The unemployment rate has fallen below 8 percent, the housing industry is showing signs of stabilization and consumer confidence is up. But even as the economy shows signs of improving, many people in their 30s and 40s are feeling pessimistic about their ability to achieve the American dream and feel as financially secure as their parents.
"I worry that I'm going to be 15 years behind in retiring and all that stuff, and so I'll be like 90 when I retire," Boylan said.
Many Gen Xers fear they will never make up ground lost in the deep economic downturn of 2007 to 2009 and the years of slow growth since. Even those who have held on to jobs over the past few years have good reason to feel like they didn't really get ahead, experts say, because median income has been relatively flat for more than a decade.
Gen Xers also have had trouble building up wealth as they deal with the fallout of the housing bust and struggle with the high costs of education and health care.
Average debt: $111,000
A Census Bureau report released this year found that people ages 35 to 44 saw the biggest decline in net worth between 2005 and 2010. For those households, median net worth declined 59 percent, to $33,200, in 2010. The housing bust and the stock market were likely the biggest culprits.
A separate study from credit reporting firm Experian, released this year, found that Generation X is shouldering the most debt of any age group, with average mortgage, credit card and other debt totaling more than $111,000.
Jason Nash, 36, and his wife have two good jobs and own their home in Council Bluffs, Iowa. But between student loan payments of about $2,000 a month and childcare expenses of $1,500, the couple has little left to save for retirement.
Nash worries about whether the social programs that exist for his parents will be there for him.
"At my age, my income exceeds theirs at any time during their careers, but their lifestyle is significantly better," Nash wrote in an e-mail. "They have retirement savings. They have Social Security. They have Medicare. I expect to have only what I am able to save on my own."
Arin Strom is also worried about the future.
Strom, 39, works in the technology industry, and his job with an upscale Seattle cookware company has been relatively stable through the recession and recovery.
But despite a steady paycheck that allows his family to pay the bills, Strom feels he is essentially bankrupt. That's because the home his wife purchased in 2006 – and that the family now lives in – has lost about $150,000 in value due to the housing bust.
"While I think that my current situation is sustainable, I don't think that the long-term end game is sustainable," he said. "I don't know how you recover from a $150,000 deficit."
Like many others, Strom also struggles with significant health care expenses. He estimates that $15,000 to $20,000 of his annual salary of around $80,000 goes toward health care costs for himself, his wife and their 3-year-old daughter, Cece.
Health insurance is key to the family because Cece was born with a congenital heart defect that has required costly care and will require more procedures later in her life.
Strom doesn't want to walk away from his Seattle home. But he worries that if he holds on to the house it will make it that much harder to save enough money for retirement and other expenses later on.
"Do I think that we can get around the $150,000 question? It's possible. I don't know," he said. "Long-term, I have some real concerns about it."
Boylan, the 45-year-old, feels lucky to have escaped the housing boom and bust. She and her husband got married in May and purchased their house in Centennial, Colo., a little more than a year ago, after scrupulously saving for a 20 percent down payment.