1. We’re poorer than our parents were at our age
Few people have been through as many economic ups and downs as the members of Generation X. Born between 1965 and 1980, any entered the workforce during the boom years of the Clinton administration—but then along came 9/11 and, a few years later, the Great Recession.
Over the last two decades, Americans born during the Depression and World War II—known as “The Silent Generation”—have been shedding debt, while boomers and Generation X have been accumulating it. As of 2010, Generation X’s assets were only double their debts, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. The Silent Generation’s asset levels were 27 times higher than their debts, while older boomers’ assets were about four times higher.
“In the U.S. the expectation is that every generation does better than the last one, but that has not been the case for Generation X,” says Signe-Mary McKernan, senior fellow and economist at the Urban Institute, a nonprofit organization that focuses on social and economic policy. “Xers have less wealth than their parents at their age did 25 years ago.”
2. Marketers and the media are ignoring us
Given that Generation Xers are in their late 30s and 40s now, they are—at least in theory—nearing their peak income and spending power. But marketers are more fascinated by the millennials and baby boomers, says Sharalyn Hartwell, executive director at research and consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates.
Population numbers help explain the attention gap. There are 89 million millennials (also known as Generation Y, born roughly between 1981 and 1996) and 75 million boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) in the U.S., compared with just 49 million Gen Xers. Given those numbers, the spending habits of millennials and investing trends of baby boomers are important for companies to understand, Hartwell says. The fact that Gen Xers make more money than the average millennial, by virtue of being older and farther along the pay scale, only partly offsets this.
“It is ironic Generation X have been upstaged by the younger generation and left on the shelf,” Hartwell says. “They were the original latchkey kids, and already feel like they were forgotten and neglected by their own parents.”
3. We’re home owners and we regret it
One of the main reasons Gen Xers are in such bad shape economically, says McKernan: “Many bought their first homes just before the housing market crashed.” Surging house prices in the first part of this century helped build wealth for people who bought homes before the year 2000, but many people now in their 30s and 40s bought at bubble prices—and are still suffering today.
Buyers who bought between 2000 and 2006 “didn’t have much equity even before prices started falling” says Jed Kolko, chief economist at real estate website Trulia. House values have still not recovered fully, despite the recession being officially over: They fell by 34% from the 2006 peak to the fourth quarter of 2011, and have risen 23% since then, as measured by the Case-Shiller National Home Price Index.
From 2007 to 2010, the median net worth of Gen Xers fell by nearly half (45%), according to Pew, with declining home equity accounting for much of the drop. In contrast, median net worth among boomers, who had more time to build up wealth other than home equity, fell between 25% and 28%.
4. Boomers stand in our way at work
The recession hit just as many boomers were about to retire, and many postponed it due to the slump in their portfolios. Some 39% of boomers who are working don’t expect to retire until they are 66 or older, and another 10% say they don’t expect to ever retire, according to a recent Gallup poll.
That’s exasperating for Xer professionals, says Dan Schawbel, author of “Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success.” “They haven’t been able to claim those leadership positions,” he says. “They’re frustrated that they’re stuck in middle management.”
Generation X workers champing at the bit for a promotion may eventually get their wish. When asked, “Which generation do you believe is best equipped to manage teams effectively?” 70% of workers said Generation X make the most effective managers, versus 25% for boomers and 5% for millennials, according to a survey released last year by accounting and consulting firm EY found.
5. And millennials want to pass us on the corporate ladder
There’s competition between Gen Y and Gen X in the workplace. The Center for Talent Innovation’s Marshall notes: “Generation Y were the darlings because of their fluency in all things digital.” After the recession, Xers were left holding the bag in terms of accountability, she adds: “They took the hit when things went wrong.”
Youth and ambition appear to go hand-in-hand. Gen Xers—perhaps jaded by the years they’ve already logged in the workplace—are somewhat agnostic about getting ahead. Approximately 58% of men from Generation X and 41% of women say they want the top job, according to a 2013 survey of 2,000 adults by the Pew Research Center. In contrast, 70% of millennial men and 61% of millennial women—defined by that particular study as aged 18 to 32—say they’d like to be boss. Only 45% of respondents in a CTI survey said that they regarded millennials as “team players,” while 65% associated that label with Gen Xers.
Phil Mora is a business consultant, speaker, executive coach and CMO at Bold. I specialize in marketing and branding, online marketing, business development and entrepreneurship. A creative problem solver with a talent for strategic thinking and communication, I combine lessons learned from more than 15 years as a high-tech industry executive with my roots as a software technologist, product developer and startup marketeer. When I am not working on client projects, I am obsessed with with sports, fitness, wellness, nutrition and anything holistic: you’ll find me at the gym or outdoors training hard. Contact me here: I look forward to connecting with you!
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