Recession Will Haunt Gen-X Into Retirement

Geber86 | E+ | Getty Images

The Great Recession hurt a lot of people and this loss of wealth will follow millions into retirement, according to a report released Thursday.

Early baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1955) may be "the last group on track to retire with enough savings to maintain their financial security through their golden years." the study finds. But the rest of us are in for a world of hurt -- especially Gen-Xers (born between1966 and 1975).

The study by Pew Charitable Trusts, "Retirement Security Across Generations: Are Americans Prepared for Their Golden Years?," shows that early boomers lost 28 percent of their median net worth; late boomers (born between 1956 and 1965) lost 25 percent from 2007 to 2010. However, Gen-Xers lost nearly half (45 percent) of their wealth – about $33,000 on average – during that same time period. And they didn't have that much savings to begin with.

"Gen-X is the first generation that's unlikely to exceed the wealth of the group that came before it and face downward mobility in retirement," said Erin Currier, director of Pew's Economic Mobility Project. "They have lower financial net worth than previous groups had at this same age and they lost nearly half of their wealth in the recession."

Financial planners generally recommend that you save enough to replace 70 to 100 percent of your pre-retirement income when you leave the workforce. Pew's research shows the typical Gen-Xer will only be able to replace half of that income.

When it comes to retirement savings, late boomers (born between 1956 and 1965) are more like Gen-X than early boomers. They're on track to replace only 60 percent of their pre-retirement income.

You may be surprised to learn that some people saw their wealth grow during the recession. Pew found that a sizable minority of households – 39 to 44 percent – had a positive change in wealth between 2007 and 2009.

"As an example, more than a third of households in this age group experienced gains in home equity during that two-year period," Currier noted.

Gen-X: the most financially-challenged group

Gen-X wasn't in very good shape before the recession hit. Their net worth was less than other age groups that came before them. They also had lowest rates of home ownership of all the groups studied.

The recession only made things worse. They experienced the largest percentage decline in median net worth, losing nearly half of their wealth.

Gen-X has significantly higher levels of debt than those in the other groups did at the same age. Pew found that the average Gen-Xer has already accumulated $80,000 in debt.

Key Findings

Early boomers are financially prepared for retirement. Those born between 1946 and 1955 are approaching retirement in better financial shape than the age groups that came before them. This group benefited from both the dot-com boom and the housing bubble.Americans in their 50s and 60s have higher overall wealth, financial net worth, and home equity than Depression babies (born between 1926 and 1935) or war babies (born between 1936 and 1945) had at the same ages.

Wealth accumulation and savings for Americans born after 1955 is mixed. Neither Gen-Xers (in their 30s and 40s) nor late boomers (in their late 40's and 50's) are on track to exceed the financial position of those immediately preceded them.

Baby boomers and Gen-Xers have significantly lower asset-to-debt ratios than do older Americans. Depression and war babies spent the last two decades reducing their debt, while baby boomers and Gen-Xers have been accumulating it. In 2010, war babies had accumulated assets worth 27 times more than their debts. In contrast, assets for late boomers were only four times their debts. Gen-Xers' assets were about double their debts.

Pew's Erin Currier believes there is a clear takeaway message for America's policymakers from this data.

"As they focus attention on America's retirement security, particular consideration should be paid to helping the youngest groups change course to make up for these losses in order to prevent downward mobility in the long-term," she said.