about the Age of the Renter and effectively put homeownership out of style, it was the “Reality Bites” generation, in their early 30s and 40s, who were starting families and snapping up homes at the peak of the housing bubble.
When the real estate market went bust, they were hurt most, watching their home equity tank by 27%, compared to early boomers’ loss of 14% and seniors’ 19%, according to a May 2013 report by the Pew Research Center.
All in all, Generation X lost a whopping 45% of their overall net worth, the most of any other generation. It’s not that older boomers didn’t have mortgages and cash-strapped millennials at home to support, but they at least had a couple of decades’ worth of savings and were better equipped to manage their debt ahead of the recession.
For many Gen Xers, the recession hit at the precise time they should have been close to the peak of their earning potential, moving into higher positions at work and beefing up their personal bottom line. The financial crisis had all but stymied that crucial period of growth.
“They were just starting out in their careers and were on their way and everything hit them at once in terms of job promotion and wage decreases,” Martel says. “If you look at the the labor market, it’s still struggling.”
Leaning on debt: Numbers don’t always tell the full story
With the all the ballyhoo over the nation’s $1 trillion student loan debt crisis and what it means for 20-somethings, you’d think millennials would carry the heaviest debt burdens. They do carry a sizable chunk — about 40% — but nearly 50% of student loan debt is actually held by borrowers age 30 to 49, according to a June 2013 Urban Policy Institute study.
Debt is obviously a problem when you don’t have the assets to pay it off, and unfortunately for Gen X, they often come up short. While boomers and seniors had assets four and 27 times higher, respectively, than their total debt after the recession, Gen Xers only carried just twice as much in assets as debt, according to the Pew study.
As a result, Gen X has struggled to whittle down their debt load, and it shows in their credit history.
When it comes to overall debt, a November report by Experian shows that Gen Xers are deepest in the red. Since 2011, they’ve taken on more debt than any other generation. They carry more than $30,000 worth of credit card debt today, up from $26,000 in 2011. By comparison, millennials today carry $23,000 on plastic and boomers carry $29,000. Gen Xers also carry the most debt per credit card, averaging $5,343 per card in 2013, up from $4,489 in 2011.
And when those bills come due, Gen Xers are least likely to be able to make their payments on time, Experian found.
They’ve got the credit scores to show for it, too. Only millennials’ average a lower credit score (628) than Gen X (653). Both scores are lower than the national average of 681, but youngsters can at least blame some of their shortcomings on a shorter credit history.
MORE: Read the entire blog here.