Readers Call Gen-X to Action
A recent blog article, “Retirement Tougher for Boomer Children,” did not elicit much sympathy for Generation X.
Many readers who commented expressed a sentiment something like this: Yes, things are tougher for young adults. So deal with it.
Members of Generation X, as well as Millennials, are largely on their own with their 401(k)s, in contrast to their parents and grandparents who may’ve had a guaranteed pension at work. But the evidence indicates young adults are not preparing for retirement: well over half of 30- and 40-somethings are on financial path to a lower standard of living once they retire, according to an analysis cited in the article.
They need to find “the discipline to save for retirement through all the means available,” said a Squared Away reader named Paul.
“Another challenge is to make up for years of lost wages and savings during the downturn. You cannot take advantage of fantastic opportunities unless you have savings, discipline, and steady income,” he said.
Maynard was the only commenter who felt that changes in the U.S. retirement system have been unfair to young adults. But he admonished them for not using the political system to press their case.
“Where’s the political activism in a generation that is getting completely screwed? Beats me,” he said.
Craig sees a positive side to the dwindling of traditional pensions like the one he has in his job as a government employee.
“The retirement pie is constantly shrinking as one generation takes what it believes to be its ‘fair’ share, then leaves a smaller pie for the next generation,” he said. A 401(k) “at least gives the worker ownership of his retirement savings, albeit with all the attendant risks. It also stops the current generation from unilaterally pushing financial sacrifices on to future generations.”
Would any Generation X or Millennials out there care to respond?
Comments are closed.
As a Gen Xer, I agree that it is time for political activism. We can't sit back and wait for it to "all shake out." By then, we will only have ourselves to blame for no money in retirement and poor long-term care options, not to mention the impacts of the proposed changes to Medicare. It is time to pay attention and weigh in on these issues before it is too late! No one wants to think about what they will need at 80 years old, but as someone who is paying attention, is saving for my retirement and long-term care needs, it frightens me to think of the quality of life people will have without plans or money or even without our traditional safety nets that seem to be getting smaller by the day.
Things are tough and Gen X will do as they always have. Overcome what has been handed to them; remember, this is the generation that started as latchkey kids and were independent at a very early age. They just need to realize the power they have in them. This is the generation that has constantly been cleaning up the prior generation's messes.
Given the wide array of social, political, and environmental problems that the younger generations will face, it is not surprising that saving for retirement is not at the top of their list. It is becoming more and more clear that climate change is a game changer -- none of us, younger or older, are able to truly imagine what this world be like in 20, 30, 40 years -- nor what kinds of resources will be necessary to survive.These reports of current behavior are important, but not without a wider social context.
Isn't there anyone out there who is embracing the financial freedom of this new era?Thank God we no longer have pensions that will fail or other false promises that Gen Xer's were told. With a little financial planning and some disciplined saving, its completely possible to retire much earlier than the 30 years you were told you had to work before you could get your "gold watch" of retirement. I'm personally on target to hit my goal before age 50.More than ever it is easier and affordable to start an IRA, a brokerage account, etc and find easy to use, valuable information that will help you achieve your goals. But that all starts with actually doing something about it. By actually setting up those passive income streams that will one day supplement and then replace your income completely.I'm not advocating apathy for this generation or trying to be hard on them. I'm cheering on the opportunities that are in front of us.
Yes 401(k)s are portable, but if you're not paid enough in wages to be able to set aside money for retirement, portability doesn't really matter. I know some people that make piles of money and love their 401(k)s because they change jobs every few years and are able to put a lot of money away for retirement. They have management level jobs in the computer/IT industry. I also know a lot of people that live paycheck to paycheck in very low wage desk jobs and retail jobs. Saving 3% of your salary when you make $150k a year is very different from saving 3% of your salary when you make $25k a year (that's $12 an hour for those of you paying attention...and $12 is *way* above minimum wage and is considered a princely sum to those in the retail industry). Furthermore, when you make $12 an hour, you are more likely to need that 3% to eat, pay rent, and put gas in your car.I've found that when someone says "suck it up," work harder, and save more, they are generally in a place where setting some money aside in savings is not a problem, so they don't understand why everyone isn't saving. Have you ever tried to schedule a second crappy job around a first crappy job? I have. It's very difficult. When you work in retail they want you to have a free schedule because they want you at their beck and call. You will either have lots of trouble trying to get a set schedule from your first job (if that's even possible) or you will have difficulty finding a second job that will even give you an interview because you said you didn't have a free schedule (as someone who scheduled interviews in my retail job, I know that we wouldn't even call those people back). It took me 6 months to find two jobs that had schedules that worked together... so that I could work 14 hours a day, 6 days a week for crappy pay (neither of them paid $12 an hour either). Try finding time to apply for better jobs or scheduling an interview with that soul-crushing schedule. I would also like it noted that I worked in the retail/custodial sector for years *after* I received my college degree...It wasn’t because I had no ambition, or that my grades were bad, or that I didn’t try (at the rate of 20 applications a day) to get something else. I worked because I wanted to eat and wanted a place to sleep that was indoors.What I have to say to young workers is this: unite, organize, and demand better wages and benefits from your employers. Don't beg for scraps from their table. Remember you are essentially trading hours of your life and health away for money, don't sell it cheaply.
Gen X really has had a number done on them by the political process. But they have yet to realize that the world is run by the people who go to the meetings. So far they have not been showing up. The share of national income as a percentage of GDP that is going to corporate profits, as opposed to wages, has become disproportionate in recent years, due to changes in tax, labor, and other policies. But nothing will change unless the Gen X-ers are in the room when the big decisions that affect them are made.
I believe that most young people should look at the baby boomer generation as a historical anomaly in this country that will not be repeated. That generation was able to take advantage of a unique time in American history and secure for themselves retirement benefits that were not sustainable.The idea that there is a political solution to the retirement problem is naive because the baby boomer generation is unlikely to give up what they believe they have "earned," even if it places an undue burden on future generations. Any political "solutions" will only involve cutting benefits and raising costs for those who join the workforce after them.I have seen this as a public sector employee union member. Remedies overwhelmingly hit those yet to be hired the hardest. After all, there will always be someone else to pass a burden on to so why should current workers suffer? This works until there is nothing left to fight over. Young people who will pay more into Social Security than they will ever receive in benefits should already understand this.In the end, the only way for young people to help themselves is to push for more independence in their own finances and retirement. It will not only give them more control of their own futures, but it frees them from the unethical cycle that defers retirement costs on to later generations.
So the primary cause of Gen X's problems is the Baby Boomers, not the government policies extraordinarily in favor of large corporations (eg., NAFTA, labor laws, outsourcing, tax policy etc.) that have lowered wages in real terms over the last 20 years for the average family? And by the way, Social Security is basically solvent; it is runaway health care that is unsustainable. Please keep this distinction in mind when you discuss what retirement income policy should be.
The danger of this type of thinking is that it is government-centered. Social Security is a government program. A combination of tax increases and benefit cuts can keep it or any government retirement plan alive indefinitely.However, retirement policy should be focused on the individual. The worker should only care if he is getting a good return on his money, and with Social Security, younger workers will pay in more than they will ever get out.If your only criteria for a government retirement program is that it be "basically solvent," you will never be disappointed by the government. If you think that funding a program that gives a worker a net loss over his life is foolish, then you might want to reconsider the government's involvement in your retirement. This is especially true for younger workers who will see the costs of keeping Social Security solvent hit them the hardest.